May 23, 2013
Whom Did You Rape in the War, Daddy?
Posted on Mar 19, 2013
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
Aside from Daniel Lang’s Casualties of War, a brilliantly-compact and harrowing account of the kidnap, gang-rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese girl (a New Yorker article-turned-book-turned-movie), you’re not likely to encounter the story of the rape of a Vietnamese woman by Americans in “the literature.” And yet the sexual assault of civilians by GIs was far from uncommon, even if you can read thousands of books on the Vietnam War and have little inkling that it ever happened. Hints about the harassment or sexual assault of American women—nurses, enlisted women, and so-called Donut Dollies—also rarely make it into the histories. And you can read most, perhaps all, of those 30,000 books without ever coming across a case of GI-on-GI rape in Vietnam.
But that’s just what happened on that August 31st at a U.S. base in Vietnam’s far south, when three GI’s attacked a fellow American, a fellow soldier. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll call him Specialist Curtis. We know his story because the court martial records of one of his assailants, who was found guilty of and sentenced to prison time, made it to the National Archives where I found the document. But really, we know it because, according to the military judge presiding over the case, Curtis delivered “clear, strong, convincing, not halting, not hesitant, not reluctant, straight-forward, direct, willing, sincere, and not evasive” testimony. He and others told a brutal story, an obscene story—that is, a true war story.
What Veterans Won’t Tell You
Curtis was feeling sick that late summer day and wouldn’t drink with his hootch-mates, so they pounced on him, held his mouth open, and poured whisky down his throat. When he began to retch, they let him go and he ran outside to throw up. He returned to his bunk and they attacked him again. The cycle repeated itself twice more.
In a flash, the three tore off his bed sheets and flipped him onto his stomach. They leaned on him to hold him down as he thrashed and bucked, while they ripped off his underwear. Then they smeared hand lotion all over his buttocks. As Curtis cried out for help, the private mounted him. He began to rape him and was heard to exclaim that it was “really good, it was tight.” After the private was finished, the private first class raped Curtis. The specialist followed. “I know you enjoy it,” Curtis heard one of them say before he blacked out from the pain. Across the hootch, another private watched the entire episode. Curtis had protested, he’d later say, but this soldier did nothing to intervene. He was, he later testified, “very scared” of the three attackers.
After Curtis regained consciousness, he retreated to the showers. When he finally returned to the hootch, the fellow specialist who raped him issued a threat. If he reported the attack, they would swear that he had paid them $20 each to have sex with him.
That’s a true war story.
And that’s a Vietnam War story that’s absent from our histories of the conflict—all 30,000 of them.
Given the stigma attached to rape, especially decades ago, and the added stigma attached to male rape victims, it’s shocking that the case ever became public, no less that it went to trial in a military court, or that the victim gave clear, graphic, painful testimony. The truth was out there, but no one ever told this story to the wider world—neither the victim, the perpetrators, the witnesses, the lawyers, the judge, the commanders at the base, nor a historian. You could read thousands of books on the Vietnam War—even books devoted to hidden histories, secrets, and the like—and never know that, in addition to rifles and rice paddies, war is also about rape, even male-on-male rape, even GI-on-GI rape. Just how many such rapes occurred, we’ll never know, because such acts were and generally still are kept secret.
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