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Warriors Without Weapons: The Victimization of Military Women by Donna M. Dean, Ph.D.
Introduction: The Warrior Legacy
Until recently, Colonel David H. Hackworth (U.S. Army, ret.) began his weekly on-line column, Defending America, with the following quote from the 18th century philosopher, John Stuart Mill:
"War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
Mill's view of war--and what's worth fighting for--came from Plato. It is largely from Plato's Republic, specifically his concept of the Guardian class and its values, that the United States has inherited the ideal concept of the Warrior, the military soldier. The Guardians included the police-soldiers as well as the rulers of the State, including governors. Its members, both women and men, had to live a completely garrison life in exchange for holding the most powerful positions in the Republic.
Garrisoned life was, and still is, an exacting one. Military life is very different from civilian life and is not for everyone. For Plato's Guardians, garrison life meant that they could possess no private property, not even their own lives, and were not permitted even to have private families. To become a Guardian, one had to submit to the most grueling intellectual, moral, and physical training from birth, spanning over one's entire life. The ideal, fully trained Guardian, the Warrior, was an individual completely led by the highest levels of Reason, whose mind and body as well as moral strength and courage were trained to meet any challenge--and reject any temptation.
The Guardian--the Warrior--is one who ideally cannot be swayed by wealth, physical pleasure, or any personal ambition. Indeed, in the Republic, they were prohibited from even physically touching gold or silver. Their sole mission in life was to protect the State from enemies both external and internal, and as such had to embody in their very persons the highest ideals of Truth, Honor, Integrity, Loyalty, Courage and Morals. In sum, for Plato, the Warrior simply had to be the very best human being. Only the very best could be entrusted with the power to safeguard the ideal State from its enemies and protect all less perfect human beings who are citizens of that State.
It is significant that Plato included both women and men in the Guardian or Warrior class. Women are as capable of becoming Warriors as men, according to Plato, because the essence of the Warrior--what makes a Warrior a Warrior--is to be found within the person. That essence in both men and women, a spirited capability ruled by reason, had to be carefully brought to fruition by the grueling intellectual and physical training demanded by the mission of the Warrior class. It is training the essence of the person that makes, or fails to make, a Warrior. In a sense, Plato recognized a familiar U.S. Marine Corps' saying: "It is not the size of the man in the fight that counts--it's the size of the fight in the man." For those who meet the challenge, proper training makes the difference. It hones the intellect, character and spirit of the person, the essence of a Warrior.
Gender Ideology and the Warrior Class
Plato's concept of the Warrior, and his ready inclusion of women with men in the Warrior or Guardian class, is clearly at odds with much of today's U.S. military de facto policy, practice, organizational structure, military training, and development. COL Hackworth no longer begins his column with quotes from John Stuart Mill. Like Plato, Mill supported the inclusion of women in the military. At the very least he saw no reason to exclude them. Hackworth's columns, on the other hand, are filled with emotional, strident letters from current and former mostly male military personnel complaining about everything from the Tailhook scandal to women soldiers carrying tampons. Their complaints are interspersed with misogynistic rationalizations for excluding women from the military altogether--or minimally excluding them from combat. Indeed, along with the introduction of technology, women are being irrationally blamed for the decline of the entire U.S. military might, the decline and fall of the U.S. Warrior.
Donna M. Dean's book, Warriors Without Weapons: The Victimization of Military Women, is about that misogynist male military power structure and the ideological mind that molds the Warrior class in the United States today. Dean is a trained psychologist who spent 18 years with the U.S. Navy. The number '18' is significant because it is two years short of the minimum 20 years necessary for normal retirement. It already tells us that Dean's military career was briefer than it might have been. For someone to leave military service just two years prior to normal retirement, it is clear that person is paying a very high price for something.
During her 18 years, Dean suffered multiple assault and rape at the hands of male military personnel. Starting a few years before her forced early retirement she also suffered a sustained, concerted effort by her superior officers to shut her up and run her out of the Navy when she spoke out about the abusive, dishonorable conditions under their command. Her book centers on her own battles with that power structure and its blind, arrogant, unyielding abuse of military women, and some of the same kind of abuse by the Veterans Administration. Her book especially focuses upon her positive efforts to offer constructive proposals based on her experience.
Dean's book is not easy to read. It is at once a powerful effort to describe the blind and unyielding abuse of women in uniform, while also controlling her justified rage and sorrow. And it is a carefully thought out effort to offer rational solutions to the many problems of a misogynist military. But all this is combined with a searing, unbearable pain that she still feels.
Outline of Warriors Without Weapons
Warriors is divided into four parts. Part 1 is intended to acquaint the reader with a relatively short history of women in the U. S. military through World War II, and the evolution of the modern military woman. It is not intended to be a complete history, but just enough for the reader to understand that precedents for the abusive hatred of women in the U.S. military were always there. Dean's book makes clear that the history of women in the U.S. military is a history of male power using women both militarily and sexually when they were wanted or needed. When they were used to meet military objectives, it was without extending equal pay, benefits, opportunities, or legal protections to them. The history of women in the U.S. military is a history of vicious, abusive double standards where women have paid and continue to pay with their bodies, minds, spirit, and psychological health and well-being--with male power reaping the benefits, rewards, and accolades. It is a history of enormous courage by a few military women in the face of overwhelming odds against them.
Part 2 is practically a primer on how the misogynist male military mind seeks to control, dominate, and humiliate military women. A careful assessment of the dynamics of power and control under an ideology of what I refer to as "natural law" bigotry lead quite inevitably to the vicious, brutal treatment of women in uniform. Later in this review, I will offer a short analysis of the ideology of natural law that underlies that dynamics of power, domination, and exclusion of women by military men. But Part 2 is also a primer on how things could be different in the military so as to fully include women. For example, Dean's suggestions regarding the redesign of uniforms to permit women to urinate in the field without public humiliation should be noted by the Joint Chiefs. Her many suggestions could help pave the way to prevent some of the charges of sexual harassment and abuse confronting all the services, as well as actively facilitating the abilities of military women to do their jobs.
Part 3 focuses primarily upon discussion of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and reaction, suffered by many military women, as well as the VA's handling of PTSD claims by veterans. Since Viet Nam, the study of PTSD has shown the relation between the effects of trauma in combat and the same effects found in victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Eligibility requirements for service-related benefits from the VA, of course, hinge upon acceptance of criteria for PTSD diagnosis as found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Though the VA has largely focused upon male combat veterans suffering from PTSD since the Viet Nam war, Dean makes clear that it has been horribly negligent in both its research on, and service to, female veterans suffering from both partial and full-blown PTSD. She cites recent advances by Congress to overcome some of the negligence, but the abuse and neglect continue. Even the overall VA structure and procedures available to female veterans can themselves inflict even more pain and abuse on women veterans who are already suffering.
Part 4 continues by looking at the VA system and its failure to serve women veterans. For a very long time, the very idea that a woman could be a veteran was itself empty or nonexistent. The concept 'woman' and the concept 'veteran' were simply thought to be entirely separate. It was thought that--naturally--only men are veterans. Of course, this conceptual blindness is itself a part of the official military structure that has led to enormous abuse, humiliation and pain for women in uniform. Because it did not occur to anyone that a military woman could even be a veteran, the overall planning for the VA left women out entirely. It did not occur to anyone because the prevailing military mindset at the highest levels was that only males could be veterans because-- quite naturally--only males could be [real] soldiers or Marines. Even in uniform, women were still thought to be just nominal, temporary support personnel of one kind or another. Indeed, it has only been relatively recent that women were integrated into active-duty, regular status instead of strictly reserve status. Because women were left out of VA planning altogether, before 1982 most VA facilities did not even have separate bathroom and bathing facilities for female vets.
Part 4 also includes Dean's account of her battles to process her own claims through the VA system, and to seek medical attention for a potentially life-threatening condition. The VA system is (or at least until recently, was) so archaic and administratively inept that it was only by what Dean calls "the merest fluke" that she was able to find out what she needed to do to get the medication she required. I was surprised to learn from reading her description of the VA that women veterans from WWII and much younger, were not even aware that they were entitled to health care and other services from the VA. Many of those who are aware of their entitlements choose not to seek any help from the VA because of its reputation for administrative and professional incompetence, as well as the discriminatory treatment of women veterans. Compounding this is the fact that the claims system was shown by judicial review to have "a remarkably high level of noncompliance with federal law. . ." Moreover, getting the VA system to process female veterans' PTSD claims based on sexual assault, harassment, and rape notoriously double blind-sides the female victim: on the one hand she must prove to a discriminatory and unyielding VA process that barely recognizes her as a veteran in the first place that she is suffering the effects of cumulative criminal acts against her, while on the other hand, she is subjected to continuing discrimination by the very VA process itself, as it continues to inflict more harm upon her. Faced with such a system that is supposed to provide her with health care benefits and relief from pain and suffering, too many female veterans choose to simply suffer.
This section of Dean's book should be thoroughly read by those Congressional leaders who desire to correct long-standing abuses of female veterans by a Veterans Administration system that should be more readily serving military veterans of both gender, male and female.
The Bigoted "Natural" Right to Power, Control, and Conquest
Bigotry in human thought seems to begin with what is thought to be natural. And anything that is thought to not be natural is held to be unnatural. An unnatural thing is a thing "out of place." The claimed natural right to power and position is the male power ideological mind-set driving the engine of daily contempt and abuse that all military women must confront in every one of the U.S. military forces, Army, Navy, and Marines. That ideology is one of pure gender bias, hatred and contempt based largely upon a biologically based theory of female inferiority. The ideology rants that "Males are superior in physical strength and intelligence to females, therefore they are a superior form of life altogether." Thus, for the bigot, only males can be Warriors. Indeed, the very concept, 'Warrior,' like the concept 'male,' is for the bigot the antithesis of anything that is female. Conversely, any of the laudable values associated with the concept 'Warrior' as defined by Plato, such as Truth, Honor, Integrity, Courage, as well as Competence are values not found in females, according to the bigot. This is the view espoused in the following excerpt on what the writer calls the "feminization" of the U.S. Military:
"A warrior culture does not mean, as President Clinton's feminized Pentagon thinks, bloodlust and a desire to kill. It means a comradeship and esprit de corps that is the heart of an elite fighting unit. Unlike a business partner, a fellow corporate executive, political ally or, in this day and time, even a spouse, a pilot could trust his wing-man. You were there for each other. Every member of the squadron had confidence in the competence and integrity of every other member."
According to the bigot, simply by virtue of biological characteristics with which one is born, a female cannot be a squad member with competence and integrity. She cannot be a squad member one can trust. And of course, the condition is considered even worse for homosexuals. The author of the above quote began his screed against the feminization of the U.S. Military by targeting Hillary Clinton for ". . putting her feminist allies and rank political opportunists in charge of our country's military. Hillary's appointees have succeeded in their assault on the last bastion of heterosexual males. . ."
Without realizing its double edge, the bigot's claim is simple: Biology is Destiny. Against women, it is based upon the biologically empirical fact of female gender, a condition with which one is born. Against African-Americans, Hispanics, and other persons of color, it is based upon the biologically empirical fact of higher melanin levels in the skin, also a genetic condition with which one is born. Both conditions, with which some are born, the bigot goes on to claim, are also sure signs of lower intelligence, lower abilities, and lower moral values. Lower, that is, than the intelligence, abilities, and moral values of white males. Those biological conditions with which one is born doom one to lose out on all those qualities of intelligence, ability and moral character necessary to be a real Warrior.
Based on conditions with which one is born, gender and/or skin color, the bigot decides who should be excluded from realms he claims as exclusively his by nature, that is by "natural" law and "natural" right. It is by "natural" law that the male, especially the white male, is claimed by the bigot to be a superior form of life. As such, any place he claims is his for the taking by natural right. The bigoted mind is always one that knows "the place" where "others" "belong" by nature--and the "places 'others' don't belong" by nature. And, just as previous white male military bigots decided that blacks had "no place" in their ranks because of their dark skin, the male military bigots have decided that women have "no place" in the military.
"But oh," they say, "there is a difference." "That was just prejudice against blacks. We've come to know better. Black men have proven they can do (just about) anything white men can. With women, however, it's a matter of hormones. We just can't have males and females training and fighting together because young males especially are 'hormone-driven. . .'" Of course, the bigot fails to see the fallacy, the double-edge of his own rationalizing: If the male Warrior wannabe cannot control his own hormonal urges, how is he fit to be a Warrior? How can he be trusted to control anything if he cannot even control himself? What country in its right mind wants Warriors who cannot control their own hormonal urges to protect it? Better to have Warriors who think with brains than with genitals.
The Warrior as Predator
But there is another uglier, often unspoken but socially tolerated side of the bigot's line of thought. It is a line of thought that comes through in Dean's description of the thread of misogyny and male control of military women: A Real Warrior Does Not Control His Sexual Urges. Conquering females by rape, assault, physical domination and humiliation is a "natural" right of the bigot's concept of the Warrior. It's just doing what comes "naturally" for a Real Warrior. Indeed, such brutal conquests of the Other, the Female, become The Measure of the Man, The Measure of the bigot's concept of the Warrior. Thus--with this line of bigoted thought--there is a conceptual "fusing" of the concept 'Warrior' with the concept 'Predator.' The concept 'Warrior,' already identified with the concept 'Male,' is now identified with 'Predator.' The equation Male=Warrior=Predator prevails. Anything female becomes by necessity the "Other," his natural enemy, his natural prey. And it is only right that she should be his prey, since she is bereft of those qualities of character--honor, integrity, loyalty, courage--that are necessary to be his "equal." As a lower form of life, she deserves to be preyed upon.
It is due to the "natural" law and natural right ideology of the military male bigot that women in the military are claimed by the bigot to be "unnatural." They are "out of place" in the military, thus there is something wrong with them. All the more reason they are made targets of the Predator as Warrior.
This confused and dangerous concept of Warrior, and the twisted logic of the bigoted mind that has created it, is one who likes war, looks forward to it, wanting it at any cost, who likes to prey on those who he claims are his "natural" targets. This predatory concept is reflected in the following:
"Soldiers like to go and do what soldiers are trained to do. . .The word war has become almost unspeakable. Now it is heard most often in the context of 'operations other than war'. . .But they do not fulfill what soldiers see as their reason for being. . .Despite all the rhetoric about all that is being done for the warrior, those who want to be real warriors feel betrayed. They signed on to be part of the force that clashes with and destroys the enemy. "
Within the twisted logic of Warrior as Predator, all political means short of war are now a "betrayal" of Real Warriors. Contrary to this view, as one battle-hardened Marine veteran of Vietnam told me, he "had his ass full of the war" within the first week of his arrival in Vietnam. <7> Not a single combat experienced soldier or Marine I ever spoke with in almost 20 years of association with the military--nor my two Vietnam vet brothers--ever said he liked war. Indeed, this identification of Warrior with Predator is largely a creation of the twisted logic of Warrior wannabes. It is one neither Plato nor Mill would recognize, nor would battle-hardened veterans of certain of the "dirty" wars the U.S. has fought.
Even more disturbing is that with the claimed "natural" right to power and position comes the twin claimed "natural" right to conquer. The bigoted military mind is not one governed by Reason, as Plato and Mill would have it, nor is it one governed by respect for Law or for the ideal values of Truth, Honor, Integrity, Loyalty, Courage and Moral Character. In spite of claims to the contrary and in spite of civil and criminal laws intended to protect everyone (the result of a "liberal," "politically correct" conspiracy, according to the bigot), the bigot finds a way to rationalize and give full expression to the more brutal and dehumanizing parts of himself, directed at his "natural" prey. It is a "Might Makes Right" ideology that will not accept correction from Reason or Law. We have seen recent examples of this in the Bosnian conflict, where Serbian soldiers used rape as a part of their official military strategy to carry out their military mission of conquest and "ethnic cleansing."
Some Qualified Exceptions to Dean's Overall Views of the Victimization of Military Women
There are two qualified exceptions I wish to take with Dean's overall thesis about the abusive reality for women in the military. One exception has to do with the differences between civilian and military life, especially for women. She has not stated but has implied that there is a categorical difference, a difference in kind, between civilian and military life. She has implied that the difference is so great that the humiliating, abusive, sexually discriminating treatment of women in the military is far worse than anything experienced by civilian women. This is so, she implies, because there are laws protecting civilians that do not protect military personnel, giving civilian women at least some control over their own lives.
I would argue, however, that the differences are certainly not categorical, that at best they are only one of degree. Further, I would argue that civilian life in the United States is increasingly becoming more and more regimented, with a loss of privacy, protections and control for individuals, particularly women, from both State and Federal governments. The very organizational, hierarchical structure of the military, along with privileges and power of rank, and an official blindness which permits the abuse of military women, is also found in the social, institutional, and legal structures in the civilian sectors of the U.S. Most disturbing is that fact that on the whole, some states are quickly reorganizing public institutions and destroying civil rights laws that were intended to extend protections to largely unprotected groups, including women and children. Some states are de facto becoming more and more influenced by the designs of reactionary forces in our country that share with the Taliban the view that women do not belong in ANY public places, including public schools or professions, or hold ANY public positions at all. There are many places in the public sphere, according to those with these political designs, where "women do not belong." Their claim is that the sole province of females is the private sphere, the home and family, that is totally owned and controlled by males.
Of course, there is nothing new to the argument that "Women belong in the home." What is new, however, is the increasing willingness by certain of these groups to resort to outright illegal means, including outright physical threats, intimidation, and violence against women and girls, as well as against the public agencies and institutions that serve them. This is being done in an effort to literally coerce and force women and girls out of the public sphere and back where the bigot claims they "belong," and to shut down the public agencies and institutions that support them. On the whole, the United States is increasingly becoming a predatory society, with an increasing tolerance of the loss of civil rights and rise in violence, threats, and intimidation of women and girls.
The other qualified exception with Dean I have to make is more personal. Though Dean's struggles with misogynist military abuse over many, many years have certainly made their permanent mark on her, she is the only one who can decide how much space in her life that pain will continue to occupy. She is the only one who can feel that pain, even while many of us who have faced the same kinds of battles with abusive misogyny over many years can certainly understand it. I want to say to her that she is not alone and that she has friends she doesn't even know who care about her and about her message to the world in Warriors Without Weapons. In addition to suffering over decades for the sake of those values that make her a Warrior, she has also made an invaluable permanent public contribution toward ridding the military of that abuse she and other military women have suffered and continue to suffer.
However, real Warriors rarely get to choose their own battles. Choosing one's battles is a luxury allotted only to those who are not really at an intersection of historical and other forces where destiny has helped to place them. Real Warriors are those who survive the crucible of their lives, as Dean has, become stronger because of it, then return to fight again. It's no shame to retreat and regroup in order to fight another day. But it is important to fight again. It is important to continue to fight as best one can, and in the way one can, remaining faithful to those values that make you what you are, a Warrior. Recall Mill's words, that a person who has nothing for which they are willing to fight, nothing which is more important than their own personal safety, is a miserable creature. A Warrior is truly a different human being altogether, as Dean herself would agree. And it is a simple fact that we do not always get to choose our battles. Sometimes, they seem to choose us.
Women in the military still have virtually no real power. They do not occupy the higher ranks in any great number (there is not a single female on the Joint Chiefs of Staff), yet they continue to demonstrate unrecognized and unrewarded self sacrifice in their efforts to support, defend, and protect the United States. But unlike her male counterpart, the woman soldier or Marine is forced to fight on more than one front all the time. She must fight arbitrary, blind, misogynistic and humiliating abuse from her (usually) male commanders and often her fellow soldiers and Marines--as well as any declared enemy of the United States.
Donna Dean is to be highly commended for the contribution she has made in Warriors to correct long-standing injustice to all women, especially all women in uniform.
This Review of Warriors Without Weapons is reprinted with permission of Sage Publications. It was originally printed in Violence Against Women: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 5, Number 11, November, 1999, pp. 1352-1362.
-- Debra (Thisis@it.com), October 21, 2000