Janey Got Her Gun
In glory's shadow lie unspeakable cruelties, meted out by cadets, unpoliced by the administration. "They say all this stuff about honor and discipline," commented one cadet. "But it's not honor. It's boys taking boys and tearing them apart."
This sanctimonious sadism evolved over the years. At first, the Citadel looked back in anger at the South's defeat and ignominious humbling during Reconstruction. And for the next century and a half, smoldering Southern resentment fused with untrammeled adolescent masculinity. What was once a three-month hazing ordeal for freshmen gradually spanned the entire first year. None were spared the relentless torture; "in the end, they all broke." By the early seventies, the culture of cruelty was out of control. Injuries to cadets were "not only common, but expected, especially broken wrists caused by attempts on the part of the freshmen to deflect the swats of upper classmen," wrote one cadet in the school paper. And reformers invariably met defeat. Adm. James Stockdale, brought in to clean the school up in 1979, left in disgust after a year of frustrated reforms, saying the place reminded him of the North Vietnamese POW camp he had endured for eight years. At the Citadel, the inmates ran the asylum, and they nearly ran it into the ground.
By the time Faulkner applied, enrollments had dropped almost as far as morale. Here was a chance for the school to reinvent itself, to enter the twentieth century in its last decade. Instead, the Citadel and its supporters--students, administrators, alumni, Charleston loyalists--used every conceivable subterfuge to insure that Faulkner would not succeed. "Save the Males" appeared on bumper stickers and banners all over the state--as if one woman threatened an entire gender. (Well, Napoleon did apparently comment that "he who is full of courage and sang-froid before an enemy battery sometimes trembles before a skirt.")
Faulkner's case riveted the nation's attention on this largely forgotten educational throwback to that antebellum fusion of Southern chivalry and viciousness. And, recounting those terrible weeks, Manegold's book reveals for the first time why Faulkner really left. That Faulkner was reviled, scorned and harassed routinely, mocked with obscene T-shirts worn proudly all over the state, is well- known. And the way she was shunned and isolated is testament, albeit a twisted one, that the Citadel system works. "A lone wolf will find it impossible to survive within the Corps," is the way the student handbook puts it. "Your classmates are your only companions.... These classmates are your sole source of support and aid at this time. They will be your friends for life."
Not Shannon Faulkner's friends for life. Frozen out, she had nowhere to turn for the support the school claims is essential for survival. The school wanted her to fail.
Much worse, though, is what actually happened. A few days before she left home for the Citadel, Faulkner was in a grocery store in her hometown when she was grabbed from behind by a man whose face she never saw. "I can't touch you while you're on campus," he said to her. "But I can get to your parents. I know a place where I can watch them burn." On her first day on campus, she heard that voice again, coming from a group of men near the entrance to the barracks. It was at that point that she lost her lunch and spent the rest of the week in the infirmary, unable to hold anything down. It wasn't that she was overweight, out of shape or a girl; Shannon Faulkner suffered from battle stress.
Many observers thought Faulkner a failure who had demanded entry only to discover that she couldn't make the grade. But her persistence over those three years of constant torment and threat, her steadfast resolve and impish sense of humor, suggested more courage than any of the male cadets at the Citadel would ever be called on to show. It was Faulkner--not the Citadel cadets--who had the right stuff, the stuff that makes for the honorable "citizen soldier." She opened the door for other women, who have followed her into the Citadel, seeking its particular brand of physical and mental torture as a way to test their limits and to cement bonds of friendship and love born of mutual--and equal--victimization.
Manegold tells this story deftly, with an effective mix of perverse curiosity and growing disdain and horror. Her journalistic reportage is crisp and clear, but it's mixed with moments when Manegold exults in her freedom from journalistic constraints. Occasionally, she lays on the metaphors thick as molasses, her prose becoming overladen with competing scents, like "mildew and magnolias," and coincidences are accorded a portentous historical significance. And in the book's finale, she relies on a series of anonymous, uncorroborated e-mail messages from a current cadet she identifies only as "V."