Over the past few days, news that a Taliban-affiliated military leader recorded videos depicting the rapes of young girls in Afghanistan has been generating excitement in the conservative blogosphere. While I fully support the exposure (and hopefully punishment) of such heinous scumbags, the holier-than-thou tone that characterized much of the right-wingers’ reaction to this news was not only creepy, but incredibly ironic.
Many of the “patriots” who weighed in on this story reacted with the following two arguments:
-Muslim men treat women like shit (Example comment: “These people are pigs. I read somewhere that when Muslims invade a village or are in a war, they carry ‘marriage certificates’ with them, then it’s all legal, because the wife must submit to her husband.”
-The “liberal” media that spent so much time trying to embarrass the Bush Administration by covering the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib will ignore this story (Example: “I seriously doubt you will see anything about this on any station except FOX!!! The MSM sucks!!!”)
I have no interest in defending the media or the way that women are treated in many Muslim countries, so I’ll just jump right into why these points are ironic coming from people who are generally so emphatic and unquestioning in their support for the US military: one-third of women serving in the US military are raped.
According to a Los Angles Times op-ed by Rep. Jane Harman, “Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”
These statistics are sickening, but its Harman’s description of the details that really makes you want to puke: “The stories are shocking in their simplicity and brutality: A female military recruit is pinned down at knifepoint and raped repeatedly in her own barracks. Her attackers hid their faces but she identified them by their uniforms; they were her fellow soldiers. During a routine gynecological exam, a female soldier is attacked and raped by her military physician. Yet another young soldier, still adapting to life in a war zone, is raped by her commanding officer.”
To be fair, the Department of Defense has created a Sexual Assault and Response Office, but the problem of sexual assault in the military remains a horrifying epidemic that has barely generated much media attention (or reform within the military) outside of a few particularly salacious scandals. So, while I share revulsion with the right-wingers who are understandably appalled at rapes happening in tribal regions of Afghanistan thousands of miles away, I think that the motivation to demand accountability for rape would be more effective if focused on the thousands of sexual predators currently serving in the US military.
But when it comes to the sex and the US military, conservatives’ attention spans seem to have been monopolized by another policy: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
In order to avoid accusations of homophobic intolerance, most mainstream conservative pundits claim that the military needs to keep out LGBT folks to protect “the morale” of straight soldiers. Mackubin Thomas Owens of the Foreign Policy Research Institute summed up this argument in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “To maximize the chances of battlefield success, military organizations must overcome the paralyzing effects of fear on the individual soldier… This they do by means of an ethos that stresses discipline, morale, good order and unit cohesion… The reason for excluding open homosexuals from the military has nothing to do with equal rights or freedom of expression. The primary consideration must be military effectiveness.”
If the military seriously wanted to prioritize effectiveness, would it make sense to discharge homosexuals who are fluent in Arabic despite a serious shortage of translators? If unit cohesion was really that important, would they have lowered the bar to allow people with white supremacist tattoos to enlist in order to achieve recruitment quotas? And, if commanding officers were so concerned with overcoming “the paralyzing effects of fear on the individual soldier,” you would think that more of them would be doing something about the kind of fear described by Helen Benedict in the new book “The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.”
Describing her experience, Army specialist Chantelle Henneberry told Benedict, “Everybody’s supposed to have a battle buddy in the army, and females are supposed to have one to go to the latrines with, or to the showers – that’s so you don’t get raped by one of the men on your own side. But because I was the only female there, I didn’t have a battle buddy. My battle buddy was my gun and my knife.”
Somehow, I’m sure there’s a self-proclaimed patriot out there who would still find a way to blame gays or Muslims.