Monday, July 19, 2010

Rape as a Weapon of War

Rape Is Frequently Used as a Weapon of War. Robin Morgan.

Opposing Viewpoints: Sexual Violence. Mary E. Williams and Tamara L. Roleff. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997. From Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.

Rape Is Frequently Used as a Weapon of War

"Isolated Incidents," by Robin Morgan, first published in Ms., March/April 1993. Copyright © 1993 by Robin Morgan. Reprinted by permission of Edite Kroll Literacy Agency.

The rape of Bosnian Muslim women in the early 1990s by Serbian soldiers was not an isolated case of rape being used in war, asserts Robin Morgan in the following viewpoint. Rape has been used as a weapon in war since the founding of Rome, she maintains. Morgan contends that invading armies use rape as a weapon to destroy a people's culture, heritage, and ethnicity. In such cases, according to Morgan, rape is a political act of torture. Morgan is the international consulting editor and former editor in chief of Ms. magazine.

As you read, consider the following questions:

  1. How many women have been raped in the former Yugoslavia, according to the author?

  2. What evidence does Morgan present to support her contention that the rape of Bosnian women is not an isolated incident?

  3. How are the rapes in Bosnia unique, in Morgan's opinion?

Finally, the world believes it.

Estimates differ, but as of April 1993, it was thought that 20,000 to possibly more than 50,000 women and girls in the former Yugoslavia have been raped, and countless others killed. Although the overwhelming number of rapes and forced pregnancies appear to have been committed by Serbian men against Bosnian Muslim women, men of all the opposing sides—Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian Muslim—have apparently raped "each other's" women. That is the point: women are mere envelopes to carry the message of conquest from one group of men to another.

Not an Isolated Incident

Finally the world believes it—but still doesn't make the connections. Instead, it chooses to regard this atrocity as an isolated incident, much as the Montreal Massacre was perceived as an aberration rather than an extreme expression of the "normal" climate of terror and violence female human beings everywhere endure. [In December 1989, fourteen female students were killed and thirteen others wounded at the University of Montreal by Marc Lepine, who blamed feminists for his failures.]

In Somalia in 1993, men of one warring clan raped women of another. There were also reports of harassment by coalition forces there; to compound the horror, religious fundamentalists were blaming the women. In January, four women were stoned to death and a fifth lashed 100 times as punishments for "prostitution." Another Somali woman remained in prison, facing a possible death sentence for the same charge, because she sought the protection of some French soldiers....

An aberration? "Rape and take spoil" is an ancient motto of war. An isolated incident? Then what happened to the Sabine women? What did Alexander's armies do? Caesar's legions? The conquistadors and all the other colonizers? What of Chaka's Zulu army? The rape of Belgian and French women by German troops during World War I? What did their sons do to Russian women in World War II—and what did Russian troops do to German women "in response"? What about the institutionalized concentration-camp brothels where Jewish women were forced to supply "Enjoyment Duty" to their Nazi captors? The thousands of Chinese, Korean, and Filipina women conscripted into sexual slavery as "comfort women" for the Japanese army? The Chinese city where that army's actions were so extreme historians termed it "the Rape of Nanking"? The virtually ignored mass rape of Bengali women (estimated as high as 400,000) during the 1971 Bangladesh-Pakistan war? What about Vietnam? The Iraqi rapes of Kuwaiti women—and their Asian servants?

The First Open Policy of Rape

If Bosnia is unique, it is because this may be the first time mass rape and forced pregnancy have been used openly as a policy toward genocidal ends: the terrain is "ethnically cleansed" because victims die and survivors flee, wishing never to return. And what of the woman unable to get an abortion or find a home for the product of rape? Five, ten years from now, when the world has forgotten, will she have finally taught herself not to read the torturer's features on the face of her child?

Already we hear of captured Serbian soldiers claiming they were commanded to rape against their will. Is this to lay the ground for a war-crimes defense? Will the world remember that the phrase "I was only obeying orders" is an unacceptable defense for committing atrocities? Or is it different when only women suffer?

Rape has always been a military tactic, a combat "perk," whether by direct order or implicit prerogative. In 1992, when the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) received protests about the troops' behavior, UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi replied that "18-year-old, hot-blooded soldiers" have a right to drink and chase "young, beautiful beings of the opposite sex." Rape in war has always been a weapon—one that should be as expressly forbidden in international law as chemical weapons and germ warfare. Rape has always been an act of torment, though it was not until 1991 that Amnesty International recognized rape as sex-specific torture. Rape is a violent act—and a political act. How long must we scream to make the world understand?

An Act of Hate

Some honorable men who abhor the Bosnian tragedy still minimize rape in their own countries. Yet what is a "bias rape" but an "ethnic cleansing" sexual assault across racist lines? Some term this "hate rape"—a misnomer, since every rape is an act of hate. And what is the alleged gang-rape of a mentally disabled young woman in New Jersey in March 1989, if not a different form of bias rape?

"Animals," the columnists mutter, ignoring Hannah Arendt's warning about the banality of evil. Animals don't rape; men do. If rape in war is a weapon, then what is it in peacetime?


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