In early March 2017, news broke that a 30,000-member Facebook group called “Marines United” trafficked in nude photos of female Marines and wives. Facebook took action and Marines United removed the offending material.
But users simply downloaded the photos and shared them on other online platforms. At an anonymous, 4chan-style message board called “AnonIB,” service members from all the military branches trade pictures of military women. As of March 11, 2017, AnonIB was still up and running.
The military disavowed the photo-sharing groups. Leaders have promised to crack down. But don’t hold your breath. The Pentagon doesn’t exactly sanction sexism and misogyny — but these things are part of U.S. military culture. And they’re not going away any time soon.
“None of this surprises me,” a former Marine told War Is Boring on condition of anonymity. More than 40 years after the armed forces began integrating women on a large scale, the military — and the Marine Corps, especially — remains predominantly male. Women make up just seven percent of the Corps.
“They’re Marines, too,” the former Marine said of the women he served alongside. He singled out a woman Marine we’ll call “K,” who the former Marine said “pretty much saved my life in deployment in Japan.”
“She was just there when I needed. As a friend. To help me get away from the idiocy.” But their friendship apparently made some male Marines jealous.
“[K] was my friend. We spent a lot of time together. One of the guys was pissed at me and called her my ‘barracks whore.’ I stopped the formation, made everyone stand at attention facing me and told him to step out and say it again. He didn’t move. He did mutter something after a long silence. I ignored it, turned everyone front and kept marching. It was more about showing intolerance to that behavior.”
“The [Marine Corps] culture is all fucked-up, man,” the former Marine said. “It’s a fucked-up situation made up of fuck-ups from all over this fucked-up country and they’re all fucking 18. The Marines is a place for people who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. [The Corps tells] you what you’re doing. Problem solved.”
“If you survive, sane and retain an identity, you might come out stronger,” the former Marine continued. “Or you might adopt that culture as your identity. Is there gross, sexist misogyny? Fucking yes. Was it done before other women Marines in front of me? Not on my fucking watch.”
His point — only the rank and file can stop institutional misogyny.
“Even describing it as a scandal about the sharing of nude photos fails to capture the multiplicity of ethical violations and problems detailed in the story about the Marines, and now more broadly, members of the other services, veterans and others,” military ethics expert and Pacific Lutheran University philosophy professor Pauline Kaurin told War Is Boring.
“It is not clear what we should call these actions — there was sharing of photos but other actions, words and threats to the women, their defenders and now investigators have been detailed. In the words of my students, ‘I literally can’t even.’”
She’s right, the problem goes beyond soldiers, sailors and Marines sharing intimate photos online. People who reported the databases of naked photos faced harassment from Marines and others. Reporters who broke the news received death threats. Some of the women involved got nasty phone calls. To explain this, Kaurin pointed to a concept she called the “entitled warrior.”
This is the idea that a society’s warriors deserve special treatment — and that people who fight to defend a country automatically feel superior to those who, say, grow the food.
It’s not an idea most in America fight. “In addition, sexual permissions have historically been seen … as one of the permissions that one is entitled to as a warrior,” Kaurin said. “This has been part of military life and is part of the reason for the resistance to integration of ‘feminine’ groups like women, homosexual and transgendered or non-binary persons.”
However, such ‘traditional’ ideas run afoul of contemporary understandings of military professionalism in all the military branches in the U.S. The actions and especially the responses by Marines United and their allies are a direct challenge to the ideas of respect, trust, good order and self regulation of the moral community of the profession.
I would argue that some of what is going on in this case is the idea of sexual permissions combined with the Entitled Warrior complex. In this case the manifestation is through shared nude pictures, humiliating, degrading and even persecuting of women who are supposed to have their respect and be part of their team.
When challenged, the response reflects this sense of entitlement and justification in terms of this dynamic and a refusal to admit that there is any unethical or unprofessional behavior here, deflecting the blame to the women and to others who are clearly not real ‘Warriors’ and therefore, do not ‘get it’ and therefore are not real ‘Men’ and not entitled to membership in the brotherhood.
Which, as the former Marine pointed out, is complete bullshit. Woman Marines are Marines. There should be no qualifiers. “What should have happened here,” he said, “is some responsible, senior Marine should have seen this, found the bastards responsible … commit them to a month of sensitivity training and shut the bastards down.”
“Respect and trust are basic foundations to the military and failures with respect to those in one area are risking those behaviors in another,” Kaurin said.
“While many will not like the comparison, I cannot get the photos of Abu Ghraib out of my mind. Humiliation, degradation, mocking and persecution of those that one deems as a subgroup or lesser in relation to oneself, which reflected larger cultural and ethical problems. Not a case of a few bad apples. If we are honest with ourselves, its is rarely a case of a few bad apples.”
“There have been calls for firm and clear leadership on this issue, which is right and understandable, but this is not just a leadership issue nor an issue of failed personal morality,” Kaurin said. “This is an issue of military culture and ethics problem and must be dealt with as such.”
Kaurin said that strong words from leadership are great, but will only go so far. For this to really change, all warriors — from the lowly enlisted to the elite general — must call out bad behavior when they see it. The culture has to change from within.
That starts with a basic concept the former Marine understood but so many of his colleagues have trouble with. A woman Marine is a Marine. End of discussion.
It is only a matter of time before this app becomes required. What if there isn't enough women in the room? Does some of the men have to become transgendered to balance it out? What if the leader/organizer of the meeting does most of the talking? Do they need to let members of the opposite gender talk about whatever they want just to balance it out?
Critics of the Apollo program argued it was extravagantly wasteful: the money spent sending men to the moon could have been put to better use here on Earth. Maybe so. But at least all those taxpayer dollars went toward putting men on the moon. And they did actually get to the moon.
Today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration specializes in putting taxpayer dollars into the pockets of crony capitalist chieftains such as Elon Musk, whose SpaceX operation manages to get NASA to payhim to use its launch pads and other infrastructure—all provided at taxpayer expense. He also doesn’t cut NASA in when he uses its facilities—our facilities—to launch rockets carrying private cargo, meaning he effectively gets paid for it twice.
That’s once in the check he gets from the private business whose cargo his rocket is carrying; then again in the de facto subsidy he gets for the free use of NASA’s equipment at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Why isn’t Elon paying the freight, as opposed to blowing it up?
Incidentally, that happens a lot. Over the past five years alone, SpaceX has lost the same number of rockets as NASA did space shuttles over the 30 years it operated them. And the shuttle wasn’t a money-making machine for politically connected crony capitalists such as Musk. Taxpayers funded it, but no private citizens got a check from taxpayers.
The shuttle even made some money for taxpayers. Private businesses paid NASA to carry satellites into orbit, recovering some of the cost of building that infrastructure. The shuttle also did things useful for the public, like put the Hubble telescope in orbit. It has given humanity an unprecedented view of the universe, and not on pay-per-view.
Paying Private Organizations to Use Public Property
Musk turns that arrangement upside down. This is a major point of departure from previous practice. During the Apollo and Shuttle programs, private contractors made money, certainly. But the programs were for public rather than private benefit. The Saturn V rockets didn’t carry corporate cargo, with NASA paying the corporations for the privilege, and there was competitive bidding for the contracts to design and build the rockets, the command service module, and the lunar module.
Today, there are sketchy Space Act Agreements (SAAs) that allow NASA to disgorge money for “other transactions” to connected crony capitalists like Musk, with little oversight and very few strings attached. Originally, these SAAs were meant to “advance NASA mission and program objectives” by cutting red tape and opening the bidding for NASA contracts to smaller, more efficient companies.
SpaceX has pocketed an unprecedented $30 million in the form of a Space Act earmark that wasn’t open to competitive bidding, which is typical of these insider trading-esque, inherently shady deals. Also, each new cozy deal makes it harder for anyone else to even be considered for a future deal. You have to “know someone,” and they have to know you. NASA seems to know Musk and SpaceX entirely too well.
Nor has Musk ever been charged rent for using taxpayer-funded facilities such as launch pad 39A and the infrastructure at the Kennedy Space Center upon which his trouble-prone rockets depend. Musk uses these facilities—paid for by you and me—so he can make a buck (lots of bucks) launching his rockets and the stuff they carry, even when they carry government stuff.
When they don’t go up in smoke.
Speaking of which: Who pays for the damage done to NASA’s—to taxpayers’—property when they do go up in smoke? It isn’t SpaceX. Certainly not the billionaire king of crony capitalism. But why should any of this be? Where is the congressional oversight? NASA is an agency of the federal government, but it should not be able to spend taxpayer money at will on whatever it deems appropriate without giving a full review to taxpayers’ duly elected representatives, especially in cases like this, where there is lots of spending and not lots of evidence of public benefit.
Whether the activities of SpaceX have merit or not isn’t even the primary issue. It’s who gets to decide whether they have merit. Should it be Congress, and representatives accountable to taxpayers via the ballot box? Or should it be unelected apparatchiks within a federal agency, accountable to no one?
Musk hasn’t yet taken anyone to the moon, let alone Mars. But he is taking us all for a ride.