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From M*A*S*H:

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them – little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

There is a new story coming out of Iraq. To make at least some sense of the story requires some historical background and information.

Prostitution has been with the world for a very long time. Almost since the beginning probably. A mostly unspoken part of military history is the use of prostitutes to take care of the “needs” of the men. Stories of invading armies raping and pillaging are too many to count. Prostitutes were used in the U.S. Civil War. Japan forced women into sexual slavery for their troops during WWII. In Ghost Soldiers, the story is told of WWII soldiers who survived the Bataan Death March and were in the Cabanatuan Prison before they were rescued by Allied Forces. As part of the narrative, the camp doctor was concerned about men who for unknown reasons grew breasts and performed surgery without anesthetic to remove them to help keep the men from being victims of sexual assault by the other men in camp.

The theory to explain this behavior is that combat situations are so brutal and stressful that the normal rules of conduct begin to break down in the soldier’s minds and they are more likely to do things that would normally be reprehensible in their own minds. Regardless of the reasons, WWII U.S. Troops would desecrate enemy corpses and mail parts home. There are also many stories of similar acts in Vietnam and other wars, including the use of prostitutes and rape. As recently as 2002, a brothel in Australia closed their doors when a group of 5,500 U.S. Sailors coming back from a war zone stopped off in Australia. From the article:

Mary-Anne Kenworthy said she was forced to close the doors of her famous Langtrees brothel for only the third time ever yesterday because her prostitutes were so worn out they could no longer provide a quality service.

When she realised the sex workers just couldn’t cope any more she closed Langtrees doors for a day rather than risk the brothel’s reputation.

“We’re the biggest and the best, I’d rather take nothing than offer a poor service,” Ms Kenworthy said.

Langtrees did a week’s business in just three days after 5,500 American sailors disembarked in Fremantle on Sunday, many of them stressed from their encounter with war, she said.

To recap: for whatever reason history clearly shows that armies have a large sexual drive and will get their satisfaction voluntarily or by force [this is not a discussion about whether rape is about sex or control]. Combat situations also cause people to engage in behaviors that they would not even consider under normal situations.

The new story coming out of Iraq is about U.S. troops raping women who also happen to be U.S. troops in combat zones. Whether it is happening at a higher rate than in other populations is not entirely clear. It is clear that women are less protected against sexual assault in combat positions than in more civil circumstances. The story details sexual harassment and the fear of reporting because it is often a he-said she-said kind of case. The conditions of specific units often are dependent on the commander of the unit and there is no uniform level of acceptable treatment of women in uniform. The article points out that you have an entire group of men in a high stress situation where relationships are based on your willingness to take a bullet for each other and kill for each other, what is the big deal if you also lie for each other? Additional information about this ongoing story is here. Some people think that in the army, the woman has a gun and a knife and should be able to defend herself so the story can’t possibly be true, right? A thoughtful anonymous poster had this to say [worth reading in full]:

It happens. Working in a lab for the military in the past, rapes are a common occurrence in a lawful society, such as a stateside or overseas (European or Japanese) duty station. In a situation were the law is harder to enforce, I have no problem believing it happens more.

I had a female friend that just returned from Iraq. Female soldiers are told to never go anywhere alone, even on post, to avoid going to the bathroom at night, and to have their weapons ready at all times to protect them from other soldiers. She had to point her weapon at her fellow soldiers at least once to get them away from her.

It’s not the army as a whole, but in a 200+ man unit, all it takes it 2 or 3 scumbags to hang out by the female latrines at night to make it a problem.

The other bigger part of the issue is that no commander wants to believe that their soldiers are the culprits, so even if there’s evidence, the rapist never gets any bad actions. Samples or paperwork gets “lost”.

It’s completely unacceptable. Female soldiers should not have to be more afraid of their own fellow soldiers than the enemy, and rapists shouldn’t be protected. Any soldier that’s convicted of rape should get the maximum punishment, and any soldier that rapes an Iraqi should be turned over to the Iraqi government.

It’s so bad in the military as a whole, there’s even a military policy that says that if the victim doesn’t want to press charges (due to fear of reprisal or a misguided want to “get it all behind them”), the military will not pursue any action, even if they know who the rapist is. And don’t think it’s just female soldiers that get raped either.

It’s a serious problem related to the whole “this man’s army” concept that needs to be stamped out with such excessive force that it borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

And for everybody that’s blaming the female for not shooting her attackers, I dare you to walk up to a half mile in the dark to a latrine, surrounded by a bunch of people that are supposed to be your comrades, knowing that any one or more of them might be waiting for you to get to a place where they can beat you with the butt of a rifle and rape you repeatedly. Do this every night for a year or more, knowing that if you report it, nothing will happen, except that you’ll probably get ostracized for reporting other soldiers (and more rape).

But, if you do shoot the attackers, all they have is your word that they were trying to rape you, and you’ll probably go to jail for murder, since nobody will believe that “their soldiers” would be responsible for such a thing.

The sad part is, most of those guys would die for any other soldier, but the bad guys wear the same uniform as the good guys. Tell me that’s not [messed] up.

It is messed up. There are plenty of problems to consider, but removing women from combat positions and areas would be an excellent start. Perhaps the next step would be to roll back the increased use of waivers for people who have criminal backgrounds instead of allowing them to enlist.

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June 2017
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