While victim-blaming and an environment of fear have certainly played a significant role in the sexual assault epidemic in the military, moral decline may have begun during Bush’s “war on terror” train wreck.
Today, information continues to unfold highlighting the rampant issue of sexual assault in the military. It was reported that another soldier, in charge of a military sexual assault prevention program at Ft. Hood, Texas, is being investigated for “abusive sexual contact,” and is suspected of being involved in a prostitution scheme. This revelation comes just a week after the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch at Arlington, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested for sexual battery.
The Ft. Hood sergeant first class, whose name has not been disclosed, “faces accusations of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault, and maltreatment of subordinates,” according to NPR. The individual is being investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, but officials have been keeping the details of the case quiet in order to “protect the integrity of the investigative process and the rights of all persons involved.”
According to the Pentagon press secretary, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel commented after the scandal was announced today that he is “angry and disappointed at these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.” So just what is contributing to this breakdown in discipline and standards?
Looking into the recent history of the U.S. military may give some clues as to the seeming moral decline of which we are getting more and more frequent glimpses. During the Bush era, nearly 12% of Army recruits who entered basic training needed a special “moral waiver” for their criminal records. That number, from 2007, was a dramatic increase over the previous year, and more than twice the percentage of four years prior, according to The New York Times.
“Army officials acknowledge privately that the increase in moral waivers reflects the difficulty of signing up sufficient numbers of recruits to sustain an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq; the Army fell short of its monthly recruiting goals in May and June,” The Times reported.
The article points out that former military officials and defense specialists feared enlisting more soldiers with criminal backgrounds would “increase the risk of disciplinary problems and criminal activity among soldiers in uniform.” With unpopular wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the military struggled to enlist troops, so much so that they loosened their criteria and ordered veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder to serve second and third tours of duty.
Another indicator of the moral decline of the military during this time is a Department of Homeland Security report, released in 2009, which claimed that the military was experiencing a resurgence of “The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups… because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”
That same year, Salon.com reported on how lax regulations had opened the door to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and gang members. “Soldiers’ associations with extremist groups, and their racist actions, contravene a host of military statutes instituted in the past three decades. But during the ‘war on terror,’ U.S. armed forces have turned a blind eye on their own regulations,” the report asserted.
“When you need more soldiers, you lower the standards, whether you say so or not,” Carter F. Smith, a former military investigator who worked with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command from 2004 to 2006 told Salon.
Within the past few months, the military has faced public scrutiny over the Lackland Air Base scandal, the sexual assault case of Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, whose conviction of aggravated sexual assault was overturned, and, within a week of one another, the sexual assault cases of two members of the military who were tasked with the prevention of the crimes they committed.
The issue here may be an establishment with declining moral values, a lack of enforced standards and criteria, and a surplus of undisciplined, criminal, angry, and disillusioned individuals, brought on, in part, by the “necessity” of the war on terror.
Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.