We all know that sexual abuse is bad. It’s also illegal.
Whenever it happens; wherever it happens… it’s bad and it’s wrong and it’s illegal. Everyone agrees that those who perpetrate it should be punished to the full extent of the law.
As with all crimes, it’s better to prevent sexual abuse before it happens. Normally, we do so by making sure that everyone knows the price he will pay for doing it. Less normally, when we discover patterns of sexual abuse or harassment within organizations we hold sensitivity training sessions so that everyone will learn empathy. We believe, naively, that more empathy will necessarily lead to less crime.
And then there’s what I will call the harm’s-way argument. If a woman puts herself in harm’s way, and becomes the victim of a sexual assault, the fact that she has been incautious does not in any way obviate the fact that her abuser deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law.
But that should not mean that women should behave incautiously. Why take unnecessary risks in order to make a point?
The criminal justice and society’s rules are ultimately about preventing crime. If your child has been murdered it is cold comfort to know that the perpetrator will be sent to jail.
Prosecution of her attacker is not going to make the pain go away. Thomas Sowell points out correctly that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
Unfortunately, it sounds trite. If it’s you or your child, it isn’t.
Sowell made his remarks in the midst of an excellent column on sexual assault in the military. In case you have not been paying attention, the Senate Armed Services Committee has been holding hearings on the subject.
Watching women senators berate male military officers has stirred the loins of the New York Times. Sowell has chosen to examine the issue more judiciously.
The Times loves the picture of women on the Senate Committee confronting military leaders. Sowell notes that it is political theatre, tailored more to the ambitions of the participants than to the goal of reducing sexual assault in the military.
Surely, the hearings are not about making our armed forces better at doing their job.
After all, Sowell reminds us, it took a special kind of genius to throw caution to the winds and to ignore human history in order to make military organization conform to the ideological prejudices of politicians.
Keep in mind, it was done in order to open job opportunities for women. No one paid very much attention to whether co-edification would make the military stronger and more effective. When your military is vastly superior to everyone else's you think that you can get away with introducing inefficiencies.
The argument also said that if you allow discrimination on the basis of gender in the military, you will eventually be allowing it everywhere.
The difference between civilian employment and military service seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.
In Sowell’s words:
For thousands of years, people around the world had the common sense to realize that putting young men and young women together in military operations was asking for trouble, not only for these young people of both sexes, but for the effectiveness of military forces entrusted with the fate of nations.
Yet, in these politically correct times, civilian leaders, who increasingly have had no experience whatever in the armed forces, are far more willing to try to micro-manage the military than leaders were back in the days when most members of Congress and most presidents had served in the military.
There seems to be something liberating about ignorance and inexperience. You are free to believe whatever you want to, unencumbered by hard facts, and, if you have political power, to impose your headstrong ignorance on those with firsthand knowledge.
If sexual assaults in the military are taking place in our own country, far from the scenes of battle, what do you suppose is going to happen when men and women are in the same tents or trenches at night on battlefields thousands of miles away? We don’t have to ask what will happen on warships at sea. The number of Navy women who already get pregnant in such places tells us more plainly than words.
If one asks what effect this rage to co-edify the military is having on its ability to function, one comes away with more detriments than benefits.
When human resources are diverted to solving the problems that arise when teenage men and women bunk down together, Sowell points out that they are being diverted from somewhere else:
How much of this country’s military resources do you think should be diverted from preparing for, and fighting, battles involving life and death to adjudicating conflicting stories about who did what to whom, and whether it was consensual or not?
We are, Sowell continues, asking all the wrong questions:
Too much of the discussion of issues involving the role of women in the military is based on questions about whether women can do the same tasks as men with equal efficiency. The real question is whether either sex functions as well with the other sex around. If you don’t think either sex finds the other sex distracting, you are ignoring thousands of years of experience around the world.
Nobody needs to be distracted in life and death situations, where the difference between victory and defeat can be “a near run thing,” as the Duke of Wellington said after the battle of Waterloo, which settled the fate of Europe for generations to come. Even consensual sex among members of the same military unit opens a whole Pandora’s box of complications that can undermine the morale of the unit as a whole — and morale can be the difference between victory and defeat, between life and death.
Of course, when it comes to tasks involving physical strength, women cannot do as well as men. If military women are not required to conform to the same physical standards as military men, don’t you imagine that that, in and of itself, represents a form of discrimination? Why are you surprised to see that this discrimination provokes some ugly emotions?
Worse yet, Sowell notes, when Congressional leaders who have never served in the military take it upon themselves to micro-manage personal problems, they will create a situation where military commanders will be chosen based on their ability to deal with sexual abuse in the barracks, not on their ability to win wars:
A more insidious consequence of having ignorant civilians micro-managing the military is that the caliber of a nation’s military leaders can be affected when generals have to pass through filters of political correctness to reach the top. That means losing people whose only abilities are in winning wars with minimum casualties, or preventing wars by knowing the right deployment of the right forces. Top military talent is no more common than any other kind of top talent — and the stakes are too high to filter out that talent with requirements that generals be able to pretend to do the impossible on sexual issues.