Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kusinski was arrested the other day for groping a woman in a parking lot at one in the morning in Washington, D.C.’s Crystal City. Just another incident involving sexual coercion and an American solider, one of a number of recent incidents that have dramatized the alarming extent of the problem – except for one thing: Kusinski was in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault and Prevention unit.
With over 500 sexual assaults every week, and a rule that permits commanders to dismiss all charges – regardless of how much evidence is amassed against the accused – the US military is a veritable rapists’ paradise. Reports of rapes have increased by 30 percent since 2007 – a huge jump. And that’s just the reported rapes, which, by the Pentagon’s estimates, account for only 20 percent of the total. Over at Lackland Air Force Base, in Texas, it’s an orgy of sexual harassment, with 32 instructors accused of “inappropriate” behavior with 62 trainees. It’s a wonder they have time for anything else.
What in the name of all that’s holy is going on?
To begin with, part of the problem is the way the military deals with such incidents: the victim is supposed to report it to her (or his) immediate superior – who is very often the perpetrator. But the issue goes a lot deeper than that, rooted as it is in the very nature of warfare.
What kind of person signs up for the US military? I would put them in two categories: 1) Someone who wants and needs the kind of discipline which is the defining characteristic of military life, and chooses to take advantage of career opportunities that might not be available otherwise, and 2) A gung-ho macho jerk who loves violence for its own sake. Of course, these two categories are not mutually exclusive, and while those who belong exclusively in the latter category are no doubt less numerous than the former, of one thing we can be certain: the sort of person who joins the military lacks the aversion to violence possessed by most civilized human beings. Which is not to say they are homicidal maniacs: it is to say, however, that they their willingness – and ability – to tamp down violent impulses is less than the average person’s.
But this doesn’t explain anything, really: after all, we’ve had a military for as long as the country’s been around, and rape was never a pandemic – or, at least, it wasn’t as brazen as it is today. What is different about this moment in history?
I would contend it’s a combination of two factors: 1) the general decline in traditional standards of morality, and 2) the specific nature of the 21st century American military as an instrument of global dominance.
On the first point: the ranks of the military are filled with those who could not find gainful employment otherwise – in short, our soldiers come from the “lower” ranks of society. This wouldn’t matter much in previous eras, because America was more or less morally homogenous: there was no significant “morality gap” between the upper and lower classes in society. Indeed, if anything, the rich and the upper-middle class were a bit more risqué because they had the leisure, the opportunity, and the money to act on their inner desires, whilst the lower orders were taught from birth to repress and channel their urges into more productive and socially useful activities.
These days, however, the “morality gap” is about as wide as the income gap in general: the lower you go on the socio-economic totem pole, the lower the standard of what passes for “morality.” Out of wedlock births increase as income decreases, and there are alarming indications this “morality gap” is increasing, with out of wedlock firstborn births the majority for the first time.
In short, one reason sexual violence is more of a problem in the military these days is because of a general lowering of moral standards in the society at large. The phrase “casual sex” is, today, a redundancy – because is there any other kind?
But wait – how does this explain sexual violence? After all, one could approach sexual matters from a “modern” (i.e. sluttish) perspective and still abhor sexual violence. So where is that coming from?
For the past decade or so, the US military has been rampaging all over the globe. In an unprecedented series of regime-changing military campaigns, American soldiers have been engaged in wars of conquest from Iraq to Afghanistan, with enlisted personnel sent on multiple deployments for extended periods. Not subject to local laws, and encouraged to employ maximum violence on a battlefield where the locals are the enemy, our troops have unleashed a wave of violence in the countries they occupy that most Americans are completely unaware of.
That’s why the “Collateral Murder” video revealed by Wikileaks – and leaked by Bradley Manning – caused such a sensation: people began to ask “Is this what our soldiers are doing over there?” The plain and simple answer to that question is: yes. According to the official propaganda – and our “embedded” media – our soldiers in Iraq were just helping little old ladies cross the street, and when they weren’t doing that they were building schools and setting up clinics. When the “Collateral Muder” video surfaced, along with the Abu Ghraib revelations – and all the other atrocities committed our dauntless defenders of the American Way – the American people were actually shocked.
Yet sexual violence – a criminal behavior generally – in the military has been a problem for years: just ask the people of Okinawa, who have had to live side by side with an American military base that has been a constant source of criminal activity – rapes, robberies, murders, you name it. Protests against the presence of the base has been gong on for decades, to no avail. The area around our overseas bases is always a “hot zone,” rife with prostitution, drugs, back alley dives, and other unsavory aspects of human existence. It comes with the territory.
Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power: the power to dominate, and humiliate one’s victims. It is, in short, the sexual equivalent of war – which is why it is so often practiced as a deliberate war strategy. In Imperial America, where the cult of the military has been taken to ridiculous extremes, the soldier is valorized and put on a pedestal so high that it’s no wonder they feel they can get away with anything. Held in tandem with the idea that our military is the best, the strongest, the most dominant in all the world, is it any wonder that rape is part of the military culture?
For the past twelve years, the US military has been given free rein in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing, raping, pillaging, and otherwise doing the Devil’s work. Why is anybody surprised that, when they come home, they keep doing what they’ve been doing all along?
It’s no accident that rape in the US military has become such a major problem at a moment when two rising trends – imperialism and political correctness – are coinciding. Imperialism, and the cult of militarism, have imbued military personnel with unprecedented social status – the military is the most trusted institution in America – as well as a sense of their own invincibility. On the other hand, political correctness has mandated a sexually integrated military, with women (and openly gay men) living and working alongside testosterone-soaked heterosexual men who have come to believe they are exempt from the rules us lowly civilians must live by. It’s a fateful, and very dangerous, collision.
The rape pandemic in the military is yet another case of “blowback,” with the consequences of American foreign policy coming back to haunt us in a particularly violent – and chilling – way.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).