Honor and Rape

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Here’s one take on U.S. militarism and the culture of domination:

“Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. You are here today for three reasons. First, because you are here to defend your homes and your loved ones. Second, you are here for your own self respect, because you would not want to be anywhere else. Third, you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight.

“. . . Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. . . . That’s why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.”

Here’s another:

“I can’t sleep without drugs. But even then, I often wake up in the middle of the night, crying, my mind racing. And I lie there awake in the dark, reliving the rape, looking for a second chance for it to end with a different outcome, but he always wins.”

The first speaker is Gen. George S. Patton, addressing the troops of the Third Army on June 5, 1944 — the day before D-Day. The second is Kate Weber, quoted in a story by Lucy Broadbent in the UK/Guardian last December, about being raped when she was in the U.S. Army while stationed in Germany in the 1990s — one of many, many thousands of women who have suffered such a fate, usually in silence, while serving in the military.

What a country! What a watchdog media we have, now hemorrhaging trivial details about the “adultery scandal” that has brought down CIA director David Petraeus, the erstwhile revered four-star general who has presided for a decade over various aspects of that abysmal American failure known as the war on terror, with a second general, John Allen, now entangled in the same growing morass of impropriety as well. The awkward context of all this is the honor code of the American military, which prohibits extramarital sex . . . except (this is the real world speaking now) in the case of rape.

The irony of all this is excruciating, and radiates in several directions. As numerous commentators have pointed out, the crimes and excesses of the U.S. military— from massive civilian slaughter to the toxic contamination of the countries we invade to drone terrorism — are legion, but hardly even newsworthy. Yet the outing of Petraeus’ affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has shaken the empire to its moral foundations.

Furthermore, consider the unbelievable investigative energy that went into the FBI’s discovery of the couple’s relationship.

“So not only did the FBI — again, all without any real evidence of a crime — trace the locations and identity of Broadwell and Petraeus, and read through Broadwell’s emails (and possibly Petraeus’), but they also got their hands on and read through 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails between Gen. Allen and (Jill) Kelley,” wrote Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. “This is a surveillance state run amok.”

In contrast, it seems as though zero energy goes into the investigation of actual rape in the military, except in rare circumstances. The military’s domination culture, personified by Patton, is constructed on the illusion of granite-etched moral values — “we protect our loved ones” — and powered by a belief in its own righteousness.

Thus, “Petraeus had no choice but to resign,” writes Dale McFeatters, a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. “The country, including several of its presidential commanders in chief, may find the military’s adherence to a code of honor and fidelity quaint, but the uniformed services do not. Petraeus was nothing if not a soldier.”

This is the military’s near-impenetrable fortress of public relations, behind which cruel realities fester. In 2010, according to the Pentagon’s own Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, there were an estimated 19,000 cases of rape in the military, a large majority of which went unreported — because the crime of rape is far easier to endure than the humiliation, shunning and punishment that usually accompanies its report.

“Rape in any circumstance is brutal, but in the military the worst effects are compounded,” wrote Broadbent in her Guardian story. “Victims are ignored, their wounds left untended, and the psychological damage festers silently, poisoning lives. Survivors are expected to carry on, facing their attacker on a daily basis.”

One place that military rape victims have begun speaking out is at the website mydutytospeak.com, e.g.: “The man that raped me and almost killed me (was) treated as the victim and I was told that I was at fault for no reason other than because I am a woman and should not have been walking alone,” wrote a woman who served in the Massachusetts National Guard. “You read that right, I am a woman and therefore because I took the risk of walking ALONE I was at fault for being raped. I was not out partying. I was not out drinking. I was simply walking alone — in uniform — when he grabbed me and raped me.”

Americans love a winner! But to reiterate Kate Weber’s words, several decades after she was sexually assaulted and, subsequently, shunned and ignored: “I lie there awake in the dark, reliving the rape, looking for a second chance for it to end with a different outcome, but he always wins.”

He won’t stop winning until we rethink the very meaning of national security. The scandal that brought down Petraeus is just a cover for the deep wrong of militarism.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.