Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Women's War

I just finished reading an article in the New York Times magazine about women who come back from the Iraq war with PTSD from a combination of combat stress and stress related to rape and/or sexual harassment from their fellow soldiers.

And I can feel myself obsessing over these stories in the last few months...mulling them over and imagining what their lives must be like now. Part of my...what?...fascination? obsession? that they didn't do anything wrong. They did exactly what the government asked of them, what they were trained to do. The drivers drove, the nurses nursed, the planners planned...and their reward for faithful service was to be traumatized for life.

I catch myself scouring these stories looking for signs that they deserved this. Like many of these women themselves, I find myself resisting the reality of this story. It makes me face the unpleasant truth that sometimes people do everything they're supposed to do, and bad things happen anyway. It's much easier to stomach this indignity if they "deserved" their treatment. If, as the clichè states, they were asking for it dressed like that.

And soldiers in war can certainly expect to be traumatized. But not at the hands of their comrades. That's the part that sticks in my craw. They did what they were asked to do, what they volunteered to do...and the reward for that was to be raped and abandoned by the military.

The article, which I'll link to the header here, told the story of Suzanne Swift and many of her lesser-known fellow soldiers. Swift gained notoriety for going AWOL before her second deployment to Iraq, after being forced into a sexual relationship with her squad leader during her first tour. Her mother has led the crusade to make her story public after her arrest.

The author also followed several women through inpatient and outpatient treatment for sexual and combat-related PTSD, and talked about some of the untreated women who came home, then succumbed to the pain and fear and killed themselves.

As appalling and embarrassing the Walter Reed scandal was for the military, this is equally shameful. I'm also certain it will never get the attention it deserves. Most of these women, when they reported their abuse and rape to the military, were brushed off, buried in bureaucracy, or punished by the military authorities. Many of the male soldiers who perpetrated these crimes were either unpunished, transferred, or given a "letter of admonishment.""

A letter of admonishment?? For a rape?

Imagine if it were male soldiers being raped by their supervisors. Imagine America's fighting men in their spiffy pressed uniforms, with their razor-sharp creases and their tidy stubble of neatly clipped hair, bent over and sodomized by the men who were supposed to lead them into combat. Imagine the outrage as those soldiers arrived home and began telling their stories.

Now listen for the outrage about our women soldiers. Nothing. Silence.

Women who've left their families and risked their lives, women who've volunteered for a cause that they believed in, and some women who've made the ultimate sacrifice for that cause.

Is this really how we want to treat them?

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