A recent book, "The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq," by Helen Benedict, has gotten a fair amount of recent publicity. It is based on 40 interviews that Benedict, a journalism professor at Columbia University, conducted with female veterans, and tells of their rape, sexual assault, and harassment by their male counterparts.
There have been many documented cases of rape in the services recently. I have no doubt that the women who have lodged complaints have a very legitimate beef and that there have been numerous coverups. And all of the services have seemed extremely reluctant to prosecute these cases. It's as if they're hesitant to hurt their esprit de corps by even acknowledging that there is a problem.
Rape under any circumstances is obviously wrong, and women who are serving their country should not be put at risk for it. The question is, what to do about it.
Realistically, men who are given guns and asked to put their own lives on the line in a foreign country are going to behave differently than if they were, say, attending a college back home in the States. The ratio of men to women in the Army is roughly ten to one. And the type of men who join the armed forces are generally going to be the high testosterone types who are more predisposed to fight, and be brutal in general. Frankly, those are the men you want in your armed forces. (If our armed forces were composed of men like me, who prefer to sit behind a computer and peck away at a keyboard, we would have been conquered a long time ago -- by Guatemala.)
None of this is an excuse for rape. It's merely a realistic appraisal of the type of men who join the armed forces and the circumstances in which they find themselves. The people who run the armed services certainly realize this. They want fierce fighting men who are willing to kill and possibly die for their countries.
To this day women are not allowed in combat roles: they cannot join the Special Forces, or the Infantry, or be Cavalry Scouts, or Field Support Specialists, or Armor Crewmen, or artillery officers, or any number of other front line positions. As of yet, Demi Moore's "G.I. Jane" notwithstanding, there has been no great hue and cry from the feminists to allow women into those jobs, either. From what I've seen of the training required for Special Forces soldiers, even if they were allowed to try, women would have about as good a chance of getting in as they would of qualifying for an Olympic semi-final in a men's event.
Contrast enlisted women to enlisted gay men. I've always found the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding homosexuals ridiculous. Either they should be allowed in, or not. (Personally, I think they should be. The Spartans, a notoriously if not flamboyantly gay fighting force, were some of the finest soldiers ever.) I've heard that when women soldiers go on a battleship, roughly 20 percent of them become pregnant and have to be taken off the ship; gay men, no matter how many times they have sex with other men, will not get pregnant. (That Village People song did have its roots in longstanding tradition.) And gay men, especially the type interested in enlisting, can make great soldiers. The TV show "Generation Kill" features an obviously gay elite Marine known as "Fruity Rudy." I am perfectly comfortable with the knowledge that tough, strong guys like him are defending my country. So why the ridiculous policy?
The military shows a similar ambivalence towards the fairer/weaker sex. When it comes to issues of political correctness, the military gets cut a lot of slack that other institutions don't. This is partly because the military itself is not populated by the liberals you might find, say, on a typical college campus. And it's partly because even the most pc types realize in their heart of hearts that if the military starts spending too much time and energy enforcing modern notions of equality that they might lose sight of their primary mission, which is to defend the country -- so that the liberals can stay safe on their college campuses.
Which still leaves the question of what to do.
One solution would be to not allow women into field (as well as combat) positions. This would undoubtedly elicit a huge outcry, and it does seem unfair to exclude an entire gender from a career opportunity. But the ultimate raison d'etre of an army is to fight battles, and as of now, women are not allowed into combat roles anyway.
As long as women are out in the field with men who are trained killers in a life and death situation, rapes and harassment will occur. This is certainly not right, it is merely a realistic appraisal of human nature. If I tell you not to go into a certain section of town because you are in danger of being mugged, that doesn't mean I'm condoning mugging. I'm merely being realistic about that section of town.
The choice seems to be either to not let women go into the field, or to prosecute the soldiers who harass and rape them to the full extent of the law.
I say the answer is clear: let's do everything we can to keep those pc types safe on their campuses.