rogerdr (rogerdr) wrote,

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Chivalry is a Myth

Western culture has its share of beloved legendary figures, and the honorable knight on horseback is one of the most employed characters in literature, yet in war or peace the actions of soldiers have been too often anything but honorable. The feudal period in Europe has been refered to as the Age of Chivalry, yet that fantasy has been belied from the biting sarcasm of the Canterbury Tales to the bloodlust braggadocio of the Chronicles of the Crusades. Throughout history war has been romanticized by society for many reasons, but one might believe that in these days of CNN and 'objective' journalism a military system professing itself to have finally realized the moral traditions espoused by Chivalry would not stoop to merely giving lip service to the Code it has instituted to insure those traditions; but romanticism prevails.

When confronted with rapes of civilians in Japan, mental and physical torture in Abu Graib, or sexual harrassment of students in the Air Force Academy, Pentagon officials invariably say that this activity is not the norm; that soldiers involved are acting against the Code of Conduct; and that such will not be tolerated. How amazed the public and the media seem when it is found that the very reason these things go on is that they are tolerated, not just by those of like status in the ranks, but also by the officers overseeing them. The rules exist to forbid such conduct, nevertheless, those rules only have a meaning when they are enforced; and the same goes for the rhetoric given at Pentagon press conferences. If we are to be considered a nation that eschews the tenets of Chivalry, the first thing we must do is be honest.

I say all this on the heels of revelations that several Air Force officials were lax, if not complicit, in the mishandling of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy. Spokesmen for the military gave scathing reports of the offenders, yet would neither name them nor the officials who failed to "acknowledge the severity of the problem." All are said to have been punished and that all efforts are being made to "change the culture" that has persisted there even a quarter century since women were first admitted; yet is not the most heinous aspect of that culture the very silence which allows such behavior to continue behind closed gates? If the military commanders were honestly serious about ending such behavior, they would admit that this policy of protecting the identity of those responsible for the assaults as well as their culpable superiors is one of its leading elements. Instead, they offer their secrecy matter-of-factly, as if there is no question of their intentions while admitting that others in authority have erred in exactly this way.

Where are the Congressional hearings? Why aren't there protests at the Pentagon? Because the culture allowing sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy is only a subculture of the 'patriotic' fervor being shouted from every corner of the Executive and Legislative Branches of the US government. Can't you hear it? If you don't "support the troops," then you're not with us; you're with the terrorists. Perhaps the vast majority of the troops are good, God-fearing, chilvalrous knights in body armor; but until the culture of secrecy has been dismantled, how do we know all this is not just the modern version of the myth?

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