Bob Franken


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Once again, we should congratulate the winner of the coveted Sound Bite of the Week award. Put your hands together for New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. She sent TV people covering the military sexual-assault hearing into sheer ecstasy when she scornfully told the generals assembled before her, “Not every commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and rape.” With that, she took the sound-bite honors (dare I say it) hands down.
Besides, she was making a strong point, which is that the cluelessness of the uniformed hierarchy is a significant contributor to the loathsome spread of rape, similar attacks and harassment in the armed services. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno admitted they’re “like a cancer.”
Did you see the wide-angle shots of the witness table? There were more stars on the panelists’ shoulders than you’ll see in many galaxies, but their testimony revealed that their grasp of the problem has disappeared into a black hole. It’s tragic that after all the years of caterwauling over openly homosexual troops, the real threat to decency and order comes from heterosexuals whose assaults in the military have spread like an epidemic while the leadership, until now, has given the outrage short shrift.

In spite of the fact that about 14.5 percent of the active-duty ranks are female — more than 200,000 women — just 69 are generals or admirals. The top of the heap is still overwhelmingly male, lords presiding over their fiefdoms with their “good ol’ boy” mindset. They have allowed the numbers of sexual assaults to swell — 26,000 in the most recent year counted, and that doesn’t include the huge numbers of those that go unreported because of intimidation or fear of reprisal.
It has fed a growing feeling that the main problem is the traditionally inflexible structure, which includes ultimate authority over criminal enforcement and prosecution. There have been some recent infamous cases where court-martial convictions for sexual offenses have been overturned by top brass and where those in command of efforts to bring this contemptible conduct under control have been arrested for the same crimes. So 18 senators, Republicans as well as Democrats, have sponsored legislation that would take away supervision of sex-crime allegations. No more ability for the top dogs to countermand decisions made by investigators or counsel, or the court-martial results.
Well, here’s a surprise: The generals hate that idea. It would undercut their authority and would “adversely affect the ability of the commander to enforce professional standards and ultimately to accomplish the mission.” Those were the words of the Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey. Of course, it begs the question of how much impact the growing scourge of sexual violence has on morale, which is essential to sustain a military force. Even the usually gung-ho Sen. John McCain was aghast. “Just last night,” he snapped, “a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not.”
Even with withering criticism and despite tge stark evidence that the problem is running rampant through the forces they lead, the generals, pardon the expression, stuck to their guns. But when Odierno insisted, “The military cannot simply prosecute our way out of this problem,” Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill shot back, “We can prosecute our way out of … the problem of sexual predators.” Yes, the verbal shots were flying back and forth like missiles, but the runner-up in the weekly sound-bite contest probably was Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who expressed the opinion that the very presence of females is a contributing factor. “Gee whiz,” he uttered, “The hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.” Nobody said that these verbal snippets must be enlightened.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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