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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, July 10, 2000

A three-star victory
over harassment

THE biggest thrill of my feminist life was meeting Gloria Steinem last year in Washington, D.C. Chatting with the co-founder of Ms. magazine capped three decades of admiring Steinem from afar.

So what other feisty fighter for female empowerment is high on my hand-shaking list? At the very top is Claudia Kennedy.

This summer, the Army's most senior female officer is retiring from her Pentagon post after 31 years in the military.

While she certainly deserves accolades for achieving such a high rank, Kennedy also warrants a medal for bravery above and beyond the call.

Her public ordeal began in June 1997, when she was promoted from major general to lieutenant general.

During an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America," Kennedy was asked if she'd ever been sexually harassed during her military career. She acknowledged that she had.

Fast forward to August 1999. Kennedy -- anticipating a quiet retirement in exactly a year -- learned some upsetting news: Maj. Gen. Larry Smith, a two-star general, was destined to become deputy inspector general.

Kennedy was shocked. If confirmed, Smith's responsibilities would include investigating wrongdoing in the service, including allegations of sexual harassment.

But Smith had once harassed her, Kennedy remembered in horror. He was the unnamed culprit she had been referring to in the "Good Morning America" interview!

For two months, Kennedy agonized over what to do. Should she keep her mouth shut or bring a potentially devastating accusation against a fellow general, who would likely deny it?

Kennedy chose the latter course. In official filings with superiors and the Army's inspector general, she accused Smith of "holding her and kissing her against her will" in October 1996 in Kennedy's Pentagon office.

As expected, Smith denied the charges. He told investigators that -- while he may have hugged Kennedy and possibly planted a peck on her check -- none of his actions approached the seriousness of sexual harassment.

WHEN news of Kennedy's accusations became public in March, I was impressed at the high rank of the complainant. Surely, in this instance, one thing wouldn't happen that usually does in typical sexual harassment cases: a trashing of the accuser. They'd have to unequivocally believe a three-star general, right?

Wrong. A week later, the Pentagon confirmed that a retired Army officer had come forward with his own charges of "personal misconduct on the part of General Kennedy."

Oh, yes. A favorite tactic of criminal attorneys and others on the defensive: When accused of a crime, blame the victim.

Checking the headlines since then, however, can provide a handy synopsis of recent developments and reveal the identity of the ultimate victor:

Bullet April 15, "Woman general cleared" of personal misconduct charge.
Bullet May 11, "Army probe validates sex charge" against Smith.
Bullet May 23, "Maj. Gen. Smith will not become Army's deputy inspector general."
Bullet July 7, "General accused of harassment to retire."

To Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, on behalf of women and girls everywhere, a salute of gratitude. Well done, general.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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