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Is Reform Possible in the Military?

War and Rape Go Hand-in-Hand

 

Watching the US Senate Armed Forces Committee wrestle with the issue of rape and sexual abuse in the military opens a whole range of related issues concerning sex and war that will likely not be addressed in the Senate.

First, there’s the world of militant Islam, against whom for over a decade our most war-friendly leaders have put us on a war footing. For many, Islam itself has become the new boogie man to replace the communism of the Cold War era. One critical factor in this war is how the Islamic world sees the treatment of women.

I first encountered this difference when as a young man I was traveling in Turkey. I was amazed at the young American women travelers who wanted to hook up with me and even wanted to share a room. Unfortunately, I soon realized it was not my prowess they were interested in. They sought protection from the incessant fondling and groping that Turkish men felt entitled to with young American females. These women clearly feared the possibility of rape.

I concluded, perhaps rashly, that Muslim men tend to take what they see as their male, masculine rights seriously and see liberated western women as a flagrant provocation.

Police break up anti-rape protesters in IndiaPolice break up anti-rape protesters in India

The New York Times recently reported cases of public rapes in Rio de Janeiro. There have been similar rapes (some that ended in murder) in India and elsewhere with huge street protests in India. The point of The Times article was the irony that such sexually aggressive male behavior was occurring in Brazilian society as that nation approached first-world status. Brazil is planning to host the 2016 Summer Olympics and it recently elected a woman, Dilma Rousseff, as president.

“We’re living a schizophrenic situation, in which important advances have been made in women reaching positions of influence in our society,” Rogeria Peixinho, from the Brazilian Womens Network, told The Times. “At the same time, the situation for many women who are poor remains atrocious.”

As I see it, a similar “schizophrenic situation” exists within the US military. Women are advancing in the military ranks at an unprecedented rate and they recently were legally accepted in combat roles. The top brass have no problem welcoming women into the ranks of the military since in a volunteer military women are essential.

The problem is at the lower levels, on what the military likes to call “the granular level” where individual male and female soldiers engage with each other as comrades and peers. Many red-blooded young male soldiers may not have gotten the memo that women are to be treated as equals. Or they may have concluded anti-rape rhetoric was only for PR and did not apply to them. The sorry track record of commanders dismissing indictments and convictions would seem to reinforce this view.

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