This paper aims to provide a brief history of the ethical issues of hazing in the military. The impact on various stakeholders is also provided before an analysis of the causes of hazing in the military and recommendations on how military leaders can promote tradition and a sense of belonging in a hazing-free military.
Hazing is an issue that has attracted much attention over the last few decades. College fraternities, high school programs, professional sports, and the military have all had their fair share of attention. The military is frequently held to a higher standard than these other organizations and has developed a bit of a black eye since the 1991 “Tailhook” scandal. Motion picture portrayals like that in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men” showed the public, not inaccurately, the dark side of command sponsored hazing. Hazing is not in keeping with the high standards of conduct that the U.S. Military aims to uphold and the ethical implications of these behaviors are diverse.
Merriam-Webster defines hazing as: an initiation process involving harassment; to harass by banter, ridicule, or criticism, or by exacting unnecessary or disagreeable work (Merriam-Webster, 2012). The United States Military has had a zero-tolerance policy on hazing ever since then Defense Secretary William Cohen tasked each service with developing guidance. Secretary Cohen was reacting to the outrage following NBC’s Dateline documentary on the Marine Corps’ blood pinning ceremony for jump-qualified Marines (Leppo, 2003). Blood-pinning involves newly qualified service-members having pins or medals, with the back clasps missing, punched into their skin by numerous senior personnel (Landay, 1997).
But, hazing is not something new to the military. Highly publicized cases of hazing date back to 1899, when General Douglas MacAurthur, one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history, refused to submit the names of cadets accused of hazing him during a West Point hazing scandal (Pershing, 2006). Other military customs with hazing aspects date back even further. The “Crossing the Line” ceremony, which celebrates a Sailor’s crossing of the equator, dates back to the Vikings and 800 A.D. Crossing the Line ceremonies of the past have included activities such as; being forced to crawl through trash, being dunked in a mixture of fuel oil and sea water, being forced to kiss or lick the belly of a Sailor that has been covered in egg shells and mineral oil, and being forced to crawl across a tarp while being sprayed with a fire-hose (Leppo, 2003).
Other than the “Blood Pinning” story covered by Dateline, the sexual harassment and hazing story that came out of the 1991 Tailhook Association Convention in Las Vegas is one of the largest military hazing stories of the last several decades. Tailhook is an association of military aviators who gather annually to discuss issues relevant to carrier based aviation. In 1991 the convention was...