Circumcision and the Military Service
Some people believe that circumcision is a requirement for entrance into the military service. Just as military recruits must wear uniforms and standard short haircuts, some people have the idea that there are similar military rules about “standard equipment” for penises. Undoubtedly some military authorities have wished that this were so, but in truth, there are no requirements in any branch of American (or any other) military service that an intact recruit must forfeit his foreskin upon enlistment.
Nonetheless, some new parents have their infant sons circumcised for this reason. (How did people get the idea that the operation is less painful for an innocent, freshly born, exquisitely sensitive infant than for a rigorously trained, battle-hardened soldier?!)
One recent medical source cites a rate of 0.3% circumcision among the Armed Forces.1 Therefore, it appears that stories about military men undergoing circumcision must be exaggerated.
According to one military authority:
“I am sure that no medical military personnel are oblivious of ANY circumcision. After all the purpose of the military is to protect the nation — not to defend the sacred American rite of circumcision. I am also certain that no branch of the service has ever had a policy of concerted circumcision. However, there is a high incidence of circumcision in the military. In most cases, these circumcisions appear to be more on an individual doctor-patient level rather than unit-wide. Military doctors have the duty to keep the men under their authority combat-ready, health-wise. Some of these doctors, obviously, have been conditioned to think all foreskins are health-hazards — just as do some civilian doctors. Some military doctors have been circumcision zealots — as have some civilian doctors. Most doctors probably couldn’t care less whether a man is cut or uncut.”2
The following are several accounts of men who have either witnessed or experienced circumcision or pressure to have circumcision while in the military service:
“In the midst of sex in Saigon I got just a short slit in the foreskin … had to go to the infirmary on account of the bleeding … I was very close to being discharged and the Army dogs said that it had to be circumcised, otherwise it would hold me up from going home. I protested vigorously, but you know who won the battle! The circumcision kept me out of action for about 5 weeks. Losing the foreskin was a traumatic experience sort of like losing a limb, or for a woman, a breast. I have gotten used to it now, but it was many degrees more pleasurable with foreskin, sensations were more intense. The army was sure adamant about cutting and I often wonder if it was really necessary. I can’t believe it was in my case. But their attitude gave me the feeling that they had a ‘thing’ about it.”2
“I was born in the USA but grew up in the Ukraine during the Nazis’ occupation. During that time all circumcised men in Carpantho, Ukraine, were arbitrarily deported to extermination camps by the Germans. When I returned to America I immediately joined the Armed Forces and only then did I realize that most American men are circumcised. Once they almost did it to me against my better judgment. I finally agreed to circumcision and was already prepped and enemaed when I backed out. My foreskin is loose and gives me no hassle so I told them to go to hell.”2
“I entered the Army and at age 20 was relocated overseas. I developed tonsillitis and the doctor advised tonsillectomy. I had no objection. I woke up in the recovery room with a sore throat and a sore penis! The doctor was standing by me admiring his butchery and said ‘While you were under, I noticed you hadn’t been circumcised, so I gave you a freebie.’ I called him a son of a bitch and his reply was, ‘You ought to be thanking me, I made a man out of you!’ “2
“Army Signal Corps stationed in Germany — on duty/kidney stone attack. Doctor wants me to sign surgical release. Under ‘Operation to be Performed': Circumcision and removal of kidney stones. I refused to sign and was told this was disobeying an officer (the doctor). I asked to see the chief doctor. …(I) meantime called the company X.O. (uncut) and asked for his help. He got Cp., C.O., & Chaplain to call Chief Orderly at hospital. The word ‘circumcision’ was removed from the release. Operation Success.”2
“During the Vietnam war I joined the Navy. We had routine short arm inspection every few weeks. This is a real experience because the doctor has everyone milk them. The 10% or so who are not cut have to peel back their foreskins and bare the head as well as go through the milking routine. I never had any trouble at these inspections until a new doctor showed up. He seemed to be particularly interested in my cock and made me skin it several times. Then he told me to report to him in Sick Bay, and I wondered what was up.
“I think the creep just hated guys who had not been cut as babies or maybe he was some kind of kooky closet queen who was envious of me. Anyway he said I had to report for a circumcision. I told him I never had any V.D., I never had any trouble with coming, I kept myself clean, and I just didn’t want to go around minus my foreskin and with a scar on my prick, and I wouldn’t report. The M.F. said, ‘OK, sailor, then it’s a court martial and a general discharge for you.’ Well, I didn’t want that on my record and I knew I couldn’t beat the system.
“So now I have a cock like all other poor bastards whose folks didn’t have enough sense to say ‘NO WAY’ when the doctor asked them if they wanted to have the baby cut…. If somebody’s religion says ‘get cut’ OK, but why the hell should 90% of the male babies in America have to sacrifice their foreskins because of a lot of bloodthirsty doctors? Someday the men of this country will put an end to all this mutilation and cocks will be like nature made them and like mine used to be.”2
“It was during the Korean war that I almost got circumcised. There was a long lull in the fighting and the medical corps was idle. They called for a short arm inspection of uncircumcised personnel and as about half of my company seemed to be uncut that involved a lot of men. As I was waiting in line I noticed that some of the men were released after inspection but others were referred to another lineup. We all began to put two and two together and realized that these guys detailed were going to get clipped. As I got closer I realized that the presence of smegma was their main criteria for circumcision. I always produced a lot of it. I asked permission to go to the urinal, but instead peeled it back quick and cleaned myself out. It saved my foreskin!”2
“I was in the Navy during WW II, spending months on end cooped up on a miserable ship. With nothing else to do, some of us formed an initiation club. The doc, with nothing else to do, was into circumcising. Usually he had gone through every foreskin on the ship –including mine. My club was made up of ex-uncut men who were graduates of the doc. Whenever ‘new cocks’ were transferred to our ship, the doc would let us know which ones were uncut. We went to work on them — ‘Going to let the doc take care of that buddy?’, ‘About time you join the U.S. Navy, isn’t it buddy?’, ‘Ready to get that thing clipped, buddy?’, ‘Just think, buddy, this time next week, you’ll be a regular circumcised American sailor.’ We usually got them to sign quick and we made a big thing of initiation ceremonies as we watched the doc clip off another dick. Shit! What a lousy way to spend a war!”2
“I was attending a military academy during my teens. My foreskin and I had a running battle with the doctor who appeared monthly at the school to give each cadet a physical. After each check-up he would invariably give me a sealed note to take home to my parents. Intuitively, I knew the notes recommended circumcision and I hid them. Each month he would make me push my foreskin back and forth (which at 15 was embarrassing as hell to do in front of an adult) and then he would write his little note. Maybe he felt sorry for me because I was just about the only uncut boy at the academy. One day my mother asked me about the notes and I made a flimsy excuse. A few weeks later I ended up in the office of our family doctor who, after examining me, asked me right out whether or not I wanted to be circumcised. I said NO and he said there was no reason for it. That was that!”2
“I know of a Navy doctor who always circumcised on Saturday night so he could use foreskins for bait when he fished on Sunday.”2
“A doctor on my ship fed foreskins to his pet piranha fish.”2
“In my battalion (Seabees, WW II) the doctor did his damndest to sweet-talk, coerce, and ‘politic’ us uncuts into allowing him to add our foreskins to his 1/2-gallon jar of alcohol-pickled foreskins.”2
A was one of the last Vietnam draftees. We had about two weeks of orientation before training started. At the end of the first week a few guys were called to a special session after supper. Some Med. Sgt. showed us a slide show and gave us a talk on circumcision especially in Vietnam (because of V.D. and fungus infection). He answered some questions and then told us to sign some papers. We were all pushed into signing without being given time to think about what was going on. The next morning we were called to Regmt. HDQ and loaded on a mini-bus and sent to the base hospital. There were eight guys in my ward and when they stripped us and we got on beds as instructed, I realized that none of us were clipped. Then two young doctors and two male nurses examined each of us between the legs. One doctor told us that there were no complications and that we would have easy circumcisions that afternoon. They got some tranquilizers for us and we calmed down. One by one we were wheeled out. Some guys jerked off for the last time with skins. I was the last to go. Two men were already back and were feeling no pain so I wasn’t worried. I looked at them but couldn’t tell much because of the bloody gauze bandage. When I got on the operating table they put a screen up so I couldn’t see what they did but I could feel an injection. After the injection I was numb but could sense them pulling the skin, cleaning it, and putting a clamp on. I could tell what they cut and when. It was like a tearing feeling. They put stitches around the cut, sprayed it with something, and bandaged it up. About three hours later in the ward the pain hit all the guys. It was like a bad burn. Most of’ the guys got hypos and the aids put ice packs on their crotches. Nobody said much for the next two days. We never made it to ‘Nam’…the war was over before we left training.”2
Dr. Mendelsohn comments:
“In the past, the U.S. Armed Forces advocated circumcision perhaps because it gave an opportunity for young surgeons to practice, there was an excess of available hospital beds, the procedure presumably promoted cleanliness, and, in their view, it prevented venereal disease.* Circumcision was also felt to promote discipline, I presume as a result of the young recruit’s learning what the Army could do to him at the outset he might be influenced to behave himself during the rest of his tour of duty. Possibly because of this conditioning, many people think that circumcision is mandated by state law.”2
The type of situations described, of being overwhelmed by pressures of authority, is not at all unlike the experience of new parents, overwhelmed by hospital authority when they sign away their sons’ foreskins. Within the hospital institution, whether upon giving birth or in the military service, people have often had to be strong, assertive, and unafraid of being different in order to keep this piece of skin. Passivity and cooperation will more likely lead to loss of the foreskin.4
Jeffrey R. Wood has suggested a possible military “advantage” of circumcision. Perhaps the circumcised recruit would be more willing to risk injury or death in battle because his body has already been injured with the loss of his foreskin.
For some military authorities and other people, revulsion to foreskins may be akin to the intense hatred for beards, mustaches, and longer hair on men that has been so prevalent – in past decades – especially during the 1960s. The public needed at least a decade to learn that society is not going to fall apart as a result of longer hair or facial hair. Hopefully in the future we can become equally relaxed about foreskins.
Sylvia Topp relates:
“An American doctor in Vietnam claims that many man-hours of active duty were lost by uncircumcised men who acquired balanitis (infection of the foreskin) and had to be hospitalized and later cured or circumcised.”5
From a different perspective, perhaps some men, experiencing fatigue or hysteria from active combat have welcomed circumcision as the “lesser of two evils.” The operation would keep one out of battle for several weeks, and was at government expense. And since a considerably higher percentage of men die in battle than as a result of circumcision — perhaps the operation saved some men’s lives.
However, top priority for medical services, especially during wartime, must be directed towards healing and saving the lives of those injured in battle. One must hope that supplies and energies given to circumcision “mania” has not stolen needed medical attention from others with more crucial, life preserving needs.
Ms. Topp adds:
“If you intend your son to be a soldier fighting in hot countries, perhaps you should circumcise him now, although you might leave both decisions up to him.”5
It must be emphasized that circumcision within the military service has been an American practice peculiar to World War II , the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam. World War I, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and most other previous wars throughout history were fought (apparently) effectively by men whose foreskins were intact. These wars took place during a time when bathing facilities and opportunities were vastly inferior to what we have had in the 20th century.
Obviously the practice of circumcising our own soldiers has been one that was doctor constructed rather than based on true need.
No one can predict the future. We do not know when or whether our country will be at war again. No parent can know whether his son — if circumcised today — will someday be thankful that it was over and done with in infancy, or will resent the fact that he was deprived of his foreskin. Nor does any parent know whether or not his son will want to be a part of the military service. Hopefully in the future the intact penis will be considerably more acceptable than it is today. Soldiers in other countries who do not practice circumcision apparently function without problems. By the time a child born today is old enough to enlist in the military service, perhaps medical circumcision will be confined to those who exhibit true need or desire for it. Routine amputation of the foreskin will no longer be advocated out of mere conformity or supposed “preventative” medicine.
1. Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound “Circumcision” (information brochure)
2. Berkeley, Bud “Excerpts from an Underground Newsletter”
3. Mendelsohn, Robert A., M.D. “Circumcision Views Solicited” People’s Doctor (newspaper advice column) Hayward, CA., 1978
4. Wood, Jeffrey R. (personal correspondence)
5. Topp, Sylvia “Why Not to Circumcise Your Baby Boy” Mothering, Vol. 6, 1978, p. 76.
*Author’s note: Circumcision is not a preventative against venereal disease (today usually referred to as “sexually transmitted disease.”) Please refer to Chapter 13 of this book for further discussion.