Monday, July 21, 2008

Rethinking Force Protection

A pregnant female Army nurse, 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, disappeared last week after her home was set ablaze, shortly after seeking protection against her Marine husband, who allegedly held a gun to her head and threatened suicide. Last weekend, police found her charred body hidden in a shallow grave. This incident follows on the heels of two similar disappearances/murders in the past year: Lance Corporal Maria Frances Lauterbach and Army Spc. Megan Touma.

Robert Paul Reyes at SOP asks:

"Who is responsible for the murder of female soldiers stationed in America? It`s not jihadists who are murdering our women soldiers in the homeland, but jealous lovers or perhaps a serial killer... These murders have some obvious similarities, a special task force should be created to investigate these three cases."
Good idea. Let's look at this in context, though, and not limit the activity of a task force to violence that fits the description of serial criminal activity. Women serving the US military have much to fear from their male compatriots in the field as well. Recall reports in 2006 that female soldiers in Iraq were dying of dehydration. The cause: they refused to drink adequate water in order to avoid using latrines, where they had learned to expect rape and assault by male soldiers. But worse, the US military may be covering up this pattern of abuse. CommonDreams reported in April that the military routinely characterizes female deaths after rape in the military as 'non-combat related injuries' or 'suicide.' In 2007, Helen Benedict published an op-ed in Salon entitled "The Private War on Women Soldiers," in which she quotes a 21-year-old female National Guardsman who had taken to carrying a knife at all times:
"'The knife wasn't for the Iraqis,' she told me. 'It was for the guys on my own side.'"
Half the problem, in other words, is an assumption that "our soldiers" treat women with respect, while it "they" are likely to victimize "our" women. Instead, the media should be reporting on these events in context. International institutions need a comprehensive understanding of gender, militarism, and violence that goes beyond the kind of simplistic assumptions in last month's Security Council resolution. And the US military needs to go beyond launching a serious investigation of these patterns, and also reconsider things like base architecture, waivers for recruits with criminal and violent records, definitions of and rules on reporting assault, and the way it disaggregates its casualty data, in order to realize its goal of a gender integrated military.


hank_F_M said...

All good points. Things can and should be done better. But we should cover the positive items as well.

I saw this item on Strategy Page a while back on sexual harassement numbers in the military.

Bottom line is that young women are safer in the military than they are in college, or as civilians. That said, military life is dirtier, bawdier and more tedious than what most women are willing to tolerate.

Cleitus the Black said...

The US has already achieved a gender integrated military; and while Diodotus raises some interesting points regarding the general safety of women in the Armed Forces, let's consider some of the data lurking behind this headline:

- The Fort Bragg area has the highest domestic homicide rate in the country.

- In 2002, 4 military wives were killed in a six-week period by husbands who had recently returned from deployments; the cases didn't receive the notoriety of the most recent killings, because the spouses were civilians.

- The Miles Foundation (a local non-profit group serving victims of military violence) used to receive 50 calls per month before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now they receive 170 calls. Per week.

- Violent outbreaks are a well-documented by-product of PTSD; Vietnam veterans commonly experienced violent reactions on a weekly basis.

- Moral turpitude (ie, criminal activity) is no longer a bar to service in the military. Those recruitment quotas won't fill themselves, you know. This despite the fact that 60% of such individuals statistically end up requiring disciplinary action at the unit level.

- 121 killings by returned veterans have been recorded by the NY Times; 1/3 of the victims were female, and 99% of the killers were male.

There's no serial killer at work in North Carolina, which is really too bad; a serial killer could be profiled and caught.

Try to profile these women's killers, though, and you'd have to arrest most of the military men in the state.

JSN said...

I have led a life of very varied experiences.

I went to, quite possibly, the most thoroughly Politically Correct college in America. Some non-violent direct action was taken when the administration refused to follow up on every sexual misconduct charge (against both students and teachers) and the whole thing got in the papers as some of the students were thrown out, then later re-instated.

Then I joined the Marine Corps.

I went to the TOW Tech school at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Supposedly it is the MOS they have the hardest time getting people for (requires the highest ASVAB score? hard to get out of, once you are in?).

So, these weren't the dumbest, or least educated Marines. 3 of the 8 guys in my class had 2 or 3 years of an Engineering degree.

I found the Marines to be the most misogynistic place I had ever been in my life.

Charli Carpenter said...

There's more on this in the press the past few days because of the Congressional hearings. Cleitus the Black and Hank raise some important points about how to compare the numbers of civilian life. I haven't had the time to look closely through a social sceintists' lens, but will try in the next few weeks.

Though, you would think that women who self-select into the services would be the type to be least at risk of sexual assault (confident, well-trained in self-defense, etc) and that therefore they're not really comparable to the general civilian population. So if the numbers are even close to parity, that says something.

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