It wasn’t long after General David Petraeus’s affair was revealed that progressive types started queuing up to explain that the real problem wasn’t the CIA director’s lack of moral judgement—it’s the repressive nature of military culture. The Scrapbook wasn’t shocked to see this argument rear its head—we always look forward to the requisite eruption of Puritan-bashing and/or France-envy from the chattering classes during a Washington sex scandal. But we were mildly surprised to see the form it took in the pages of the Washington Post.
Laura Cannon, who like Petraeus and Paula Broadwell is a West Point graduate, penned an op-ed for the Post titled “No sex? Permission to speak freely, Sir.” Cannon served in Iraq and seems now to be an aspiring comedian and author. She writes a blog under the nom de guerre “War Virgin,” and her act is loosely based on how her military career and “former Jesus obsession” conspired to make her remain a virgin well into adulthood. For that, she blames General Order No. 1, the rule that bans sex and alcohol while deployed:
I had no idea that a combat zone would be such a sexually charged environment. Blame it on amped-up testosterone pouring out of aggressive, athletic men. Or blame it on combat stripping even the strongest of men and women down to their core, raw emotions. Combine that with forming special bonds with comrades who promise to do whatever it takes to ensure your safe return home, including sacrificing their life for yours. What do you think happens?
Did Cannon really have no idea that a co-ed combat zone would be a “sexually charged environment”? The problem in that case is terminal naïveté, not repression. She is, unwittingly, reiterating an argument against women in combat. Not being distracted by the opposite sex makes concentrating on the life or death tasks at hand considerably easier.
Of course, that’s not to say that there haven’t been examples of women who were exemplary warriors, or that turning the clock back to when women didn’t serve is a possibility. But as we recall, the debate over women in combat went something like this: Opponents argued that this would lead to sexual distractions in dangerous situations, and those in favor insisted that professionalism would win out. Now that it’s clear that sex in combat zones is happening a lot, Cannon and her ilk insist that it’s stupid to insist on any professional prohibitions, with the exception of making sure that sexual harassment rules remain in place. What could go wrong?
Cannon goes even further—aside from sex in combat zones, she thinks the students at U.S. military academies should also be permitted to have sex.
The argument here is pure snark: “Yes, to become a leader of character and serve my country well, it is imperative that I not have sex in my college bedroom.” It’s also true that in college bedrooms outside military academies, students are taking horse tranquilizers recreationally and studying French semioticians with alarming earnestness. The ubiquity of self-destructive behavior among college kids elsewhere is not an argument to lower the standards of the taxpayer-subsidized education of the men and women we expect to lead our military.
And aside from the obvious reasons to dismiss Cannon’s argument, we suspect she wrote this just to get attention. Her Twitter feed consists of little other than blasting the recent Washington Post clip out to famous comedians, hoping they’ll notice her.
If she doesn’t appear to be especially witty or insightful, it seems War Virgin is going to settle for notoriety.