Two Foxes and a Hen: Sexual Assault in the Military

This is now a nation governed by thugs, a government in many ways reminiscent of right-wing authoritarian societies throughout history. It’s a smiling version of authoritarianism unless a person happens to be an immigrant. There aren’t death camps or gulags here, unless you’re an immigrant, or in some cases a prisoner in a place like the federal prison at Florence, Colorado (USP Florence ADMAX) (here, I refer to the extreme practice of long-term solitary confinement), or Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The government doesn’t need concentration camps for citizens like the ones where Japanese Americans were held during World War II, at least not yet. Look at the scowling faces of Trump, Pence, and Bolton, then look at Hitler and Mussolini. A brotherhood of scowlers.

The U.S. is obeisant to the military and military symbols and military authority. The new militarism in the U.S. was a long time in the making and began during the administration of The Great Communicator, Reagan. It morphed with the attacks of September 11, 2001, after which anything military was sacred. Those wars and those who fight those wars are now largely removed from view.

During these endless wars, I began to loathe the time at major league baseball games when militarism was celebrated. A dyed-in-the-wool Red Sox fan since childhood, I can’t recall these militaristic spectacles in the 1950s and early 1960s, although many ballplayers were veterans of World War II.

During a weekend pass from basic training at the time of the Vietnam War, a group of us were driven across the Georgia border to a motel in nearby South Carolina where some men in my basic training brigade spent the night with prostitutes in an adjoining room. I won’t make moral judgements here, but each soldier who went into that room developed an STD after returning to the base. These kinds of activities have long been associated with military training and are more prevalent in war zones and around foreign bases that the U.S. maintains. Without an unofficial nod to this kind of behavior, these places could not exist.

Throughout history, we see rape used as one of the spoils of war. Even if sex was consensual in theaters of war, sometimes the children born from these liaisons were abandoned with the end of a tour of duty, or the end of a war.

With the endless wars now fought, sexual assaults within the ranks of the military have been a persistent and a significant problem. Recently, one of these alleged assaults came to light when Col. Kathryn Spletstoser accused her former boss, Gen. John Hyten of the Air Force, of one such assault. What makes the general so significant, besides the importance of the alleged assault itself, is the fact that the general has been nominated to become the U.S. number two military commander as the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (“‘I Have a moral Responsibility to Come Forward’: Colonel Accuses Top Military Nominee of Assault,” New York Times, July 26, 2019).

Here are the figures (based on several reports) that reflect sexual assaults within the U.S. military: Sexual assault in the United States armed forces is an ongoing issue which has received extensive media coverage in the past several years. At least 32% of U.S. military women report having been sexually assaulted, and up to 80% have been sexually harassed.

Asking Trump, who is the most alleged sexual predator in U.S. presidential history, to intervene in the case of General Hyten is beyond the pale. It is like asking two foxes and a hen who are together what they will have for lunch (with a nod to Benjamin Franklin).

The New York Times reports on contemporary sexual assaults in the U.S. military in ‘“This is Unacceptable.’Military Reports a Surge of Sexual Assaultsin the Ranks,” May 2, 2019: Sexual assault in the American military surged in the last two years, driven almost entirely by a 50 percent increase in assaults on women in uniform, according to a survey released on Thursday by the Defense Department.

The department’s annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimated that there were 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in the 2018 fiscal year, based on a survey of men and women across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. That was an increase of 38 percent from the previous survey in 2016.

The grim data provides considerable ammunition for critics in Congress and some veterans’ groups who have pressed repeatedly for changing the way the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assaults.

I called Kirsten Gillibrand’s senate office in Washington, D.C. to get a comment on recent revelations on sexual assaults in the military since the senator has been an outspoken critic of military treatment and review of cases of sexual assaults in its ranks. The call was not returned.

This is the text of the senator’s response to sexual assault at U.S. military academies (“Gillibrand Statement On New Pentagon Report Revealing An Increase In Sexual Assault and Harassment At Military Academies,” January 31, 2019):

Survey Released by the Pentagon Today Shows Incidents of Unwanted Sexual Contact Spiked by Nearly 50 Percent During the Last School Year

Washington, DC– U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today released the following statement on the new Pentagon report showing that sexual harassment and assault at the three military service academies has significantly increased, despite promises of zero tolerance from military leaders:

Despite years of promises from the Pentagon to eliminate sexual harassment and assault from the Service Academies, this new report shows that unwanted sexual contact has increased by a staggering 47% in the last two years. Despite this alarming number, most survivors still are not reporting assaults to the authorities– a clear sign that they do not feel confident in the military’s ability to adjudicate and prosecute these crimes without retaliation. Military leaders at all levels, including at our Service Academies, must take this problem seriously. The answer to this scourge can’t be the same answer we get every year of give us more time, it’s taking action. We must stand up for survivors and fight sexual assault in the military with everything that we have, which is why I continue to urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act.

Two prominent women who know General Hyten, Trump’s nominee, came to his defense (“Two Prominent Women Defend General Against Sexual Assault Claim,” New York Times, July 30, 2019).

The beat goes on and on and on… “It’s almost a soldier’s sacred duty once in a while” is the line spoken in the film From Here to Eternity (1953) in which a character expresses his observation about the duty of a soldier to occasionally get drunk (there’s lots of public drunkenness in the movie). The same could be said cynically about sexual assault in the military.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).