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How Can We Stop the Epidemic of Killing Women and Children By Returning Soldiers?

No society that sends its men abroad for war can expect them to come home and be at peace, as returning Iraqi vets are proving in alarming numbers.

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When a New York Times reporter asked a master sergeant in the Special Forces to comment on these events, he responded: "S.F.'s [Special Forces members] don't like to talk about emotional stuff. We are Type A people who just blow things like that off..."

The killings at Fort Bragg didn't stop there. In February 2005, Army Special Forces trainee Richard Corcoran shot and wounded his estranged wife Michele and another soldier, then killed himself. He became the tenth fatality in a lengthening list of domestic violence deaths at Fort Bragg.

In February 2008, the Times reported finding "more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or [fatal] child abuse in the United States involving service members and new veterans" since the Afghan War began in October 2001. And it's still going on.

The Pentagon: Conveniently Clueless

In April 2000, after three soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, murdered their wives and CBS TV's "60 Minutes" broke a story on those deaths, the Pentagon established a task force on domestic violence. After three years of careful work, the task force reported its findings and recommendations to Congress on March 20, 2003, the day the United States invaded Iraq. Members of the House Armed Services Committee kept rushing from the hearing room, where testimony on the report was underway, to see how the brand new war was coming along.

What the task force discovered was that soldiers rarely faced any consequences for beating or raping their wives. (Girlfriends didn't even count.) In fact, soldiers were regularly sheltered on military bases from civilian orders of protection and criminal arrest warrants. The military, in short, did a much better job of protecting servicemen from punishment than protecting their wives from harm.

Years later the military seems as much in denial as ever. It has, for instance, established "anger management" classes, long known to be useless when it comes to men who assault their wives. Batterers already manage their anger very well -- and very selectively -- to intimidate wives and girlfriends; rarely do they take it out on a senior officer or other figure of authority. It's the punch line to an old joke: the angry man goes home to kick his dog, or more likely, his wife.

Anger may fire the shot, but misogyny determines the target. A sense of male superiority, and the habitual disrespect for women that goes with it, make many men feel entitled to control the lesser lives of women -- and dogs. Even Hollywood gets the connection: in Paul Haggis's stark film on the consequences of the Iraq War, In the Valley of Elah , a returned vet drowns the family dog in the bathtub -- a rehearsal for drowning his wife.

The military does evaluate the mental health of soldiers. Three times it evaluated the mental health of Robert H. Marko (the Fort Carson infantryman who raped and murdered a girl), and each time declared him fit for combat, even though his record noted his belief that, on his twenty-first birthday, he would be transformed into the "Black Raptor," half-man, half-dinosaur.

In February 2008, after the ninth homicide at Fort Carson, the Army launched an inquiry there too. The general in charge said investigators were "looking for a trend, something that happened through [the murderers'] life cycle that might have contributed to this." A former captain and Army prosecutor at Fort Carson asked, "Where is this aggression coming from?... Was it something in Iraq?"

What Are We Fighting For?

Our women soldiers are a different story. The Department of Defense still contends that women serve only "in support of" U.S. operations, but in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "support" and "combat" often amount to the same thing. Between September 11, 2001, and mid-2008, 193,400 women were deployed "in support of" U.S. combat operations. In Iraq alone, 97 were killed and 585 wounded.

 
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