Over the last few months some startling cases of sexual assault in the armed forces came to light. The brutality and seeming frequency of these cases caused even more investigation into the culture inside the armed forces and what they were doing to help combat this despicable and heinous pattern. What was found was even more shocking:
The Defense Department estimated that more than 26,000 troops experienced an episode of “unwanted sexual contact,” a huge jump from the 19,300 figure in the 2010 report. (CNN)
This in and of itself is bad, but put that on top of the recent cases of officers being arrested and charged with sexual assault while simultaneously being in charge of the prevention of the very same crimes they were committing. An Air Force head of the sexual assault prevention unit was charged with sexual battery. An Army officer also in charge of his sexual assault prevention unit was charged not only with assault, but with forcing subordinates into prostitution. And before these cases even came to light, the firestorm was touched off by an Air Force general who took it upon himself to reverse a jury verdict in the case of fighter pilot found guilty of sexual assault by an all-male jury. What we see is not only the pattern of abuse, but the insidious pattern of coercion, appeasement and acceptance that goes into covering it up.
This week a large panel of the highest ranking officials from all branches of the armed forces came before Congress to explain how they intended to deal with this issue, which is nothing less than a stain on the moral reputation of our fighting forces. One of the immediate and direct measures being suggested is that commanders in the various forces no longer take the lead in cases of this nature or other violent crimes. All those cases would be funneled outside the chain of command to a third-party law enforcement group, which would then decide whether to prosecute based on the facts. The panel roundly rejected this idea, claiming it would decrease, possibly destroy, military readiness and unit cohesion.
I have a particularly hard time imagining a woman or man who was attacked by one of his own fellow officers still feeling a lot of “unit cohesion,” especially when they find reporting it to their commanding officers goes nowhere in many cases. The simple fact of who they have to report to is one of the driving factors behind the estimated majority of unreported cases. The soldiers fear retaliation from inside their unit, retaliation from their direct commanders, and even rejection of future promotions or advancements because they made the choice to speak out instead of keeping quiet. The panel also seemingly refused to admit that the fears they have about the detriment to the chain of command are hollow since other countries, such as Israel, Canada, and the United Kingdom, have already put this practice into place and seen no such damage. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) brought this up during the hearing,
“Israel in the last five years, because they have prosecuted high level cases, you know what has increased by 80 percent?” she asked. “Reporting.” (ThinkProgress)
Adding more fuel to the fire were patently ridiculous defenses brought up by people like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). Sessions tried to blame porn and society for people being raped in the military, while Chambliss went a little more subtle by reminding everyone that the average age of our soldier is 17-23 years old and nature just fills those young people with such high hormone levels. I mean what can we possibly do to stop nature?
This is where the argument becomes not only demeaning to logic, but to the soldiers and armed forces of our country. The whole ethos, the belief system behind our volunteer force is that we respect their sacrifice and their service, but we also respect them because they represent the best and the brightest of our country. They are not only warriors, but beacons of moral and ethical strength in whom we trust the most heavy and important choice in this life: whether to kill another human being. Once we start making excuses for them about why they are allowed to sink to such levels of depravity and disrespect, then we have lost the very meaning behind what they represent. No one says it is an easy life as a soldier and I hold those who make that choice in extremely high regard, but when they put on that uniform they become more than just another person, they are a symbol and they need to respect that symbol not only in themselves, but in each and every one of their fellow officers. For these senators and others to attempt these poor defenses of this kind of conduct creates a sad impression of their own ethical reasoning, but an even sadder impression of how they see our soldiers.