Spreading “freedom”: Rape of Vietnamese women during US invasion was considered standard operating procedure for American troops

Comparing testimony from Vietnamese women and American soldiers, Gina Marie Weaver, in her book Ideologies of Forgetting: Rape in The Vietnam War, finds that rape of Vietnamese women by American troops during the US invasion of Vietnam was a “widespread”, “everyday occurrence” that was essentially “condoned”, even encouraged, by the military, and had its foundation in military training and US culture.

She explores why US rape in Vietnam was so common, and why this aspect of US behavior has been virtually “erased” from “narratives of the war”. She stresses the issue is also important as rape in the US military continues at a high level today, having been mostly transferred away from foreign populations and onto female American soldiers.

Rape of Vietnamese women by US troops “took place on such a large scale that many veterans considered it standard operating procedure.”

It was “systematic and collective”; an “unofficial military policy”. One soldier termed it a “mass military policy.” Indeed, rape followed by murder of Vietnamese women was “so common that American soldiers had a special term for the soldiers who committed the acts in conjunction: a double veteran”.

Examples of soldier testimony regarding rape include: “…they raped the girl, and then, the last man to make love to her, shot her in the head” (Weaver notes the phrase “make love” here speaks in part to the military and general culture’s conflation of love, sex, and violence); two US soldiers dragged a young, naked woman out of a “hootch”. The reporting soldier said rape was “pretty SOP [Standard Operating Procedure]”. The woman was then tossed onto a “pile” of “19 women and children”, and soldiers around the pile “opened up on full automatic on their M-16s, and that was the end of that”; soldiers pulled a girl out of a bomb shelter and raped her in front of her family. The reporting soldier said he knew of “10 or 15 of such incidents at least.” The platoon leader “condone[d] rape”; female prisoners were “raped, tortured, and then were completely destroyed – their bodies were destroyed”; one sergeant reportedly told his platoon, “if there’s a woman in a hootch … rape her.”

Weaver explores the military and civilian culture of the period that produced these behaviors. Soldiers generally cited racism and sexism, noting these were “pre-existent” and then “heightened” in military training. One soldier said “the military was just an exaggeration, a caricature, of all that had gone before”. Weaver notes there was a conflation of “enemy” and “race”; the “enemy” – i.e. the population being invaded by foreigners and slaughtered – does not have uniforms, but is an entire race of “gooks”, or evil, sub-human “objects”.

US culture and military training also encouraged the idea that women were inferior and the feminine was something to be hated and violently rejected. Masculinity was defined through violent hostility to femininity. Women, like the Vietnamese people, were objects – in the case of women, detestable objects that existed to serve men sexually. Thus, Vietnamese women, Weaver notes, were doubly inferior, doubly hated. Training essentially demanded men become misogynist predators. Further hostility towards the feminine arose due to the prominence of women in the Vietnamese forces; the idea of being killed by a woman made the threat of the feminine that much more potent, and aggression against the feminine that much more common and extreme. There was also an idea in the culture that men simply “had” to have sex; that they could not abstain during their tours of duty.

Weaver further notes some of the aggression acted out in Vietnam arose from the “powerlessness” of the working class American family, a “powerless kin unit” that could not “really determine [its] own future”, causing “powerless” father figures often to lash out violently through “intense male chauvinism”. US women’s movements of the sixties were “catalyzed by these very attitudes”. A further “sense of sexual entitlement” was “linked to soldiers’ belief in American exceptionalism” – the belief that the US was doing Vietnam a favor by destroying the country and killing millions of people, so Vietnamese women thus owed something to American men.

Many soldiers also pointed to movies with violent caricatures of masculinity, particularly “cowboys and Indians” films, especially ones starring John Wayne, as inspiration for joining the military. When film crews came to Vietnam, soldiers would often strike poses as if they were soldiers in a Hollywood movie, thus “pretending to be” what they were. In 1968, to help propagandize Americans in favor of the war, John Wayne actually made a Western style film, The Green Berets, pitting US soldiers as “cowboys” against Vietnamese “Indians”. The film was a box office success but panned critically. Military recruiters claimed recruitment climbed whenever John Wayne films were shown on TV.

Weaver, also a scholar of nationalism, then delves into how and why the history of rape has been “forgotten”, repressed, or erased. She discusses the ways in which rape is generally used to “reinforce nationalism”: 1) men claim to defend the nation against enemies who would rape “their” women, and 2) rapes committed by one’s own nation are whitewashed, etc. Thus, to bolster or “restore comfortable myths of American exceptionalism”, “producers of cultural narrative … forget” these and other aspects of US behavior that cause shame; owning up to them would debunk “the militarized … exceptionalism from which such behavior sprang”.

Even academics, “whose special job it is to remember such events”, “participate in this erasure.” One reason it has occurred, says Weaver, is the nation’s re-positioning and re-imagining of the Vietnam veteran as pure victim. This erases Vietnamese victims and allows the US nation, by extension, to become the war’s true victim. This is in part a failure of trauma theory to provide a nuanced analysis wherein a veteran can be both victim and victimizer/war criminal (though it seems this “failure” may be a function of the ingrained nationalism, including in academia, that Weaver describes). Weaver points out that many veterans are “victimized” by the memory of atrocities they have committed, but by committing them they are also victimizers. Allowing them to admit what they have done (as many have tried to do) and accepting what they have to say, rather than whitewashing it, is thus, Weaver says, an important part of the healing process.

The “primary vehicle of forgetting violence against women in Vietnam” is “[v]isual media – specifically Hollywood films.” Weaver looks in particular at some nominally “anti-war” films. Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” based on Vietnam veteran Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers, erases Hasford’s depictions of rapes by US soldiers, as well as his illustration of the military conflation of rape and murder. Hasford’s novel contains no Vietnamese prostitutes, but Kubrick’s film creates two. Kubrick thus replaces women victimized by Americans with women who corrupt Americans (even though, Weaver notes, the US military was “almost solely responsible” for the proliferation of prostitution in Vietnam through the intentional destruction of the economy and agriculture, which forced people to turn to any means necessary to survive).

Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” depicts a rape about to take place but keeps it out of frame and has the “normative”, everyman American soldier intervene against the “bad seed” outcasts to stop it. De Palma’s “Casualties of War” does largely the same thing, first bordering on justifying a rape by establishing that the soldiers expected to find prostitutes in the area but did not, then (contrary to its source material), while depicting the rape in frame (though without nudity), having the “normative”, middle-class everyman American (in reality all of the soldiers involved in this were “family men” of the same social class), played by Michael J. Fox, intervene against the lower class “bad seed” soldiers (an intervention that in reality did not occur), thus encouraging the interpretation that this was an atypical, essentially non-American occurrence. The rapist/murderers were then, in reality, reported and tried. De Palma includes their trial and sentencing, thus suggesting the problem was both limited and dealt with by the justice system, encouraging feelings of pride and closure. However, Weaver notes, he erases that the already very short sentences were commuted to virtually nothing.

Weaver mentions that a later Stone film, Heaven and Earth, depicts the rape of a Vietnamese woman, Hayslip, by a North Vietnamese soldier (another rape that actually occurred in real life). She does not delve into this scene at all, but I hypothesized that it would depict the rape more graphically and directly than any of the other films, would include no intervention to stop the rape, no justification, and no suggestion that the offender was either non-normative or was brought to justice. I watched the scene, and my hypothesis was correct.

It is the most graphic of any of the rape scenes from the above films. Stone shows the North Vietnamese soldier pushing Hayslip to the muddy ground in the rain, ripping her top open, starkly revealing her breasts, and then opening his pants and raping her, with medium shots showing the act, including multiple thrusts, and close up shots of both faces during the act: her tortured expression and his evil grimace. There is no “normative”, everyman North Vietnamese savior to stop the act; the crime is not justified in any way; the rapist is depicted as a normative soldier, while another, similar soldier stands guard.

A close comparison of Stone’s two rape scenes would have contributed to Weaver’s demonstration of how nationalism influences depiction of rape: as Weaver illustrates, rapes committed by members of one’s “own” country tend to be erased, hidden, disavowed, justified, or a “normative”, national everyman savior intervenes to stop the rapes, which are being committed by “non-normative” nationals. Rape committed by a member of an outside, or especially a targeted nation, on the other hand, can be depicted in graphic and gruesome detail with no redeeming elements whatsoever.


Humanitarians fuel South Sudan’s growing sex trade

The United Nations and international NGOs worldwide have been under scrutiny in recent months for accusations of sexual abuse of vulnerable people. South Sudan is no exception. Devex spoke with several sex workers in Juba who count international aid professionals as their best-paying customers.

Source: Humanitarians fuel South Sudan’s growing sex trade

Death of Military Contractors Illuminates Russia’s War by Proxy in Syria

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor

Members of Russian private military company Vagner, in Syria (Source: ChVK Vagner: Russian mercs in Syria | SOFREP SOFREP.com)

Officials from the United States and Russia, together with non-governmental sources, all agree on the core narrative: On February 7, 2018, east of the Euphrates River, in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour, a battalion-size armed group loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by armor and artillery, moved to take over a dysfunctional oil refinery occupied by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF); but this invading force was then decimated by US firepower “in self-defense.” The Euphrates River is more or less the so-called “de-confliction line,” agreed on by US and Russian military chiefs to separate Russian-supported pro-al-Assad forces and the US-backed SDF. On February 7, the pro-al-Assad forces were operating on the wrong (eastern) side of the river and threatened SDF fighters and coalition special forces embedded with them. The Russian Ministry of Defense insisted “no Russian servicemen were involved” and explained the incident as a mistaken move by local pro-al-Assad militias pursuing some Islamic State leftovers. The Russian authorities scolded the pro-al-Assad fighters for failing to notify and vet their move with Russian command in advance; but they simultaneously rebuked US forces for “seeking to grab valuable economic assets instead of fighting ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—the former name of the Islamic State group]” (Interfax, February 8).

Yet, as more evidence trickled in, the narrative presented in Moscow began to shift. According to Kommersant, a large force of several hundred men—pro-al-Assad militias reinforced by fighters from the notorious private military company (in Russian Chastnye Voennie Company—ChVK) “Vagner”—gathered to attack the refinery and possibly take over nearby oil and natural gas fields. The backbone of the force was made up of up to 600 ChVK Vagner Russian contractors armed with tanks and heavy guns, according to an unnamed military source. The attack was not authorized by the Russian command and was planned as a night raid—the Russian-led force opened fire and attempted to swiftly move in, believing the SDF would offer only token resistance and that US forces would not risk aerial attack as the Russians moved in. But the US promptly deployed overwhelming firepower before all of the ChVK Vagner contractors moved out into battle formation. They suffered heavy losses in both men and equipment. The unnamed Kommersant military source told the paper that about 11 Russians were dead (Kommersant, February 14).

Igor Strelkov (Girkin)—the former commander of Russia-backed rebels in Ukraine’s Donbas—was one of the first to post a report, based on information from “reliable sources,” about at least a hundred Russian ChVK Vagner fighters “slaughtered” by the US. Strelkov, like some other radical Russian nationalists, has opposed President Vladimir Putin’s incursion into the Syrian civil war, believing true Russian patriots must fight for Russian interests by defending truly Russian land, like in Donbas. Strelkov called for future potential volunteers “to think twice before enlisting with ChVK Vagner” (Newsru.com, February 9). This is not the first time Strelkov has published reports about heavy Russian casualties in Syria that have quoted former “colleagues from Donbas” who are now with ChVK Vagner (see EDM, October 12, 2017).

Different media outlets have reported widely disparate casualty estimates: Pro-Kremlin sources have tended to downplay the losses, declaring about 10 to 20 Russians dead and up to 50 wounded, while others report casualties in the hundreds. Official sources refuse comment, citing a lack of reliable information. But no one seems to refute the fact of an encounter gone badly wrong or that ChVK Vagner mercenaries were hit by US military fire, that many were killed or wounded, and that heavy equipment was destroyed (Kp.ru, February 13).

The ChVK Vagner force demonstrated rare incompetence by cavaliering into a night assault against a US-backed force, apparently ignorant of the fact that the US military has, for some time, preferred to fight in the dark to utilize night-vision superiority. The experience of fighting in Donbas or against the Syrian opposition and the Islamic State may have provided them with a false sense of security, underestimating what a full-scale US precision firepower attack could bring.

Russian military chiefs, meanwhile, may be somewhat pleased ChVK Vagner receive a licking. The private military company is reportedly financed and sponsored by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman from St. Petersburg known in the Kremlin court as “the cook” because he began his career catering for Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin reportedly has business interests in Syria and is apparently seeking to take over phosphate mining, oil and natural gas deposits. In promoting ChVK Vagner, “the cook” and his private army have reportedly increasingly come into conflict with the Ministry of Defense and Minister Sergei Shoigu (Novaya Gazeta, January 21).

The Russian military command almost certainly knew in advance of ChVK Vagner’s planned move east of the Euphrates. And in Moscow, most assume the “traitorous” Americans were also aware of the imminent attack and, thus, prepared a deadly ambush (Militarynews.ru, February 13). This narrative is supported by the fact that, just hours before the ChVK Vagner force was massacred, a 210-meter bridge over the Euphrates, built last September by Russian sappers (see EDM, September 28, 2017), was washed away by a sudden flash flood. The Russian military accuses the SDF and/or the US of deliberately opening the floodgates at a hydroelectric damn upriver to destroy the bridge. The Pentagon denies this allegation (Interfax, February 9). The collapsing bridge cut off the Vagner-led force on the left bank from supplies, reinforcements and the possibility of an organized retreat.

Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the top US Air Force general in the Middle East, told journalists the encounter in Deir el-Zour “was not entirely unexpected”: For a week prior to the incident, the US had observed a slow buildup of hostile forces on the Euphrates bridgehead and reportedly contacted the Russian military. According to Harrigian, to repel the attack, multiple precision-fire munitions were released by ground artillery, F-15E fighter jets, MQ-9 drones, B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and AH-64 Apache helicopters (RBC, February 14). Some of these formidable assets could have been scrambled at short notice, but the B-52s, based presumably at Diego Garcia island, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, must have been in the air, loaded with ordinance, hours before ChVK Vagner made its move.

No one seems to be telling the whole truth about an encounter in which the US military seemingly knowingly planned and executed an attack on proxy Russian troops, while the Russian military command deliberately turned a blind eye. This dangerous combination of heavy casualties and muddled narratives could potentially escalate into something much worse than war by proxy.


Pavel Felgenhauer

The Jamestown Foundation

2018 City of Daraa

سماء مدينة درعا المحطة قبل أقل من ساعة .. مع دخول العام الجديد.. حيث شهدت اطلاق نار كثيف في الاحياء المحتلة من قبل النظام والميليشيات الطائفية الإيرانية واللبنانية والعراقية في القسم الشمالي للمدينة .. الصورة ملتقطة من الاحياء المحررة بدرعا البلد ..احياء العزة والكرامة..
بعدسة صديق الصفحة: أبو فاروق المسالمة
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