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Those who seek to discourage young men from enlisting in the military might want to remind them that, in addition to the possibility of getting killed, they are even more likely to be forced to endure long periods without getting laid. Indeed, there could be weeks or months, beginning with basic training or later, on foreign battlefields, when guys in the service are just not going to be getting any.  A lot of enlistees know when they put their signature on that paper in the recruiter’s office that they might get killed, but a wee voice of denial in their head says, “Nah, it isn’t going to happen to me.  Yet, I wonder how many of hear another wee voice yowling, “Sign that paper and you’re gonna be crawling the walls!”

Armies are made up of largely of young men in their physical prime.  Just when they should be enjoying relations with the female gender, dating and making out, in short, leading a normal life, getting married and starting families, they are inducted into the service where, for many, sexual activity comes to a screeching halt.  Many heterosexual soldiers have their first homosexual experience in the military, not because they are gay but because it is, at the moment, to their way of thinking, better than nothing. This is also true of prisoners, a warden once told me, and regimented barracks life is a form of prison.  In civilian life, a young man gets to meet young women in his community, create friendships, and develop healthy, meaningful relationships. The military career, though, typically reverses the normal processes of social interaction. Soldiers are commonly trained far from their homes, parted from their “girls” and wives, receive few passes off base during the first months of training, have scant time or opportunity to meet women, and then are uprooted to a new base for advanced training. Once trained in the military arts, they are sent abroad to places like Afghanistan and Iraq where they don’t speak the language of the civilians and opportunities for the development of normal, loving relationships with the opposite sex are virtually nonexistent. 

Young men in a state of sexual arousal with no normal outlet are more prone to commit the crime of rape. Authorities on human sexuality point out males have higher sex drives than females and there are some men who are aroused sexually when brutality is involved.  Women are not the only victims. Rape debases both parties to the act. Men don’t enter the military as rapists but after leading abnormal lives largely denied sexual opportunities with women, they may become rapists. An Internet search will turn up countless stories of armies of all nations that commit rape. It’s not just U.S. soldiers in Iraq that rape. It is soldiers from every army in the world today, and probably of every army that ever was, that rape. Rape is an ugly byproduct of militarism. Putting weapons in the hands of sex-starved young males gives them infinitely more power over women than if they attempted to rape in civilian life without them.  What’s more, faced with the prospect they can be killed at any time, fighting men may feel entitled to “get some” before they get knocked off.  It’s just harder for soldiers to exercise restraint than it is for men in civilian life.

During World War II, Japanese soldiers were notorious for the rape of Nanking and other Chinese cities and villages. German soldiers raped widely as well, as did Soviet soldiers when they invaded Germany.  Rape was not unknown among U.S. soldiers in Viet Nam, either. In recent “ethnic cleansing” wars both in Europe and Africa, rape by the conquerors has been widespread.  UK’s “The Guardian” reported in May, 2004, of alleged widespread rape of Iraqi women by U.S. troops. Iraqi attorney Amal Kadham Swadi told the paper sexual abuse of women inmates by U.S. guards is “happening all across Iraq.”

And not just Iraqi women. U.S. women soldiers serving in Iraq by one account have been told not to go to the latrine or take a shower alone, and some carry knives to protect themselves from their male soldier “buddies.” Reuters reported last February 27 that 70 percent of 284 American women who served in the military suffering post-traumatic stress “said they had suffered sexual trauma in the military.” And in “Home Front: the Government’s War on Soldiers”(Clarity Press) author Rick Anderson cites a Department of Defense study of 556 women soldiers that found 30 percent of them were either raped or subjected to rape attempts. 

Prizing their warriors, generals are apt to look the other way when rapes occur and, when rapes cannot be ignored, mete out light penalties for rapists. A Denver Post study found twice as many accused Army sex offenders receive administrative punishment as are court-martialed.  “The military system is like a get-out-of-jail-free card,” the paper quotes a Colorado Springs rape victim counselor as saying. Adds social anthropologist Catherine Lutz of the University of North Carolina, the military has a big investment in its soldiers, especially elite units like Special Forces. “That makes them very reluctant to take any action, knowing that the military would have to shrink quite a bit if they got rid of all the known abusers,” she told reporter Anderson.

Men are more prone to rape when social inhibitions against aggressive conduct are loosened by alcohol and/or drugs, and there have always been plenty of opportunities for U.S. soldiers to obtain these.  Because of the terrible actions they must perform, many soldiers prefer to fight zonked out, and some officers permit it, rationalizing, “anything that helps…”  Viet Nam veterans told me it was mentally easier for them to fight and to detach themselves from the horrors of the battlefield when they were high. One stimulant, marijuana, is also believed to have aphrodisiacal powers. 

Another reason soldiers are said to rape is because, as one rape victim told me, “rape is a crime of power.” In her view, “Iraqi women are raped not because soldiers are deprived of sex but because soldiers feel superior to them, because they are ‘inferior’ to ‘us’”, because women “don’t count as human beings” and because “we can” rape them. “It is empire and racist supremacy causing this, not lack of a normal sexual outlet,” she contends.

Add it all up --- sexual heat and extended frustration in young males, combined with booze and drugs, the possibility of imminent death, weapons in their hands, feelings of superiority, power lust, and the prospect their crime will not be reported, and the result is rape. This is not written to rationalize it, only to attempt to understand why rape invariably follows an army the way a vulture hovers over a highway.  Its existence is one more good reason to eliminate the scourge of war and the military machines that make them.


(Sherwood Ross reports on military and political topics. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com)


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Sherwood Ross worked as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and contributed a regular "Workplace" column for Reuters. He has contributed to national magazines and hosted a talk show on WOL, Washington, D.C. In the Sixties he was active as public (more...)
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