Like a disease attacking the human body, hazing attacks the heart of a unit or organization. At times, it sits in remission without any visible signs; unfortunately, recurrence is only a misjudgement away.
The fact that hazing is not limited to the Marine Corps should not be used as an excuse to avoid our responsibilities. America has entrusted us with her youth, and we need to uphold that trust by instilling the core values that have been handed down through generations of honorable and faithful service.
In late 1993, after a video of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon’s “Hell Night” surfaced, we were brought into the theater at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., and, as a sergeant, I received my first class on hazing.
I tried to justify in my mind that previous things I had done were nothing compared to the events in the video. What I had participated in was tradition, not hazing. But, the longer I sat there, the clearer it became that I was just as guilty as the Marines in the video because I violated the sacred trust placed in me. After leaving that theater, it was clear I needed to change … not out of fear of repercussions but because, as a Marine, it was the right and necessary
thing to do.
In early 1997, a second video depicting Marines at Camp Lejeune participating in a “wing-pinning” ceremony appeared. In response, then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Charles C. Krulak addressed the incident in an open letter. “My duty in this matter is clear,” said Krulak. “All Marines will be treated with the
utmost dignity and respect. There is no place for hazing, sexual harassment, discrimination or any other form of degrading or immoral behavior in the Corps. No part of what makes the United States Marine Corps the world’s premier fighting force has ever relied on brutality.”
At that moment, we as Marines had an opportunity to use his letter as the scalpel to cut this cancer from our Corps. Unfortunately, because of some misguided and skewed sense of loyalty to culpable individuals instead of the institution, hazing still exists today.
Most recently, in All-Marine message 005/12, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos expressed his commitment to eradicate hazing. He defined hazing as both a leadership and warfighting issue. “As leaders, you are to ensure that all Marines are treated with dignity and respect and to be ever vigilant for the signs of hazing within our ranks,” said Amos. “Hazing destroys our Marines’ trust and confidence in their fellow Marines and in the unit leadership, thus undermining unit cohesion and combat readiness. It does not promote loyalty, build esprit de Corps, or prepare Marines for war.”
The title “Marine” is earned at recruit training and officer candidate school. Any other self-described rite of passage is hazing. Training Marines still needs to be hard and challenging, but if you have to ask yourself the question “Is this hazing?” then it is in fact hazing. Looking the other way is condoning it, and even with the best intentions in mind, it will continue to erode the trust and confidence that is the bedrock of our Corps.
We as Marines have to take ownership of the problem. We have to rededicate our efforts to eliminate this unnecessary evil from our Corps. Together, we can eliminate this disease from our ranks.
Cook is the sergeant major of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.