A recent study
being released states that military veterans are more than twice as likely to be in prison for sex crimes than are people without military experience. While veterans are less likely to be incarcerated in the first place, about a quarter of those sentences are for sex crimes against women are children. The article then claims that researchers are at a lose to understand why.
As soon as I read about these findings, I was reminded of the conversation of an Afgani woman I overhead where she discussed the American military's behavior in Afghanistan (read my blog post about it here
). Another incident of cruel and senseless violence inflicted on a child.
And they really wonder why this is an issue?
When you take a group of people, mostly men, and teach them through intense indoctrination to objectify the Other of course stuff like this will happen. It takes seeing the Iraqis or Afganis as "the enemy" and not as real people in order to be able to kill them. If the soldiers didn't objectify others and instead saw that they were mothers, fathers, lovers, teachers, grandparents, and someone's child their ability to kill them would be compromised. They must be taught not to care, not to see the human face, and not to see life from the perspective of that other person. Alfie Kohn actually addresses this issue in his book Unconditional Parenting
People who can - and do - think about how others experience the world are more likely to reach out and help those people - or, at a minimum, are less likely to harm them. Kafka once described war as a "monstrous failure of imagination". In order to kill, one must cease to see individual human beings and instead reduce them to abstractions such as "the enemy". One must fail to realize that each person underneath our bombs is the center of his universe just as you are the center of yours: He gets the flu, worries about his aged mother, likes sweets, falls in love - even though he lives half a world away and speaks a different language. To see things from his point of view is to recognize all the particulars that make him human, and ultimately it is to understand that his life is no less valuable than yours. Even in popular entertainments, we're not shown the bad guys at home with their children. One can cheer the death only of a caricature, not of a three-dimensional person.
Less dramatically, many of the social problems we encounter on a daily basis can be understood as a failure of perspective taking. People who litter, or block traffic by double-parking, or rip pages out of library books, seem to be locked into themselves, unable or unwilling to imagine how others will have to look at their garbage, or maneuver their cars around them, or fail to find a chapter they need.
And so while it pains me to read about it, I am not surprised that those who are taught to objectify others in order to kill them retain that mindset and apply it to other aspects of life. Combine the idea that women and children aren't "real people" with real feeling and lives but are instead seen as objects to be used with the military insistence of might makes right and one is left with conditions ripe for abuse. As this study shows that objectification of others and violent imposition of power over them is a sad reality.
What saddens me even more is that most people will assume that the solution to this problem is just to apply more of the same - have the bigger more powerful government impose harsher punishments on offenders. There will be no questioning of the military or their need to murder (that wouldn't be patriotic now would it?) I seriously doubt that lessons in perspective taking will ever catch on in our society, much less our military. So instead of being understood and appreciated as a person, those of us who have faced objectification must continue to live in fear.
Labels: Gender Issues, Politics, Social Justice, War