Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Violence Begets Violence?

After spending most of this morning writing the second of four essays for my Paradigms in Mission class (this one on the contemporary influence of Reformation ideas - not, I'm afraid, much of a page turner!) I decided to do a quick skim of the day's news before heading out to pick Adam up from his preschool. So, I headed over to the Christian Science Monitor, where I read this disheartening and disgusting article on sexual violence in the military.

In response to allegations of a staggering rise in the already all too high rate of sexual assault in the military, the military released this statement:

Sexual assault is a crime and is incompatible with military values. It inflicts incalculable harm on victims and their families; it tears at the very fabric of civilian and military communities; and it destroys trust among individuals and faith in our institutions.

Our policy has three major components: prevention through education and training; enhanced treatment and support of victims to speed their recovery; and accountability measures to ensure system effectiveness.

I wonder, however, if the instances of sexual assault in the military, rather than being "incompatible with military values," isn't instead the natural consequence of some of the values of the military - especially a particularly patriarchal concept of "masculinity," and a belief in the power of violence.

These values are not exclusively military values, and their insidious impact on the violently sexual behavior of those who hold them is not confined to active duty military personnel. In fact, such behavior is too often also commonplace in the male sports world, where once again aggressive masculinity, the prowess of power, and the potency of violence are held as ideals.

In any event, a male-dominated world in which violence is encouraged and one's talent for violence rewarded is not a safe place for women. This, at least, is not news.


crystal said...

I guess the military is one of those institutions that can attract a certain kind of person. Being a peace-nik, I have a bias against the military, but I know too that there are some good guys there ... my grandfather was in the army for 20 years, and I have a Jesuit friend who was a marine in Vietnam and is now an army chaplain. I wonder if they're the exceptions, though.

Sandalstraps said...

While it's true that some people turn to the military because they have no other promising career options and/or because they have a passion ad talent for violence, many, many, many people in the military enter it for good and noble reasons. My contention here - and any thoughtful reader will notice that I haven't supported it, but simply tossed it out there - is that military training and military culture, not entirely unlike atheletic training and culture, shapes the character of the persons immersed in it. Some of that character shaping, which encourages violence and a very aggressive model of masculinity, also produces this sort of sexual violence.

It is very difficult to train someone to kill without thinking, to kill reflexively (and to be successful in a war situation that is what you have to do) without doing some great damage to their moral fabric. As you no doubt remember, my best friend was in the Marines, and fought in the most recent invasion of Iraq. I am certainly not saying that his military service did irreperable damage to his moral character. However, it did do damage, damage that must be assessed accurately alongside some of the benefits that military training gave him.

On the plus side, his self-esteem and self-respect, especially after he returned from boot camp, went up almost immeasurably, along with his level of physical fitness. On the minus side, however, his innate talent for physical violence (he had been a very good highschool football player, and later a rugby player) has more deeply cultivated, creating an internal conflict within him that no doubt still goes on today between his understanding of the Gospel and his military training.

So, I'm not saying that everyone - or even most - who are drawn toward military service are likely to be sexually violent. What i am saying, however, is that military training may encourage the parts of young men that are naturally disposed toward such violence. As such, it seems insufficiently self-critical of the military spokesperson to simply declare that sexual assault is incompatible with military values.

crystal said...

I basically agree with you, Chris. My own father came back from Korea emotionlly damaged, and abandoned us. If you train people to harm others, and send them off to do just that, it can't help but dehumanize them, I think. Which is why I'm anti-war.