Despite top brass claims that the "blood pinning" of Marine
paratroopers isn't tolerated, hazing occurs in every branch of the
Interviews with several American service men and women reveal
that, like college fraternity initiation rites, hazing has grown
from unofficial rituals to sometimes violent traditions - and their
superior officers know it.
"It goes on in all the services. It goes on in other countries'
services," says David Segal of the University of Maryland's Center
for Research on Military Organization. "It gets people to identify
with the organization." The US military has, he says, "tried to get
control over" abusive rites, and those rites "involve less sadism
than they used to."
In its milder forms, some military officials and experts say,
hazing can build morale and a sense of belonging that enhances
discipline and teamwork.
Senior military officials say there is a "zero tolerance" policy
for barbaric practices. But questions about the extent of abusive
hazing rituals are being raised now in the wake of the broadcasting
of a 1991 video showing Marines brutally grinding medals into the
chests of parachute school graduates, drawing blood. Active and
former service personnel say the practice of blood pinning, though
not as vicious as captured on the video, also takes place in the
Army and involves men and women.
Gantlets also commonplace
They further assert that it is not the only hazing rite
employing physical abuse. Soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, say it is a
"tradition" for personnel who win promotions to be punched as they
walk between dozens of colleagues arrayed in opposing rows. Senior
noncommissioned officers preside over the gantlets, they say.
"This happens all the time," one soldier says, speaking on
condition of anonymity. "Some hit hard, some hit soft. Once, I saw
a girl knocked down."
Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
concedes that "People get charged up in this business." But he adds
that only "decent behavior" is tolerated.
Critics dispute such assertions. They say rituals, encouraged in
the military as ways of breaking down individualism and
self-esteem, often embrace humiliating and violent practices of
which commanders are well aware.
"We get numerous calls from young men who have been brutalized,
harassed and intimidated by superiors," says Alex Doty of the San
Francisco-based Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, part
of the GI Rights Network, a confidential counseling group for
Such critics point out that 52 marines have been court-martialed
for hazing since 1994 and another 34 received nonjudicial
punishments, including dishonorable discharges. Army officials say
they do not keep statistics on hazing incidents.
Several former and active soldiers, speaking in Monitor
interviews, say commanders are well aware of the violent nature of
some initiation rites. And though participation is declared
voluntary, they say no one refuses. To do so brings a loss of face
and ostracism. For those same reasons, hazing is rarely reported to
"It's a pressure thing, an honor thing," asserts Rick Poyner, a
former paratrooper. …