Monday, May 21, 2007,9:02 AM
Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War
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.

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posted by Julie at 9:02 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 5/21/2007 12:59:00 PM, Anonymous sonja

    Excellent point, Julie.

    Although, I would say that it's the cumulative objectification that causes the increase in sex crimes. The men have been subjected to a culture which objectifies women all of their lives and then undergo intense training which further teaches them to objectify and subject any "other" which they choose to master and we have thus created the environment in which sex crimes will multiply. It's not really rocket science.

    The military spends millions teaching these men and women how to fight. I wonder if it's worth it to our culture to figure out how to deprogram them once the war is over? Or can we?

  • At 5/21/2007 02:14:00 PM, Blogger Katherine

    Being relatively new to your blog, I clicked on the link to read your earlier post about the conversation with an Afghani woman, but it would not work. Maybe you could check it out--I would love to read that post. But no worries if it doesn't work out. I always look forward to reading what you write.

  • At 5/21/2007 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    katherine - thanks for the head's up. I fixed the link, so it should work now!

    Sonja - you're right about the cumulative effect. I believe that it is possible for someone to learn how to care and love others (turn away from the dark side as it were). "Deprograming" would be theoretically possible under the right circumstances. But given how bad the military's track record is on taking care of the soldiers' physicals needs, I doubt that helping them to be good people would rank as a priority. But I question the need to teach them to objectify others in the first place...

  • At 5/23/2007 02:48:00 AM, Blogger Katherine

    Yea! Link works! Thanks, Julie!