Army rapists

Germaine Greer got it wrong. But then, as one high-ranking Brit Officer made pretty clear: what can one expect? After all, she is but a woman and a feminist to boot. What would she know about ugly topics like war?

And you know, she probably did get it wrong – but mostly because, as someone writing history from the victim perspective, she may not have been fully aware of the sheer horror of what oppressive armies get up to.

Feminist outrage

In June of this year, she outraged TV audiences and armchair strategists everywhere with her mild suggestion that British ground troops in Libya might end up sexually abusing the local population. Dismissing stories that Gaddafi might have encouraged such behaviour on the part of his own troops as “completely demented”, she said:

“Rape is always present where you have slaughter and you don’t have to have a government fiat [decision] to do it. One of the interesting things you might ask about what happens if we send in ground troops is how will we be sure they won’t do a bit of raping in their turn?

“All soldiers in certain circumstances will rape regardless of whether they are ours or theirs or whoevers.”

Cue serious splutteriong from a Colonel Richard Kemp, who claimed it was hard to take such remarks seriously, describing them as “a disgraceful insult to our troops who are fighting and dying for their country”.

Well, maybe.

Harsh reality

The problem, i would suggest, is that Ms Greer bought into the somewhat saccharine version of history which saw rape as either accidental consequence, or over-the-top )and mostly untrue) propagandist slur (cf. Germans raping nuns or Iraqis killing babies).

The truth though, is much, much darker: is oddly hinted at in modern UK police tactics which includes the use of brute aggression as a means to cow a violent offender.

And it is this: rape historically is not some accident of war, occasionally perpatrated by barbarian armies and out of control troops (Rwanda, f’rinstance). Nope: rape has throughout history been an active military strategy, perpetrated as much by the West as anywhere else.

Thus, in the Bible, Isaiah (13:16) writes with apparent relish: “Their little children will be dashed to death before their eyes. Their homes will be sacked, and their wives will be raped.”

Neither Greeks nor Romans were strangers to rape as tactic, displaying, too an admirable commitment to equal opps in their willingness to rape defeated male enemies as well as their wives and children.

Then there’s the “chevauchée”, which you may not have heard about in school, practised especially by Brit armies in France in the Middle Ages. This involved suppressing the local population by a deliberate policy of spreading havoc: taking few supplies and living off the land according to a deliberate policy of burning, pillaging and, yes, rape.

Quite possibly, the origins of Shakespeare’s “loveable” Falstaff lay in a real life captain, who made his fortune from such activity.

Piracy? Ah yes: thieves and rapists all…except that many were freelance thieves and rapists, who only became a problem when the British government had no more use for their thieving and raping.

Rape as deliberate policy

The real truth is that throughout much of history, rape has been a deliberately applied weapon of war, used to cow local civilian populations and demoralise enemy forces fighting far from

It is no longer officially endorsed (by the West)…although cynics may wonder whether continuing incidents, from My Lai to Abu Graib are quite the exceptions to the rule – the work of a few bad apples low down the chain of command – they are always made out to be.

Greer is right to pont out that introducing the military to any part of the world is risky for the local population: wrong to think that, historically, such risk was accidental.

Mostly, it wasn’t.



2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Shirley Anne said,

    I don’t think the Biblical passage should be interpreted that way. It is in fact a prophetic passage indicating God’s intentions. God has prior knowledge of what mankind is capable of and has foreknowledge of any situation. He doesn’t interfere but allows things to happen. It is all part of a greater plan. It does show just how evil in heart mankind is. As it also says in Scripture there is no-one that is good, all of us are unworthy. A good reason for not pointing the accusing finger in judgement I think.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  2. 2

    Quite simply a very good post. What more can I say. In peace time women are second class citizens, in war time they are targets…
    Thanks Jane.

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