Recently, Patrick Stewart gave an emotional talk about how PTSD can be the partial cause of physical abuse in a relationship, which he made sure to tie into the many veterans with PTSD coming back from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The misogynistic violence of a militaristic culture does not end with tragic stories of men taking out their war-trauma on their wives, but is also evidenced in the way in which rape victims (both male and female) are kept silent by the military.
It is important that we remember that there are not really “isolated incidents” when it comes to rape. It is not a problem of “a few bad apples.” The term “rape culture” refers to the systemic acceptability of sexual crimes, which we are all taught to take some small part in, and only full scale societal reprogramming can alleviate this situation.
There has been increase in mainstream discourse on women who were raped during their service in the US military. According to the testimony of Rebekhah Havrilla, all charges against her rapist were dropped merely by his saying that sex was consensual. Also disturbingly, when she went to the Army chaplain with her story (why does our supposedly secular country employ clerics in the first place?), she was told that “the rape was God’s will and that God was trying to get [her] attention so that [she] would go back to church.”
Unfortunately, the discussion of rapes of US soldiers does not mean that the US military has changed its policy in any particular way, any more than tears for starving Africans changes the economic relationship between Africa and the rest of the world (in fact that might not be the best example, because so uninformed are Westerners about African needs that our good intentioned “charity” can result in the funding of genocidal regimes in Africa). And if US soldiers are victims who our society shows no sign of helping, foreigners are in an even more dire circumstance when they are made victims of rape by the US military.
Rapes committed by US troops when they occupy other countries are under-discussed in mainstream US political discourse. Upon reading this sentence, I imagine many American readers will reply that while such rapes are tragic, they are likely not widespread. In fact, recently a book was published on the subject of how, during the liberation of France (one of the occupations by US troops which heralded the new era of US superpower status which lasted throughout the Cold War and continues today), American troops were encouraged to view their occupation of France as a sexual adventure, and French women as collective sexual prizes. If white, Christian French women were regarded as an exotic sexual prize to the extent that this was viewed as a wise propaganda tactic by the US military on an official level, one need only have a rudimentary knowledge of the intersection of sexual and racial politics to imagine how American soldiers viewed the Japanese (who the US government had spent the entire war dehumanizing, unlike the French) under occupation. Rape was common in the early years of US occupation (and disturbingly, at the same time the American occupiers were suppressing freedom of speech and of the press), and still today, the US troops on the unwanted bases in Japan are frequently in the Japanese news for crimes, including rape.
The same can be said for South Korea. Ever since the Korean Civil War, the US has had a military presence in South Korea (ostensibly to help defend South Korea’s sovereignty in light of the communist regime in North Korea, although if this is the case, one wonders why the US has a military presence in Japan, which clearly can handle its own defense needs as it even has its own military base abroad, in Djibouti, which I hope is less resented by the natives there than the US bases in Japan and South Korea are resented by the natives of those countries), which many South Koreans resent due again to the crimes of US soldiers, including rape, against South Koreans. When an institution so obsessed with discipline turns a blind eye to rape (internationally), it is difficult to view it as anything but tacit support.
This “boys will be boys” policy towards the crime of rape comes from the same military that criminalized the hero Bradley Manning for his heroic acts (which are not criminal and should be the source of emulation for everyone employed by the US government at any level). This should frighten us all the more given the United States military’s international reach. In 2005 the “first ever” conviction of a GI for rape in the Philippines (surely not the first ever instance of rape by a GI in the Philippines though) ended with the acquittal of the GI in question and fears of “feminist and leftist protests.”
Filipino feminists and leftists claimed that the acquittal “shows Philippine “subservience” to the US, a former colonial power.” I wonder where they get that idea.
While many American liberals celebrated Obama’s “principled” stance of “rape is rape,” one wonders why he doesn’t take such a public principled stance when it comes to trying rapists and torturers in the US military, such as in Afghanistan or Iraq. Indeed, his only comment on photos of the torture and rape of Afghanistanis and Iraqis was that they were “not particularly sensational.” In case you’re curious what heroic anti-rape crusader Obama found so boring and unworthy of “sensationalism,” let alone legal action: “an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner,” “a male translator raping a male detainee,” “sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube,” “a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts” and this testimony:
“I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”
Boys will be boys! No need to pursue any court cases with those documents proving the occurrences of rape, mocking the lunatic Todd Akin (who lost the election, while Obama still controls the most criminal military on Earth) will suffice.
If there is outrage in US civil society at rapes committed within the US military, how much more widespread would the outrage be if we were in the shoes of the South Koreans or the Japanese? If the Japanese or South Korean military were committing rape against US citizens, one can easily imagine the reaction by the US population, which would be far less contained than South Korean or Japanese reactions to rapes our military commits in their countries. Oddly, Japanese seem to be more outraged by apologetics for rapes committed by their military decades ago than Americans are by rapes being committed by the US military today.
Of course some might argue that the Japanese are apologizing for forcing women into prostitution because it’s more overtly institutional. It becomes harder to deny endemic rape when it takes the form of brothels for soldiers, rather than soldiers hunting individual women during raids. This defense would be more convincing if the United States had not done the exact same thing in Japan right after the war (read the section on “Recruitment” if you want to see some truly undiluted rape culture). But there is an even more recent case of a war in which the US military behaved not altogether differently to the Japanese during WWII, and our crimes from that war are far less a part of our political discourse than Japan’s crimes from WWII are in Japan. A book on the subject was recently published, and the author was interviewed at many publications, such as Vice Magazine here:
Rape was also a weapon of war and an enormous number of vietnamese women, including children, were forced into prostitution.
They were forced into catering to the US war machine one way or another, and one of the prime ways was prostitution. A lot of girls who were sent to it, their villages had been destroyed and they were forced into the cities. And this was a way to provide for their families. The Americans had lots of money to spend and these were young guys, 18, 19, 20 years old.
So it was this flourishing sex trade and then out in the countryside there was what seems to be a tremendous amount of rape and sexual assault.
What I found was extremely disturbing. I recount a few cases where the sexual violence is really shocking. A lot of times I found myself, I felt I didn’t have the language to describe exactly what I found in the cases, because rape or even gang rape didn’t seem to convey the level of sexual sadism. These are extremely violent gang rapes, or raping women with inanimate objects like bottles or even rifles.
Boys will be boys!
Knowing as we do that rape is an under-reported crime, we must consider some unpleasant facts: Per the CNN story on rape within the US military, “About 19,000 men and women suffer sexual assault each year in the military, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, though he noted that only about 3,200 assaults were reported.” This must be at least in part because of “the prevalence of retaliation against service members who report incidents of sexual assault and harassment.” If service members feel ashamed to admit sexual assault, and indeed fear “retaliation” for reporting “incidents of sexual assault and harassment,” one imagines victims living under US occupation hardly feel more secure about reporting crimes by the occupier. Knowing what we know about the Vietnam War and the crimes committed by the US military during it (and if you feel you don’t, you ought to watch this video interview with the author of the book mentioned above, where he mentions that extra beer was given as a reward for bringing back dead Vietnamese bodies), we should be given pause by how under-covered the war in Afghanistan (the longest war in US history) is in the media (compared to the Vietnam War, which not coincidentally had a much more robust anti-war movement attached to it in the United States itself). It’s impossible to know about every crime ever committed, but how much of an interest does the media have in revealing those that are known?
“Rape culture” means that rape is legitimized not only by an unresponsive state apparatus, but also by our collective silence. One cannot undo rapes of the past, but one can change one’s views on the importance of these atrocities. Just as mass murder is not to be swept under the rug, whether the perpetrators look and talk like us or not, and whether the victims look and talk like us or not, so too should rape by soldiers not be swept under the rug, regardless whether a Western military or an “Oriental” military is committing the rapes, and regardless of whether the victim has a nice white Christian name and citizenship in a Western country or a difficult-to-pronounce name and citizenship in an exotic country.