[News] Death on the Home Front - Women in the Crosshairs

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Thu Apr 2 10:50:56 EDT 2009

Death on the Home Front

Women in the Crosshairs

April 02, 2009

By Ann Jones
Source: TomDispatch

Wake up, America. The boys are coming home, and they're not the boys 
who went away.

On New Year's Day, the New York Times welcomed the advent of 2009 by 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/us/02veterans.html>reporting that, 
since returning from Iraq, nine members of the Fort Carson, Colorado, 
Fourth Brigade Combat team had been charged with homicide. Five of 
the murders they were responsible for took place in 2008 when, in 
addition, "charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault" at 
the base rose sharply. Some of the 
victims were chosen at random; four were fellow soldiers -- all men. 
Three were wives or girlfriends.

This shouldn't be a surprise. Men sent to Iraq or Afghanistan for 
two, three, or four tours of duty return to wives who find them 
"changed" and children they barely know. Tens of thousands return to 
inadequate, underfunded veterans' services with appalling physical 
injuries, crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 
suck-it-up sergeants who hold to the belief that no good soldier 
seeks help. That, by the way, is a mighty convenient belief for the 
Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, which have been 
notoriously slow to offer much of that help.

Recently Republican Senator John Cornyn from Texas, a state with 15 
major military bases, 
that as many as one in five U.S. veterans is expected to suffer from 
at least one "invisible wound" of war, if not a combination of them, 
"including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and mild 
traumatic brain injury." Left untreated, such wounds can become very 
visible: witness, for example, the recent wave of suicides that have 
through the military, at least 128 in 2008, and 24 in January 2009 alone.

To judge by past wars, a lot of returning veterans will do themselves 
a lot of damage drinking and drugging. Many will wind up in prison 
for drug use or criminal offenses that might have been minor if the 
offenders hadn't been carrying guns they learned to rely on in the 
service. And a shocking number of those veterans will bring the 
violence of war home to their wives and children.

That's no accident. The U.S. military is a macho club, proud of its 
long tradition of misogyny, and not about to give it up. One 
decorated veteran of the first Gulf War, who credited the army with 
teaching him to repress his emotions, 
his basic training as "long, exhausting marches" and "sound-offs 
[that] revolved around killing and mutilating the enemy or violent 
sex with women." (The two themes easily merge.) That veteran was 
Timothy McVeigh, the unrepentant Oklahoma City bomber, who must have 
known that blowing up a government office building during business 
hours was sure to kill a whole lot of women.

Even in the best of times, the incidence of violence against women is 
much higher in the military than among civilians. After war, it's 
naturally worse -- as with those combat team members at Fort Carson. 
In 2005, one of them, Pfc. Stephen Sherwood, returned from Iraq and 
fatally shot his wife, then himself. In September 2008, Pvt. John 
Needham, who received a medical discharge after a failed suicide 
attempt, beat his girlfriend to death. In October 2008, Spc. Robert 
H. Marko raped and murdered Judilianna Lawrence, a developmentally 
disabled teenager he met online.

These murders of wives and girlfriends -- crimes the Bureau of 
Justice Statistics labels "intimate homicides" -- were hardly the 
first. In fact, the first veterans of George Bush's wars returned to 
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from Afghanistan in 2002.

On June 11, 2002, Sgt. First Class Rigoberto Nieves fatally 
his wife Teresa and then himself in their bedroom. On June 29th, Sgt. 
William Wright strangled his wife Jennifer and buried her body in the 
woods. On July 9th, Sgt. Ramon Griffin stabbed his estranged wife 
Marilyn 50 times or more and set her house on fire. On July 19th, 
Sgt. First Class Brandon Floyd of Delta Force, the antiterrorism unit 
of the Special Forces, shot his wife Andrea and then killed himself. 
At least three of the murdered wives had been seeking separation or divorce.

When a New York Times reporter asked a master sergeant in the Special 
Forces to 
on these events, he responded: "S.F.'s [Special Forces members] don't 
like to talk about emotional stuff. We are Type A people who just 
blow things like that off..."

The killings at Fort Bragg didn't stop there. In February 2005, Army 
Special Forces trainee Richard Corcoran 
<http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005/07/base-crimes>shot and 
wounded his estranged wife Michele and another soldier, then killed 
himself. He became the tenth fatality in a lengthening list of 
domestic violence deaths at Fort Bragg.

In February 2008, the Times 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/us/15vets.html>reported finding 
"more than 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or [fatal] child 
abuse in the United States involving service members and new 
veterans" since the Afghan War began in October 2001. And it's still going on.

The Pentagon: Conveniently Clueless

In April 2000, after three soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell, 
Kentucky, murdered their wives and CBS TV's "60 Minutes" broke a 
story on those deaths, the Pentagon 
<http://www.stormingmedia.us/48/4899/A489983.html>established a task 
force on domestic violence. After three years of careful work, the 
task force reported its findings and recommendations to Congress on 
March 20, 2003, the day the United States invaded Iraq. Members of 
the House Armed Services Committee kept rushing from the hearing 
room, where testimony on the report was underway, to see how the 
brand new war was coming along.

What the task force discovered was that soldiers rarely faced any 
consequences for beating or raping their wives. (Girlfriends didn't 
even count.) In fact, soldiers were regularly sheltered on military 
bases from civilian orders of protection and criminal arrest 
warrants. The military, in short, did a much better job of 
servicemen from punishment than protecting their wives from harm.

Years later the military seems as much in denial as ever. It has, for 
instance, established "anger management" classes, long known to be 
useless when it comes to men who assault their wives. Batterers 
already manage their anger very well -- and very selectively -- to 
intimidate wives and girlfriends; rarely do they take it out on a 
senior officer or other figure of authority. It's the punch line to 
an old joke: the angry man goes home to kick his dog, or more likely, 
his wife.

Anger may fire the shot, but misogyny determines the target. A sense 
of male superiority, and the habitual disrespect for women that goes 
with it, make many men feel entitled to control the lesser lives of 
women -- and dogs. Even Hollywood gets the connection: in Paul 
Haggis's stark film on the consequences of the Iraq War, In the 
Valley of Elah, a returned vet drowns the family dog in the bathtub 
-- a rehearsal for drowning his wife.

The military does evaluate the mental health of soldiers. Three times 
it <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/us/15vets.html>evaluated the 
mental health of Robert H. Marko (the Fort Carson infantryman who 
raped and murdered a girl), and each time declared him fit for 
combat, even though his record noted his belief that, on his 
twenty-first birthday, he would be transformed into the "Black 
Raptor," half-man, half-dinosaur.

In February 2008, after the ninth homicide at Fort Carson, the Army 
launched an <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/us/15vets.html>inquiry 
there too. The general in charge said investigators were "looking for 
a trend, something that happened through [the murderers'] life cycle 
that might have contributed to this." A former captain and Army 
prosecutor at Fort Carson asked, "Where is this aggression coming 
from?... Was it something in Iraq?"

What Are We Fighting For?

Our women soldiers are a different story. The Department of Defense 
still contends that women serve only "in support of" U.S. operations, 
but in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "support" and "combat" often 
amount to the same thing. Between September 11, 2001, and mid-2008, 
193,400 women were deployed "in support of" U.S. combat operations. 
In Iraq alone, 97 were killed and 585 wounded.

Like their male counterparts, thousands of women soldiers return from 
Afghanistan and Iraq afflicted with PTSD. Their "invisible wounds," 
however, are invariably made more complex by the conditions under 
which they serve. Although they train with other women, they are 
often deployed only with men. In the field they are routinely 
harassed and raped by their fellow soldiers and by officers who can 
destroy their careers if they protest.

On March 17, 2009, the Pentagon 
2,923 cases of sexual assault in the past year in the U.S. military, 
including a 25% increase in assaults reported by women serving in 
Iraq and Afghanistan, assaults committed by men who serve under the 
same flag. What's more, the Pentagon estimated that perhaps 80% of 
such rapes go unreported.

And then, when women come home as veterans, they, like their male 
counterparts, may be involved in domestic homicides. Unlike the men, 
however, they are usually not the killers, but the victims.

Shortly after Sgt. William Edwards and his wife, 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/15/us/15vets.html>Sgt. Erin Edwards, 
returned to Fort Hood, Texas, in 2004 from separate missions in Iraq, 
he assaulted her. She moved off base, sent her two children to stay 
with her mother, brought charges against her husband, got an order of 
protection, and received assurances from her husband's commanders 
that they would prevent him from leaving the base without an 
accompanying officer.

She even arranged for a transfer to a base in New York. However, on 
July 22, 2004, before she could leave the area, William Edwards 
skipped his anger management class, left the base by himself, drove 
to Erin Edwards's house, and after a struggle, shot her in the head, 
then turned the gun on himself.

The police detective in charge of the investigation told reporters, 
"I believe that had he been confined to base and had that confinement 
been monitored, she would not be dead at his hands." Base commanders 
excused themselves, saying they hadn't known Erin Edwards was 
"afraid" of her husband. Even if true, since when is that a standard 
of military discipline? William Edwards had assaulted a fellow 
soldier. Normally, that would be some kind of crime -- unless, of 
course, the victim was just a wife.

Back in North Carolina, near Fort Bragg and the nearby Marine base at 
Camp Lejeune, military men murdered four military women in nine 
months between December 2007 and September 2008. Marine Lance Cpl. 
Maria Lauterbach, eight months pregnant, went missing from Camp 
Lejeune in December 2007, not long before she was to testify that a 
fellow Marine, Cpl. Cesar Laurean, had raped her. In January, 
investigators found her burned body in a shallow grave in Laurean's 
backyard. By then, he had 
to Mexico, his native country, and been apprehended there; but Mexico 
does not extradite citizens subject to capital punishment.

On June 21st, the decomposing body of Spc. Megan Touma, seven months 
pregnant, was found in a motel room near Fort Bragg. In July, Sgt. 
Edgar Patino, a married man and the father of Touma's child, was 
and charged with her murder.

On July 10th, Army 2nd Lt. Holly Wimunc, a nurse, failed to appear 
for work at Fort Bragg. Neighbors reported that her apartment was 
burning. Days later, her charred body was found near Camp Lejeune. 
She had been in the process of divorcing her estranged husband, 
Marine Cpl. John Wimunc, and had a restraining order against him. He 
and his friend Lance Cpl. Kyle Ryan Alden were 
<http://www.fayobserver.com/article?id=299160>charged with murder, 
arson, and felony conspiracy.

On September 30th, Army Sgt. Christina Smith was walking with her 
husband Sgt. Richard Smith in their Fayetteville neighborhood near 
Fort Bragg when an assailant plunged a knife into her neck. Richard 
Smith and Pfc. Mathew Kvapil, a hired hit man, were 
with murder and conspiracy.

Striking about these "intimate homicides" is their lack of intimacy. 
They tend to be planned and carried out with the kind of ruthless 
calculation that would go into any military plan of attack. Most were 
designed to eliminate an inconveniently pregnant lover and an 
unwelcome child, or to inflict the ultimate lesson on a woman about 
to make good her escape from a man's control. In some of them, in 
good soldierly fashion, the man planning the killing was able to 
enlist the help of a buddy. On military websites you can read plenty 
of comments of comradely support for these homicidal men who so 
heroically "offed the bitches."

Give Peace a Chance

The battered women's movement once had a slogan: World peace begins 
at home. They thought peace could be learned by example in homes free 
of violence and then carried into the wider world. It was an idea 
first suggested in 1869 by the English political philosopher John 
Stuart Mill. He saw that "the subjection of women," as he called it, 
engendered in the home the habits of tyranny and violence which 
afflicted England's political life and corrupted its conduct abroad.

The idea seems almost quaint in competition with the brutal, 
dehumanizing effectiveness of two or three tours of duty in a 
pointless war and a little "mild" brain damage.

We had a respite for a while. For nearly a decade, starting in 1993, 
rates of domestic violence and wife murder went down by a few 
percentage points. Then in 2002, the vets started coming home.

No society that sends its men abroad to do violence can expect them 
to come home and be at peace. To let world peace begin at home, you 
have to stop making war. (Europe has largely done it.) Short of that, 
you have to take better care of your soldiers and the people they 
once knew how to love.

Ann Jones is a journalist and the author of a groundbreaking series 
of books on violence against women, including 
Time She'll Be Dead, on battering, and Women Who Kill, a contemporary 
classic to be reissued this fall by the Feminist Press, with a new 
introduction from which this post is adapted. She serves as a gender 
advisor to the UN.

[This article first appeared on 
<http://www.tomdispatch.com/>Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation 
Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and 
opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, 
co-founder of <http://www.americanempireproject.com/>the American 
Empire Project, author of 
End of Victory Culture, and editor of 
World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire.]

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives

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