Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blaming Those who Try to Blame the Victim

One of the greatest problems that victims of sexual assault face is that they, themselves, become objects of blame.  In other words counsel for the defendant(s) engages the time-old strategic principle that the best defense is a good offense.  One wonders whether this strategy will be engaged again when the Department of Defense is the defendant.

We may find the answer to this question soon enough.  According to a story filed by Jesse Ellison for The Daily Beast, Rebecca Havrilla, a former sergeant and explosive-ordnance-disposal technician in the United States Army, and sixteen of her fellow soldiers will be “plaintiffs in a class action suit filed Tuesday against Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, alleging that their failure to act [on accusations of sexual assault] amounted to a violation of the plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights.”  Ellison provides further details as follows:

The suit, brought by Washington, D.C. attorney Susan Burke, and filed in the Eastern Virginia federal court, charges that despite ample evidence of the problem, both Gates and Rumsfeld “ran institutions in which perpetrators were promoted; … in which Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subject to retaliation… and ordered to keep quiet.” The plaintiffs, in turn, have been “directly and seriously injured by Defendants’ actions and omissions.”

Last week, when I was writing about the current argument over the virtues of Mad Men, I suggested “that just about all of the adults in the Mad Men cast amount to infantile minds in aged bodies;  and, when we consider the many scenes of ‘men at play,’ this deduction is not as preposterous as it may first seem.”  We need to consider seriously the possibility that the primary difference between Mad Men and the Department of Defense is that those in the advertising business comprise a relatively elite class, while the charges against our armed forces have nothing to do with elitism.

In other words, when it comes to matters of the defense of our country, we are not talking about some perverse updating of that old (European) practice of droit de seigneur;  we are talking about the normative behavior of those “jes’ plain folks,” who always seemed to be the audience of preference for Former President George W. Bush.  The critical difference is that these particular “jes’ plain folks” have been trained to handle weapons of all shapes and sizes, often including their own bodies.  Thus, the proposition that such bodies are inhabited by infantile minds deserves serious consideration.

My guess is that there are those above the lowest rank who might argue that adult minds are not as good at following orders, but I do not think that washes.  When I was growing up, our military was promoted as the best place to learn about skills such as leadership;  and this entailed the corollary that military service was the last hurdle one would jump before entering adult life.  This has probably always been a fiction of convenience, particularly in wartime;  but, even if it is only an ideal, it probably still deserves to be taken seriously.  This class action suit may be the best way to raise the question of just how seriously that ideal either is or should be taken.  The fact is that the normative conventions of our military forces have gone through some major changes since I was a kid, but it remains to be seen whether or not our Department of Defense is willing to implement an effective policy to deal with those changes with adult minds.

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