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A Future Must Read: Women at War: Combat and Conscience in...

March 8 (yesterday) was International Women’s Day and one of the issues that swirled around that net was that of women in combat. JMC brought to my attention the transcript of an interview done with Columbia professor, Helen Benedict, and two Iraq veterans: Specialist Mickiela Montoya with the National Guard and Eli Painted Crow, an Army veteran of 22 years. Dr. Benedict also penned an article for (premium registration required although the full article is here) which addressed much of what is in the interview.

Through Dr. Benedict and the female Iraq veterans, we learn of the tragic consequences of being female in combat. At least three women are claimed to have died as a result of dehydration because it was commonly known that going to the bathroom at night would subject a female soldier to assault and possible rape. The soldiers would stop drinking water around 3 or 4 in the afternoon so a late night latrine visit wasn’t necessary. Montoya described that they would cut off the tops of the water bottles and void in those bottles to dump in the morning.

Jennifer Spranger, 23, who was deployed at the beginning of the war with the Military Police to build and guard Camp Bucca, a prison camp for Iraqis, had a similar experience.

“My team leader offered me up to $250 for a hand job. He would always make sure that we were out alone together at the beginning, and he wouldn’t stop pressuring me for sex. If somebody did that to my daughter I’d want to kill the guy. But you can’t fit in if you make waves about it. You rat somebody out, you’re screwed. You’re gonna be a loner until they eventually push you out.”

Sexual assault is not inevitable with the right leadership. According to the interviews conducted by Dr. Benedict,

Several soldiers I interviewed told me that if a commander won’t tolerate the mistreatment of women, it will not happen, and studies back this up. Jennifer Hogg, 22, who was a sergeant in the Army’s National Guard, said her company treated her well because she had a commander who wouldn’t permit the mistreatment of women. But another National Guard soldier, Demond Mullins, 25, who served with the infantry in Iraq for a year from 2004-05, told me that a commander in his camp turned a blind eye to rape all the time.

Dr. Benedict is the author of the upcoming book, Women at War: Combat and Conscience in Iraq.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Kat
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 11:22:17

    That was just so harrowing. And it makes you wonder, if they can treat their own women like that, how much respect would they possibly show to civilians and “enemies”? Really, it’s just heartbreaking.

  2. jmc
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 12:44:08

    It was pointed out in the comments to my post that there has been no verification of Karpinski’s testimony re: hydration deaths or follow up since Jan/Feb 2006 in the press anywhere. But even if I discount that portion of the interview, the remaining facts and statistics remain horrifying.

    Jane, have you read Bujold’s Shards of Honor yet? Women at war are addressed, along with the command attitude that has to back up the treatment of prisoners of war, particularly women. As Aral Vorkosigan puts it (more eloquently, of course), it is a sickness that must be combated; good commanders do not let illness like that take root. Of course, on Barrayar, women do not serve in the military. As off-world character puts it, “She’s wasted here. All the women are wasted here.”

  3. Jane
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 12:49:03

    It was pointed out in the comments to my post that there has been no verification of Karpinski’s testimony re: hydration deaths or follow up since Jan/Feb 2006 in the press anywhere.

    I did see that but I didn’t see anything to rebut her statements either other than to refer to her connection to the Abu Ghraid scandal. Montoya certainly thought it was believable.

    It’s all very disturbing and I didn’t reference the Swift scandal which I thought was even more disturbing because I couldn’t find any recent information regarding that.

  4. Kat
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 16:58:04

    Try this interview. No definitive proof but Benedict explains why she thinks the claims are possible.

  5. Angelle
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 20:02:06

    It’s not just confined to the US military. In any militaristic organizations — or even civilian societies — when people turned a blind eye to something bad it will become the norm because there will be those who’ll take advantage of the situation.

  6. Laura Vivanco
    Mar 10, 2007 @ 05:08:10

    You don’t need to have premium registration to get to the article on Salon. Sometimes if you don’t have it you do have to watch an advert first, before you can get into Salon, but you can still get in and read the articles eventually.

    A while ago I read an article by Robert Jensen, from the University of Texas, on the way that pornography is used by US soldiers. The article’s called ‘Blow bangs and cluster bombs: The cruelty of men and Americans’ (you can find it easily if you Google). Jensen goes on to make various other points about the weapons used during wars, but his critique of the way that pornography is used by the US military seemed to me to be validated by Helen Benedict’s article which gave concrete examples of the effects of the anti-woman attitudes existing in the military. Benedict is more focussed on the effects than the causes of these attitudes, but she does report the comment from one female soldier to the effect that ‘the men imported cases of porn, and talked such filth at the women all the time that she became worn down by it’.

  7. Robin
    Mar 11, 2007 @ 11:15:57

    What’s interesting is how the military is now citing a change in social attitudes in the proposal to do away with “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allow openly gay individuals into the armed forces. Clearly such attitudes are not shared among soldiers, though, given what’s happening (IMO rather routinely) to women. I’ve basically been traumatized regarding the militarization of masculinity since Full Metal Jacket.

    And hard as I try to read them (especially Brockmann), military inspired Romances rarely come across as romantic to me.

  8. Kat
    Mar 11, 2007 @ 16:00:37

    A few years ago, I read a category romance featuring a soldier who came home from Afghanistan. The main emotional plot revolved around him learning how to relate to his wife and deal with their young child. It wasn’t a book I’d normally choose (I was subscribed to the series) but it was a good read because the characters felt like very real people dealing with unusual, highly stressful circumstances.

    After reading the article that Laura cited and link hopping, I found a series of reports by the Denver Post called “Betrayal in the Ranks” (pdf). I’m so horrified by these accounts, I don’t think I can read/watch anything military-related for some time.

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