There is "no excuse" for the "disgusting behavior" of marines in a recent videotape obtained and aired by CNN and NBC, Marine Corps Commandant Charles Krulak said. In the tape, graduates of a paratrooper school in North Carolina were shown having their metal insignias pounded into their chests by fellow marines. The graduates screamed in pain as they tried to remain standing.
General Krulak was right: The behavior displayed on the videotape was disgusting and inexcusable. But hazing isn't only a military problem. According to a recent Monitor article, reports of high school hazing have surged since 1990. And the problem of hazing on college campuses, particularly in fraternities, is well documented. This week, eight fraternity members at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., were arrested in connection with the death of a pledge. A series of hazing-related deaths since the early 1980s prompted 38 states to pass antihazing measures.
A former president of the Fraternity Executives Association defined hazing this way: "If you would be afraid or embarrassed to do it in front of the president of the university, your parents ... or a reporter from the local newspaper or TV, then it is probably hazing." School administrators say students often submit to hazing because their loyalty to a group or to a tradition takes precedence over moral qualms. The "if you would be afraid or embarrassed" definition of hazing should give these young people pause.
In the military, there is a gray area between necessarily harsh conditioning and abuse. Often, women become the targets of such abuse in traditionally male settings. Last month two female cadets left The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., citing harassment and hazing. But hazing in the name of building character is wrong no matter what the sex of the victim.
Military leaders, school administrators - indeed all of us - should articulate and enforce a policy of zero-tolerance. The Marine Corps already has taken appropriate steps with regard to the videotaped incidents. Defense Secretary William Cohen has promised to find out the extent of the problem, and the Marine Corps has vowed to punish those held responsible.
As Marine Corps Commandant Krulak said, "There is no place in the corps for those who would degrade, in word or deed, one another." In military training camps and on school campuses, mutual respect and moral courage must replace the kind of perverse group mentality that degrades both perpetrator and victim.