V-day and Militarism

by Pr. Geoff Browning, Campus Minister

We all know what V-Day is, the day that victory was declared in the wars against Japan and Germany in WWII. Eve Ensler, in her book and play, The Vagina Monologues has reclaimed the meaning of “V” to mean “Victory, Valentine, and Vagina” and to build V-Day into a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. Stanford V-Week just presented an extraordinary production of The Vagina Monologues that was profound, hilarious and heart-rending all at the same time. But I would like to call attention to a seldom-acknowledged connection between militarism and sexual violence.

As Stanford V-Week has been working to communicate, violence against women is epidemic. Among the grim statistics, one in three women globally will be the victims of battery and/or sexual abuse sometime in their lives. Somewhere in America, a woman is battered every 15 seconds. Globally, four million women and girls are trafficked into sexual slavery every year.

According to a recent Defense Department report, there were over 3,100 sexual assaults in our professionally trained military in 2011. But these are only the reported assaults; the Pentagon believes the actual number is much higher. Non-Pentagon sources say it may be as much as 10 times this number. Think about that: more than 30,000 sexual assaults. This means that every woman who serves in the military is at greater risk of being assaulted by her fellow soldiers than being killed or wounded by the enemy!

Rape has long been a weapon of and considered one of the spoils of war – from the time of Cicero to current conflicts around the globe, from El Salvador to the Congo to Sarajevo to the “comfort” women of the Japanese occupation. It is no accident that we refer to rape not just as a sexually violent act, but also as a frequent military action, such as the rape of Nanking where 250,000 people were raped and slaughtered. Such military actions are illustrative because they reveal the total and excessive dominance of victor over victim. This dominance is painfully clear in Iraq: The prestigious journal of medicine, The Lancet, conducted a study of civilian deaths in the Iraq war, concluding that more than 600,000 civilians have died.

Military generals talk about “full-spectrum dominance” by which they mean domination of land, sea, air, space and information. War is about dominating the enemy, and sexual violence is also about domination. You can’t have war without a corresponding increase in sexual violence. There are clear correlations. Hence it is little wonder that our professional military has had such difficulty eradicating chronic sexual assault.

The United States spends more on our military than the rest of the world combined. Freudian symbology would suggest that weapons are phallic symbols and an overabundance of these weapons is an attempt to compensate for our fear of impotence in the world. But of course, as Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Nevertheless, when the world is awash in weapons and the United States is the biggest supplier of those weapons, when armies in Africa and Europe have established rape camps, and when women soldiers have a greater risk of becoming casualties of sexual assault by their own countrymen than of being killed or wounded by the enemy, then the link between militarism and sexual violence begins to come into focus.

Militarism and the “feminine” values of relationship and nurture are inversely proportional; men in the military are taught to fear the feminine and emasculation throughout their training. As our militarism increases, feminine values are suppressed and denied their rightful place in society. And as we reject this necessary part of our psyche, we will become sick in body and soul.

If we truly want to eliminate sexual violence, we must work for the demilitarization of our society, our culture, and the world. We can begin reducing sexual violence by decreasing our profligate military spending and misogynistic training. We must dismantle the “military industrial complex” about which Eisenhower warned us, or I fear that our work to end sexual violence will be in vain.


Pastor Geoff Browning
is the United Campus Christian Ministry (UCCM) Campus Minister at Stanford. This is a personal opinion and not necessarily the opinion of UCCM students.

This post was originally published as an Opinion Editorial in The Stanford Daily.

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