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Marines’ ‘Always Faithful’ Motto Doesn’t Apply to Fellow Females
Posted on Jun 4, 2017
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“Unlike other habits that the military efficiently drills out of its members, there’s no effort to do the same when it comes to sexist behavior.”
—Marine veteran Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas and Army reservist Paula Broadwell
The first women were assigned to a Marine infantry unit on Jan. 5, fulfilling the 2015 Department of Defense mandate that all military service jobs, including combat, be open to women.
By late January, a Google Drive link with photos of nude and barely dressed Marine servicewomen was posted to the Marines United Facebook page without the knowledge of the women involved. Postings also divulged their names, ranks and military duties.
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By then, 2,500 comments, some threatening rape and other sadistic sexual torture—couched in weaponized humor—had been posted to the site.
The Marines United rules of conduct—no racist or illegal posts, no threats, harm or harassment—and the Marines’ hallowed motto semper fi (“always faithful”) apparently do not apply to its treatment of women. Why? Because from basic training onward, women are stereotyped as “bitches,” “sluts” or “lesbians,” as one 23-year-old Marine veteran testified at a recent congressional hearing.
The Marines United story exploded like a roadside bomb run over by a convoy truck. Journalist and Marine veteran Thomas Brennan, who broke the story, and other veterans have since tracked the electronic dodges, feints and shifting Facebook sites of Marines United more nimbly than military officials have. Top Marine brass, under heavy fire from female legislators for other pornographic Facebook sites, confessed four years ago that they lacked “manpower” and “technological resources” to counter electronic sexual assault on their female members.
Baffling, isn’t it, that a military with the best cyberwar capabilities in the world and a defense budget larger than the next eight countries combined can’t control a cyberattack on women within its own ranks?
What is different about this latest saga of sexual assault in the military relates to who tracked, broke and followed the Marines United story. A handful of Marine veterans (notably, Brennan, James LaPorta and Shawn Wylde)—at some risk to themselves and their families—pursued the roving Marines United site, including its hydra-headed permutations, more frontally than the military did.
LaPorta, now a journalist for The Daily Beast, informed me that he began covering the Marines United story when he was asked by Brennan “to screenshot any death threats [against Brennan] that I saw inside the secret Facebook chatroom known as Marines United and send them to him. He also asked that I pick up the reporting, so I did, and that’s what I have been doing since March 4, 2017.”
LaPorta recently testified at a congressional hearing hosted by the Democratic Women’s Working Group that he has found “multiple examples of extortion, revenge porn, nonconsensual photo sharing, death threats and online harassment that target not only the women, but their friends and family members.”
Whence comes your courage? I asked. His response: “I don’t know if reporting on the nude-photo scandal within the Pentagon was courageous, but I do know it was the right thing to do.”
What has not changed is the justifiable rage and legislative activism of women on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, among them California Rep. Jackie Speier and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, veteran critics of the unchecked epidemic of sexual assault in the military and its academies. What has not changed is the military’s failing performance—it has been missing in action for years when faced with the online sexual aggression of “brothers in arms” against their “sisters in arms.” What has not changed is the ruinous impact of this latest form of assault on female soldiers.
A little bit of background sheds light on this latest failure of support for military women.
In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama opened and closed with iconic praise for the military. Yet his script, which hailed military cohesion and loyalty as models for Congress and the country, omitted any mention of female soldiers, even though women constitute 15 percent of all active duty military, and rampant military sexual assault was still fresh news in Washington.
Just six days earlier, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta held a press conference to announce new reforms being launched by the Department of Defense to combat sexual assault. This public airing of the military’s heart of darkness—sexual crime in its ranks—came on the heels of an estimated 19,000 military sexual assaults in the previous year, by DOD calculations (a gross undercount because of substantial underreporting due to fear of retribution).
Panetta cited the “moral duty” of the military to keep its members safe and called sexual assault an affront to American values. Like so many institutional leaders undergoing public scrutiny for sexual abuse that took place on their watch, he took the high road: “One sexual assault is one too many,” he said. The avuncular leader of the most powerful and lethal military in history appeared stricken and, frankly, helpless, in admitting to rampant military sexual crime and sadism. By contrast, his arrogant predecessors—Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates—resembled stone-faced, callous archbishops and cardinals confronted with sexual abuse by clergymen under their watch.
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