Rapes in the Military, Added Observations

I think that perhaps the central thing of what I wrote yesterday is the different expectations from military and civilian populations.
As to assaults and brutality: it wasn’t common in the kind of unit I served it. There may well be more of that in other branches. But having been in that position, responsible for making the initial decisions, I can only say that there’s no checklist. At best, you don’t know what to do but you expect that if you do your best, your superiors up the chain of command will support you. I had that. But at worst, there may be pressure to suppress. Career-ending pressure, for officers. The pressure that will negate the investment in time and money and past decisions such that suddenly, through no fault of your own, you incur a black mark that will blight years of your remaining life. You go in one second from respected member of a profession to pariah.
The usual presumption you make, at least initially, is that your troops are innocent. You live with them, work with them in a closer environment than civilians know, and if it’s a close-combat unit such as infantry the bonds become as great or greater than family.
And you have no choice, none at all, in who the members of that family are. The great father in Washington puts the machinery in motion and it spits out a soldier. The rest of the people in the unit must then try to integrate that soldier into a profession where even in peacetime you must depend on the person next to you.
And if that soldier is a junior officer, say a lieutenant, they get tossed in to sink or swim. The people they now have ultimate responsibility for are likely not people they would have ever associated with before entering the military.
Rapes do happen in families; it’s not surprising that they can happen in military units. And it’s not surprising that a soldier might not know how to handle the closeness of a member of the opposite sex or even someone who might be homosexual. Or if a homosexual, being surrounded by a population that’s still mostly male. Or if lesbian, female.
Society tends to foster separation, even alienation. Military society insists on tight integration. Men have an association of like-minded men. You golf together. Play poker. Chase women (or men). Derive support from others who are basically like you are. Women do the same. OK, they may not be fans of playing poker.
The bully and the prospective victim now can’t escape each other. The pressures mount.
And so all the tensions of society get played out under physical and emotional pressures. By people who are young and untested and uneducated and inexperienced.
And untested officers, learning the job themselves, become the authority figure, the ‘parent’ in a sense. But not the parent of an infant. The parent of someone who might well be as old or even older than they are.
You may not, as an officer, closely associate with your troops. You are expected to associate only with your own kind, other officers. That breaks down in isolated units, but that’s still the ideal. And yet, you’re expected to know everything and to solve all the problems for a platoon of 30 people or perhaps a company or battery of perhaps 150. You have a staff of assistants, of course, but even so, it’s an impossible task. It’s a remnant of the days when nobles raised their own armies and commanded them in battle, and when soldiers were literally cannon-fodder.
But none of this can be taken into account, even though it should. Officers must always make the correct choice. Must decide if that ‘brother in arms’ is a rapist. Or a bully who’s bullying his own comrades to the point that they commit suicide. Or who will form a gang or similar loose association to do the same thing. Must decide if that complainant was innocent or somewhat complicit, and what that degree of innocence might be. As men work out society’s tensions, so do women. They work our their place in their tiny society, the pecking order if you will. Dominance, submission, the degrees of those things that will define their relationship. Soldiers, at bottom, are just people. Soldiers don’t have a checklist to follow either.
So the commander has to decide, how bad was the incident. A one man or woman jury, they decide who to believe and what to believe. There may be evidence, or not.
And a single misjudgment means that the judge and jury and prosecutor and evidence-gatherer can suddenly be the accused.
For officers up the chain, the lieutenant colonels and higher, they have much less of an excuse. They have the experience and education to make better decisions. But even generals can make misjudgments…or for that matter, even presidents.
The standard is perfection. For better or worse.
It might be better for society if our own civilian officials were held to the same standard.


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