Bring Me Men

Thursday, October 2nd, 2003

Can you wage war without a side order of rape?

Looks like you can’t even prepare for war without setting loose the most barbaric implications of the three little words that until six months ago greeted recruits as they crossed the hallowed threshold of the Air Force Academy: “Bring me men.”

The two-foot-tall letters adorning the campus’s main building were suddenly dripping with figurative egg, after 60 female cadets and former cadets came forward in March to charge not only that they had been sexually assaulted at the academy but humiliated with a vengeance worthy of the Catholic Church for reporting it to the, ahem, exclusively male officers.

Words carved in stone. Male dominance forever. If they were benign, why did the brass pull them down and cart them off in a Jeep (to an unknown location for “safekeeping”)?

Bring me stalkers. Bring me jerks. Bring me sexist pigs who don’t think women belong in this testosterone preserve of warrior he-men.

And then it got worse, when the macho, anti-weakling, “I own you, maggot” culture of the academy came under public scrutiny; when more women started coming forward with horror stories; when the tally of likely assault victims reached 19 percent of the female population — and when only one in five said she dared file a report for fear she’d be the one punished or ostracized.

One former cadet said she was driven from the academy by an upperclassman-stalker who assaulted her five times. Yet she was the one threatened with disciplinary action. She still fears retribution and now lives, as though in witness protection, in an undisclosed location.

Another cadet said she was sexually assaulted when she was a high school student, at the Air Force Academy prep school. When she got to the academy, she was raped by two of the attacker’s friends in retaliation for reporting the first assault.

This is the kind of thing that was tolerated to the point where you might say it was expected, if not, God forbid, encouraged. On Sept. 22, a congressional committee headed by Rep. Tillie Fowler, a Republican, released the report of its investigation, which strafed the Air Force for its pathetic internal study last spring exonerating itself and concluded that a “chasm of leadership” had signed off on a culture of rape at the elite school.

Bring me wimps.

Yeah, they’re making changes at the academy. To read about it, you’d think the new leadership is positively New Age, stressing sensitivity, cooperation and empowerment over bullying, humiliation and absolute obedience.

I’m skeptical that it’s anything more than barbarism with a smiley face. The devastated population of female cadets are nothing less than victims of war rape.

Maybe they deserve reparations.

The crimes against them are on a continuum with crimes against women committed by soldiers down through the ages — so systematically, predictably and invisibly you’re tempted to think, glory schmory. We’re doing it for the spoils. And women have always been among the spoils of war.

Here’s how human rights attorney Karen Parker put it when she testified before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1995:

“In our view, not only most countries but the entire international arena, including the United Nations itself, is effectively controlled by men and indeed made in men’s image. This accounts for the failure until now to even address the situation of war rape, in spite of the fact that in all wars since the beginning to time, rape and violence against women have been a fundamental feature.”

Oh, and this just in: Prostitution is flourishing in Baghdad these days, where it had been virtually nonexistent, London’s The Independent reported recently. A 21-year-old woman who worked near the army barracks on Abu Nawaz Street acknowledged that most of her clients were U.S. soldiers — at $50 a night.

No word on whether there’s a new sign over the sleazy hotel she works out of, with two-foot letters, that says: Bring me men.