Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Invisible War

THE INVISIBLE WAR            A                   
USA  (93 mi)  2012  d:  Kirby Dick         Official site

The knife wasn’t for the Iraqis. It was for the guys on my own side.   

This guy out there, he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, but they don’t have those in Iraq. So they have women soldiers instead.
 —Spc. Mickiela Montoya, age 21

Perhaps the best war documentary since THE FOG OF WAR (2003).  Since the shameful debacle that was Vietnam, a war that divided the nation in the 60’s and 70’s, America has reversed course and applauded veterans, where patriotism and serving your country go hand in hand, where soldiers are publicly recognized as a noble profession, routinely recognized at sporting events and in human interest stories on the local news broadcasts, often showing sympathetic portrayals of the medical hardships so many damaged veterans suffer upon returning home.  One subject the newscasts routinely omit is the prevalence of rape in the military, where more than 20% of currently serving female veterans will be sexually assaulted, sometimes with a loaded weapon pointed at their heads and threatened to be killed if they talk, so more than 80% of those will never report the crime (to almost exclusively male commanders), as their careers are effectively tarnished or destroyed just for reporting the crime, where women who report rape are considered traitors, often reduced in rank, singled out by unsympathetic police and subjected to humiliating treatment, forced out of the military or charged for petty offenses themselves, where there are few legal provisions in place to actually charge the rapists or hold them accountable for their actions.  25% of women don’t report because their commander was their rapist, the same person responsible for investigating the charges and rendering an impartial decision, while another third don’t report as the rapist was one of his drinking buddies, where irrespective of the circumstances, if the victim was drinking the case is automatically thrown out.  Consequently, commanders often order their subordinates to drink, sometimes involuntarily, before they rape them.  With only 3% of the accused ever spending time behind bars, where the punishment is often only a matter of days, like 30 to 60 days of confinement for a felony crime that would receive years of civilian jail time, where the military likes to keep the confinement under a year so offenders never have to register with the National Sex Offender Registry, that’s a pretty hefty number that continue to get away scot free for committing such a heinous criminal act.  Astonishingly, the official position of the Armed Forces is to consider this an “occupational hazard,” where under U.S. law, veterans are not allowed to sue the military for potential damages, no matter the severity of the offense.

Similar to Kirby Dick’s insightful film TWIST OF FAITH (2005), revealing decaying moral aftereffects of generations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests ignored by the church hierarchy, the portrait in each case is an insular organization that is more interested in protecting their own, where this vile all-male behavior is allowed to toxically infect the faithful from within, offering no solace or relief, undermining the very values both the church and the military purportedly stand for.  Much of the information in this film was first reported in a March 7, 2007 article in Salon by Helen Benedict, seen here:  The private war of women soldiers -, one of the journalists seen in the film, along with a handful of women who were violently attacked by fellow soldiers, some drugged ahead of time, waking up with someone on top of her, one women with her jawbone permanently broken as a result (requiring reconstruction surgery that the VA refuses to pay for), another gang-raped simply walking down a hotel hallway, grabbed by several drunken aviators who were preying on women.  Perhaps the most egregious example of the lack of justice is a woman who is herself an investigator in the Criminal Justice division of the military, a woman who investigates accusations of rape, who was herself raped by her superior officer.  In each and every one of these cases the rapist was never charged or even arrested, and in some cases was actually promoted, one of many decorated officers still serving in the military, while the affected women on the other hand, remain physically and mentally traumatized with greater severity than soldiers wounded or scarred from battle, some with permanent, lifelong injuries that affect their quality of life.  All suffer severe post traumatic stress symptoms, mostly from a violation of trust, as these rapes have a deep-rooted incestual quality to them, as the military incorporates a psychological system of faith and trust in one another, brothers in arms, leave no man behind, supposedly looking out for one another, where the victims continue to have flashbacks and nightmares, and where sexual attention, even from the intimacy of a spouse, is often still seen, years later, as a threatening act.  The damage is visibly apparent just from spending a few moments with each victim, all of whom are smart and sympathetic figures, excellent soldiers, many coming from military families, where it was their dream to proudly serve their country.  This film documents how that dream is crushed, not by the intensity or harsh reality of war, but by a military that condones soldiers repeatedly raping and violently attacking fellow soldiers in their barracks without any repercussions to prevent it from happening again, so the problem becomes systemic, attracting a culture filled with repeat offenders.     

Amir Bar-Lev’s film The Tillman Story (2010) similarly documents how the Army lied and repeatedly covered up the truth about how pro football player Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, initially glorifying his death, making him a larger than life, mythical war hero, awarding him the Purple Heart, turning him into a poster boy to help recruit young soldiers, only reluctantly revealing afterwards that he was killed by his own group of Army Rangers from unfriendly fire, most likely the over-reactions of trigger-happy 19-year olds, shedding light on the systematic corruption, incompetence, and lack of accountability in the military and in government.  Dick’s film is a more harrowing interior journey into horror, given an intense Kafkaesque feel at just how random and unnecessary these nightmarish tragedies are, as they could happen to anyone, even the best soldiers, as there’s simply no concerted effort to eliminate rape once and for all from the military.  Part of the problem is the government’s bold public contention, often before Congress, that they have a “zero tolerance” policy in place, while in reality the current system protects the perpetrators, who remain serving in the military even more emboldened knowing they can get away with it in a system that allows them to become repeat offenders, while the victims leave in disgrace, depressed and humiliated, often affected for life.  The military has a history of this sort of thing happening before, the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal where 87 female recruits were forced to run a “gauntlet” of 100 drunken officers that amounted to a gang rape, the Army Aberdeen Scandal in 1996 where male officers were found raping 30 new female trainees, or the 142 allegations of rape uncovered in 2003 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  Statistics reveal the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more than one in 10 new Army recruits, that incoming Navy recruits already have a previous history of rape or sexual assault at twice the rate as the civilian population, suggesting the military is a recruiting grounds for potential serial rapists. 

All the rapists in the film happen to be heterosexual, some are married men, suggesting this is not a gay issue, but predators don’t discriminate the sex of their victims, as to them it’s all about exerting control and domination against males or females (because there’s significantly more men in the military, more men are raped than women, but the percentage of women is much higher), using their rank and position to force subordinates into sexual compliance, sounding very much like the repeated sexual assaults within the prison system.  In each, the system barely acknowledges the victims, claiming they don’t keep statistics on unlawful and uncontrolled human behavior.  Part of the argument criticizing the military’s effectiveness always points out collateral damage, how innocent civilians are killed with greater numbers than the targeted enemy, where much like inner city gangs, most of those killed are unintended victims killed in the crossfire. The unintended victims here are those women serving alongside male sexual predators that are allowed to hide their criminal activity behind a protected and shielded military chain of command.  Watching highly decorated female officers publicly defend this system of what amounts to tolerated rape within the military is simply mind-boggling, claiming rape victims who are unhappy with the results of the lackluster internal military investigations could write their congressmen, an outrageous acknowledgment of systematic incompetence, all but suggesting the only avenue to justice is outside the narrow confines of military culture.  The film cuts through the hypocrisy of high-level military personnel and government officials while conveying its message of misogyny through victims still living with the pain and trauma with a brilliantly assembled series of personally compelling testimony that collectively amasses in equal degrees both heartbreak and outrage, becoming a fierce indictment against a promising career path that tolerates felonious sexual assault while advocating “Be all you can be.” Army Commercial - Be All You Can Be (1986) - YouTube (29 seconds), Army be all you can be (1994) - YouTube (31 seconds).

Doonesbury Comics, June 5 - June 8, 2012

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