Harassment and military women

MUCH of the discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace gets very easily into shades of gray. At what point does a woman steel herself to issue a polite but firm reminder that her name is not ``Honey''? More seriously, at what point does it register with management that an office wolf's behavior could put the company at risk of a lawsuit? But the charges raised in a recent report to the Pentagon are much less subtle. A delegation visiting United States Navy and Marine Corps facilities in Hawaii, the Philippines, and Japan has accused the two services of sexual harassment, discrimination, and ``morally repugnant'' behavior vis-`a-vis military women stationed in the Pacific.

Among the more notable charges was that a ship captain was overheard on the radio offering to ``sell'' some women sailors to some Koreans. The captain in question has been relieved of his command pending an investigation.

The report recalls a similar one done last year of American military women serving in Europe. On balance, the Defense Department is considered to have done a good job of incorporating women into the armed services - as long as they are stationed stateside. But these two reports suggest that there is much progress to be made in extending basic decency, to say nothing of full equal opportunity, to military women abroad.

An attitude that ``women deserve what they get, because they aren't supposed to be there'' may linger in some quarters. This view never had much justification, and today it has even less, now that there are very few places indeed where ``women aren't supposed to be.''

The Pentagon promises swift and effective response to the charges, including the formation of a group to review policies on women in the military.

How ironic if the very services charged with protecting American ideals - with their lives, if necessary - should fall so short of those ideals themselves.

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