May 9, 1997

Military Justice

History, sacred and profane, and the common experience of mankind teach that women of the character shown in this case are prone to make false accusations both of rape and of insult upon the slightest provocation or without even provocation, for ulterior purposes.

Judge James E. Horton: Memorandum granting a new trial in the Scottsboro case, 1933.

In Europe during World War II rape was a problem. It was not as widespread as what was called "fraternization," but it was serious. Fraternization was what having sexual relations with German women was called. More precisely, it was called "fraternizing with the enemy."

Not many took the anti-fraternization order very seriously. The saying, at the time, was that "copulation without conversation was not fraternization." Not only were the German girls hard to resist, but the soldiers were at an age when, as Alfred Kinsey put it, they would mount anything that would stand still. .The edict was a joke.

To deal with the problem of rape, General Eisenhower ordered that the crime of rape would be punished by death. Not only did the army issue the edict, but they backed it up, and several soldiers were executed for the crime. I don't remember how many, but I seem to recall that it was something like three or four.

While fornication was widespread, apparently rape was not and those soldiers who were executed were all black; or as they were called in those days, negroes. Considering that a relatively small percentage of the soldiers were black, that seemed to me to be somewhat strange.

The main purpose of military justice was, and is, to enforce discipline. What we civilians call "justice" was secondary. The most common crimes were desertion, being absent without leave(going AWOL), and insubordination. Capital crimes were unusual because in combat, you could easily get away with murder. Besides, killing was the main business of the army, so one could hardly consider it a serious crime. Since the purpose of the military court was to enforce discipline rather than to dispense justice, a court martial board usually consisted of officers who usually outranked the accused. The concept of a jury of one's peers is foreign to the army. Usually, the court martial's purpose was to send a message to the rest of the troops as to what would not be tolerated.

The message in those executions in Germany for rape was clearly that negroes are forbidden to lay white women, even if those women are considered the enemy.

That things haven't changed much in the army in the past 55 years was evident in the trial of a black drill sergeant who had sexual relations with a number of his female recruits.The sexual relationships were clearly consentual, but the court ruled that the drill sergeant had so much power that it constituted coercion which was, by their definition, "rape." The sergeant was black, and the women he bedded were all white. The message was exactly the same as it was 55 years ago.

I am not defending what that sergeant did. It was reprehensible. In a civilian court, he would have been found guilty of "sexual harassment," and sentenced accordingly. Nor would I ever consider defending a drill sergeant accused of any crime, since I consider his very occupation to border on criminality; but it seems to me that his crime was only partially that of having sexual relations with recruits. That crime is usually punishable by a dishonorable discharge. White officers and non commissioned officers were punished that way for the same offense. It seems to me that this sergeant's major crime was having a different skin color from his paramours.

Despite the integration of the armed forces, as ordered by Harry Truman, and a head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who considers himself black, down deep, the military is much the same as it was in WWII. It has made considerable progress, but it has a long way to go to accomplish the goal of a truly integrated armed forces.

In all walks of life, people are sexually attracted to one another. When that happens, many do not resist the temptation to indulge their proclivities. It is responsible for a good deal of both happiness and misery. The misery goes with getting caught. Some of these attractions result in life-long friendships and others in memories that are indulged in ones old age.

We will never know how many black men were invited into the beds of white women and, when caught at it, were accused of rape. The only way that a southern white woman caught in flagrante delicto could defend her "honor" was to cry rape. Nor do we know how many black men were framed in rape charges when it became known that they were having sexual relations with a white woman.

Now that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) has taken a hand, this promises to become a very interesting case. It wouldn't surprise me if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court and ends up as a review of the entire military justice system. I hope so -it could use a complete review.

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