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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Perturbing the forces

This past week, Norton Schwartz, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, said he was reluctant to scrap the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"This is not the time," he said, "to perturb the force that is, at the moment, stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan."

What a curious thing to say. Makes me, oh, I don't know, a bit perturbed.

Perhaps that's because too many commanders still don't ask, and too many victims still won't tell, about the levels of violence endured by women in uniform.

Women now make up 15% of the armed forces. The Pentagon's latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before.

Among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%.

Close to a third of female veterans say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving - twice the rate in the civilian population.

The Pentagon estimates that 80 - 90 percent of sexual assaults go unreported because of "the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip."

More than a half feared they would be labeled troublemakers. That may be due to the fact that the only person a victim can get confidential assistance from is the military chaplain. Anything she says to a doctor, lawyer or victim advocate is not "privileged information."

Women also worry that they will be removed from their units for their own "protection" and talk about not wanting to undermine their missions or the cohesion of their units.

And then, some just do the math. Only 8% of cases that are investigated end in prosecution, compared with 40% for civilians arrested for sexual crimes. Astonishingly, about 80% of those convicted are honorably discharged nonetheless.

Makes you wonder just how, exactly, the repeal of DADT would "perturb the forces". Would the presence of people who are stripped of the fullness of their humanity by being associated with a sex act raise the already sky-high testosterone level supposedly needed to be in battle?

Or, would knowing who was an LGBT person and, therefore, "hands off" to sexual activity so reduce the "available population" so much as to be perturbing to the forces?

The policy of "Don't ask don't tell" is killing us - in the words of the old Book of Common Prayer - "our souls and bodies."

I'm reminded of that spectacular court room scene in "A Few Good Men," when Daniel Kafee, played brilliantly by Tom Cruise, demands, "I want the truth!" Colonel Nathan Jessup, acted with equal brilliance by Jack Nicholson, responds "You can't handle the truth!"

Seems to me that truer words were never spoken.

We need to perturb the forces with the truth of what violence - and secrecy - do to the human soul and body.

We may just discover that we can handle that piece of truth better than either the truth of rape or the truth of our sexual orientation.


hipumpkins said...

I recently finished a book called, "when everything changed" by Gail Collins about the women's movement from about 1960 onward. I was shocked to read the statistic about sexual assault of women soldiers from our own men. It is frightening and despicable. It seems our US women serving our country are more in danger from their fellow servicemen then from the enemy they fight. It makes me sad and very angry.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Despicable. Sad. Angry.

Yup, that'll do.

Bradley said...

What a joke, then again, does this surprise anyone from an organization that's built on the premise of killing and violence. Your tax dollars at work. The number #1 use of your tax dollars at work.

I figured they were ready to give up DADT when recruitment was down. Of course us LGBT's will be legally able to get killed for a country that won't let us marry.

Prior Aelred said...

Women soldiers in Iraq have died from dehydration because they were afraid to leave their bunks for fear of rape.

BUT the Chief of the JCS has changed his position, so there's that ...

gerry said...

Elizabeth dear, consider the source. The General is in his late 50s and graduated from the AF Academy when Gays and Lesbians lived so deep in the back of the military closet that they couldn't see light.

His generation is the last bastion of the DADT crowd in the military. Recent polls show majorities of the line troops as supporting repeal while the General Staff, etc. are uncomfortable and dreaming of a return to what they had 10, 20, 30 years ago.

It al reminds me a lot of the orthodities, viagravillains, et. al. running loose in the church.

The abuse of women in the forces is a disgrace and brings up all kinds of questions about the Military Codes of Justice and the concept of honor.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

"Of course us LGBT's will be legally able to get killed for a country that won't let us marry."

Sad ironies abound.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Really, Prior? OMG. I had read somewhere that women don't drink after 7 PM so as not to have to get up and go to the latrine in the middle of the night for fear of being raped.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Gerry - I think the golden ideal of "serving with honor" has been seriously tarnished.

Bill said...

"Perturbing the forces" -> it appeals to me on so many levels. I like the idea of perturbing the forces, shaking the tree, or rattling cages. It all speaks to challenging the status quo; challenging the complacent and kicking apathy in the butt.

Malcolm+ said...

In my multi-faceted life, one of the facets is that I am a Reserve officer in the Canadian Forces. In that capacity, I attended a USAFR conference a few years ago. We few Canadians were there for two days of a four day conference. The other two days consisted of briefings specific to the USAFR, including a briefing on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Several of the American officers and Senior NCOs present wanted to know what the Canadian equivalent was to "DADT." They were mostly surprised when I summarized it as "Tell Me If You Want, I Don't Give A Rat's Ass."

They were even more surprised when I told them about the very senior folk I knew who were openly LGB. Their jaws dropped when I talked about the absolutely first rate staff officer I had working for me who had just concluded her transition from male to female - and had subsequently married another woman. Currently, one of the very senior officers involved in the relief operations in Haiti is an openly gay man.

DADT is stupid. Canada got rid of regulations against LGBTQ in uniform almost 20 years ago, and its more than 25 years since the last serious investigation. Anti-harrassment training in the CF specifically deals with homophobia, along with sexism, racism etc.

The USAF COS is a doddering fool - at least on this issue. Fortumately, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs is more secure about his masculinity.

Gretchen said...

I'm with Bradley. Can we truly expect fairness from an organization whose purpose is to kill and destroy human life? The bit about them "protecting" our freedom is false. Bumper sticker a friend 'o' mine saw the other day: "U. S. Marine Corps - when it absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight." Of course, in this, our imperfect world, I hope the old General is a fading away breed, and part of the fading away patriarchal paradigm.