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Rape in the Armed Forces

The list of a soldier’s vices is long and colourful, for as Kipling noted, we are not “plaster saints”.  We are hard men and women, doing hard and unpleasant things, so a society we largely stand apart from can know the privilege of someone else paying for their rights.  For all our vices, for all the things that we come to accept as natural in living and working conditions that would be illegal to subject convicts to, or to ask employees to face, we have one virtue that pays for all the vices, one saving grace found only in the sweat, mud, and grease, in the dust and smoke, and under fire; we are loyal to our own.

My introduction to our morality came as most did, in boot camp.  Nothing is stupider than a young recruit, or officer cadet, because he or she is a civilian, who has left their world forever, and knows it not.  I remember being on parade when the lesson was first administered, someone in the front rank made a mistake, the call went out, “Second man, front rank stand fast!  Parade, front rest position, on the word of command, twenty push ups!”  The man who made the mistake stood, and we all did push ups.  Collective responsibility.  We stand together, or fall together.  The mistake of one is the mistake of all.  He was shamed that we paid for him, we began to understand that when he failed, we all paid.

Later in boot, a member of second platoon (I was in 3rd) was having problems with classwork, and not getting help.  Everyone was getting their stuff done on time, and passing inspections with little problem, so they were surprised when the NCO threw their lockers out the window and dumped their beds on the barracks floor.  After raging the length of the barracks, the NCO’s announced that they had thought they were inspecting the barracks of SOLDIERS, who understood that they stood or fell together, but it turns out that this platoon hadn’t learned that yet, thinking it was enough to clean their kit, and let their comrades fail their classwork because they were too busy looking out for themselves.  Third platoon would be given all the time to clean kit they needed.  The message was delivered.  You look after your own; the Regiment expects you to pool your strengths, those who are more skilled at something will instruct the others, that you are as strong as the best of you at everything, not simply a collection of weak links.

There was a thief.  You do not steal from your own, you do not lie to your own, you do not let down your own.  There was a blanket party.  This is a terrible thing, a forbidden thing, and somehow, a necessary thing.  The offender was pinned beneath his blanket, and beaten with soap in pillowcases by the entire platoon.  This was not administrative punishment, this was collective expression of betrayal.  We demand and expect loyalty to our own.  We are not knights in shining armour, holding to some code of chivalry that existed only in fantasy, but nor are we attack dogs kept kenneled until we are unleashed upon our prey.  We are soldiers, and learn to bond as a family, to trust the men and women beside you as you ought to be able to trust your own kin, but only sometimes can.

What separates elite troops from the dregs?  Equipment, not really, there are a lot of well equipped third world parade ground Johnnies, who couldn’t stop a riot with a nuke, let alone advance against fire.  Training?  Not honestly enough.  Training is good, and will work on the attack when things are going well and you are following your ops plan and doctrine, and your command, control, and communication is in place.  In the face of surprise, in the presence of shock, or disruption of command and control, or in situations outside normal doctrine, the truth today is the same as the truth of the ancients; you fight for the men and women to your left and right.  You stand, because they stand.  You do not run, because you will not leave them.  You do your job because your brothers and sisters expect you to.  Not plaster saints, but loyal to our own.

Napoleon described the importance of morale in war, he said

“The moral is to the physical as three is to one”
“An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined.”

 

“In war, moral factors account for three quarters of the whole; relative material strength accounts for only one quarter.” (1)

So the power of an army, the effective strength of a military unit depends on its morale.  The bonds of loyalty that tie the troops to one another, in times of privation and hardship, of boredom stress and fear, it is the single absolute trust in one another that is the difference between a fighting force that is a terror to its enemies, and a defense to its state, and a bandit force dangerous to its state in peace, useless to it in war.

What is the single greatest threat to our military power?  Rape.

It doesn’t matter what the politicians do to us, for we expect them to use us for their own ends, lie to us, and about us whenever they bother to remember us.  It does not matter what the press or public thinks of us, because as little as they understand us, we understand them even less, and care almost as little.  For all our vices, for all the hard and ugly things we see, and do, for the defense of the state, we have shared such a loyalty as those other classes shall never know.  For we are loyal to our own.  Or we were.

Worse than a thief, a rapist is a traitor, a rapist has turned against their own, their sworn brothers and sisters and done to them what they have been taught is forbidden even to do to an enemy.  For one soldier to rape another is to piss on the colours of your  Regiment, to shit on the roll of the honoured dead, to defecate on the memory of all of those who sweat, bled, and died for their brethren.  There is not thing lower than one soldier who would do that to their own; for this act threatens not simply the victim, but the morale, the cohesion, the effectiveness, of the military itself.  The soldier-rapist is a threat to the security of the realm, the honour of his service, and every loyal son or daughter who lived and died true to the colours they betrayed.

Kipling wrote the poem “Danny Deever” that captured the spirit of what it means to have one of your own troops betray and strike out against his mates, his sworn brothers.  In his day we still publically hung them, that the Regiment could see justice done, that the wound could be healed, blood wash clean the colours stained by the dishonourable one.
” ‘Is cot was right-‘and cot to mine,” said Files-on-Parade.

” ‘E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

“I’ve drunk ‘is beer a score o’ times,” said Files-on-Parade.

” ‘E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,” the Colour-Sergeant said.

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,

For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ – you must look ‘im in the face;

Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,

While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.”(2)

 

For a military to remain an effective fighting force, by this I mean an Armed Forces that can be expected to be equally employable to project force abroad against foes of equal force ability, and domestically in support of civil disaster, it must retain its honour, it must retain its identity, it must remain loyal to its own.  Rape in the military violates this code.  Rape in the military shatters these bonds.  To show that you are loyal to your own, the military must hearken to the lessons of Danny Deever

 

They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ‘im to ‘is place,

For ‘e shot a comrade sleepin’ – you must look ‘im in the face;

Nine ‘undred of ‘is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,

While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.”(2)

 

Call it a predilection of an Odin’s man, call it the institutional memory of a long line of soldiers who knew rot had to be burned out openly, lest it come into the silent acceptance that will make it the work of generations to cure, but I think soldiers watching the rapist hang will understand this truth, we are nothing if we are not loyal to our own.  Politicians and lawyers understand law and society, and justice better than I.  I am just an old soldier, who understood the oldest lesson of the army; our honour is collective, or worth is collective, our success and failure is collective.  That which threatens the bonds that join us, threatens us all.  Sometimes to see us shed the blood of those who broke faith with us, is the only way to restore faith in our broken fraternity.  Blood doesn’t wash out much, vengeance is not justice, but for a military dealing with traitors, with predators of its own sworn siblings, it can at least show that we remember that we are nothing if not loyal to our own.  Rapists are nothing, for they are not loyal to their own, and they are not simply criminals, but a poison that threatens the integrity and effectiveness of our forces, they are traitors, oath-breakers, and predators.  They would best serve their state one last time hanging from a tree branch to show their brothers and sisters in arms that we have not forgotten loyalty, or the reward for treachery.

 

(1)    http://www.napoleonguide.com/maxim_war.htm

(2)    http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_deever.htm

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One thought on “Rape in the Armed Forces

  1. Petros says:

    Good post. I’ve been out of the Army since 1993, so I’ve been out of the loop for a bit. What do you think has changed that rape seems to almost be an epidemic within the military? Is it the quality of the recruits or has the culture of the military changed? Are our troops just broken after being deployed for so long?

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