Humble and contrite are two words one would not normally connect with the four star generals and admirals who lead our nation’s military. However, it was an apt description for the military’s power brokers last Tuesday during a congressional hearing on the prevalence of sexual assaults in the U.S. armed forces.
It was a rare dressing down for the Joint Chiefs, but it was deserved. The Pentagon’s unswerving devotion to the old adage, “It’s the way we’ve always done it” is at least partly to blame for the epidemic of rapes and other sexual assaults in the world’s most powerful military.
Congressional leaders who demanded explanations for the state of affairs received both apologies from the Pentagon elite and a resolute stance for maintaining the status quo: keeping allegations of rape within the chain of command.
Citing the need to maintain “discipline and good order,” the service chiefs responses were not good enough for several angry representatives who sense a prevailing attitude of nonchalance toward sexual assaults within the ranks.
The Pentagon’s own statistics back up this concern. A recent survey concluded that an estimated 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year alone. The vast majority went unreported by victims who feared either their attacker, the repercussions from their chain of command or both.
If the numbers are true, this debacle dwarfs other sexual abuse scandals, including the one that continues to embroil the Catholic Church. The huge numbers are perhaps more understandable when the conflict of interest built into the chain of command reporting system is exposed.
Clearly this is an indefensible policy. In fact, this is one instance where the Department of Defense could take a cue from its paramilitary counterpart, local law enforcement.
Within most police agencies, performance issues both big and small are handled in-house, much the same as in the armed forces. However, when a police officer is suspected of a crime, the subsequent investigation is almost immediately passed off to an outside agency. So-called outside agency investigations are now routine within the law enforcement community and are instrumental in preventing unfair prosecutions and protecting victims.
This is an important distinction from the military, which obviously prefers to keep its dirty laundry in its own basket. Whether one believes the admirals and generals oft repeated claims of unit integrity, good order and discipline, it still amounts to the same thing: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Correct. And see how that’s worked out?
Instead, the military leaders should fall in line with police chiefs and sheriffs who understand the finer points of law – including impartiality and fairness – and who can also claim first hand experience interviewing the brokenhearted victims of rape.
The four star generals and admirals who serve the nation so admirably should accept that they are much better at fighting wars than protecting their troops from the scourge of sexual assault. If they can’t see that bitter fact written in their own shameful statistics, then the lawmakers must show them that a gavel outranks four stars every day of the week.