Cruelty culture spreads fear in sublime city; CHARLESTON DAYS

Why is it that unspeakable things tend to happen in the most sublime settings? Charleston, I can assert with authority after almost six years of living in America, is the most beautiful city in the land.

And on the northern edge of its historic district lies a group of austere, white-painted buildings, crenellated like a Moorish castle, clustered around a vast green parade ground lined with palms and oaks. These are the barracks of the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. By the standards of such institutions, it too is an architectural ornament. What goes on there, however, is not so much beautiful as bestial.

For two years the once all-male Citadel has been attempting to comply with a Supreme Court order that it must admit women. In 1995 Shannon Faulkner, who sued to force open its doors, became its first female cadet. She lasted a week, broken not by the traditionally brutal treatment of new entrants but by isolation.

In August 1996, four more women enrolled. This week two resigned, unable to put up with "hazing", or persecution, that included physical assault, being drenched in nail varnish remover which was then set alight and being forced to drink tea till they threw up. And straightforward sexual harassment.

Now, "hazing" is illegal. But in truth it is just an outgrowth of the Citadel's strange, savage culture since it was founded in in 1842 to "graduate young men who have been taught the high ideals of honour, integrity, loyalty and patriotism". Duty, says the sign in the barracks courtyard, "is the most sublime word in the English language", to be instilled in what a visitors' guide calls "a unique holistic and adversarial environment".

As euphemisms go, that takes some beating. The freshman enters this military academy knowing his life for a year will be, by deliberate design, not so much adversarial as hellish. He will be bullied, intimidated and humiliated, all in the aim of moulding the perfect soldier - disciplined, unselfish, and utterly obedient. Small wonder one in five drops out during year one.

Now, one may well ask, why should any woman in her right mind want to submit to this perverted warrior culture? Her right to do so is beyond constitutional dispute. But boys will be boys. And after spending two years and millions of dollars to keep them out, the Citadel would not make it easy.

True, it has gone through the motions. Panic buttons have been installed in the quarters of female cadets. Two male cadets have been suspended, and 11 may be disciplined after the latest incidents. "The Citadel's future is co-educational," its interim president Clifton Poole assured us this week. But, he added even more revealingly, it did not need "outsiders telling us what to do".

Charleston may seem dreamy and sensuous, suspended amid marshes. But only with conformity and discipline can the beauty of old streets be maintained. Every half-hidden garden, every portico and patio must be perfect, preserving the order of a vanished world. Be it a woman at the military college, or graffiti on the walls of an East Battery mansion gazing out towards the Atlantic Ocean - the sacrilege is the same.

South Carolina was the first state to withdraw from the Union in 1860, and hothead Southern soldiers fired the first shots of the American Civil War. And in a way, you feel, it has never really ended. Back to Charleston, decides Rhett Butler at the end of Gone With The Wind, "where there's still a little bit of grace and charm left". Indeed there is. Alas, however, not at the Citadel.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Robin van Persie scores the third for Manchester United with a perfectly-guided header
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all