Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"The Invisible War" documents a shameful problem in the US Military

While I was writing my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book, I became very aware of sexual harassment against female members of the military.  I remember a 1996 case of one female Naval officer in Florida who was put into psychiatric confinement for complaining about it.

I was not aware, however, of the apparently large occurrence of outright rape, as documented in the new film by Kirby Dick, “The Invisible War”.  I saw this at Landmark E Street last night.  Friday, the theater held a QA of the director.  I’m surprised I didn’t see it at AFI Silverdocs (going on the same weekend).

Before getting to its disturbing subject matter, the film opens with a black-and-white clip from an early 1950s "The Big Picture" television program, with Sgt. Stuart Queen (no pun in those days) selling the value of serving in the Armed Forces.  The film then notes the contributions of female soldiers, sailors and Marines during WWII.  I recall going to see at age 10, with my parents, "Never Wave at a WAC" (with Rosalind Russell), especially the comic scenes of "testing clothes".  Pretty soon we infer that this is a film about grave and covered-up abuse, mostly but not entirely, of military women. 

The film lets a number of servicemembers tell their stories.  They all start out by telling how they had at one time looked forward to joining the military, and how things went wrong quickly once at a permanent station.  

One woman suffered a broken jaw which won’t heal and had to leave, and has been denied VA benefits.
Even a few men report this abuse.  The documentary maintains that this is not about sexual orientation; the perpetrators were said to be heterosexual males interested only in power and domination. 

The documentary shows that the “chain of command” structure of the military is not effective in guaranteeing prosecution of perpetrators, because of so many conflicts of interest within the structure. European militaries prosecute outside the structure. The film says (in the end credits) that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched this film in April 2012 and took major authority away from commanders immediately.  But the GAO and Inspector General structures within the government have been totally ineffective so far.

One of the most shocking episodes concerns abuses at the elite Marine Barracks in Washington DC.(SE of the Capitol).  Women were coerced to go on day long drinking binges with men when “off duty”. 
Another major series of incidents occurred at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, NE of Baltimore.  This is the ordnance center, where some very dangerous conventional ground weapons are housed (including mobile robotic microwave generators that could wreak havoc if ever in the wrong hands).  It is not reassuring that some of the personnel working there don’t have better character.  What about SAC bases and missile silos?
The film points out that male military recruits have a much higher incidence of previous sexual assault than the civilian population as a whole, a fact that could be seen as a reflection on the all-volunteer military. 

The official site is here

There is a related site called “not invisible” here.

The film (from Chain Camera pictures and Docurama) was an official selection with an Audience Award at Sundance.

Photo above (mine). Fort McNair, in Washington DC, where President Clinton gave his "don't ask don't tell" speech in 1993.  I'll get to the Marine Barracks area from the Metro and take a picture of the site as soon as convenient, since I live in the DC area. 

Second photo:  Promotional post card for film, available at theaters. 

Photo below (mine): Naval Investigative Service, Washington Navy Yard (2006).  I worked in the Yard as a civilian 1971-1972 for NAVCOSSACT

Also, here's a photo from a 2010 visit to Aberdeen:  Don't let civilians possess this machine below:
And, now, this just in: MSNBC and AP are reporting (in a story by Paul J. Weber) a major scandal at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  The story gives a link to another review of this film. Here's the story.

Update: July 5, 2012

I did make it to the Marine Barracks this morning.  See also the "Drama blog", July 4, 2012.

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