Living in a country that hasn’t seen war for two centuries, and never having done military service, I’m completely baffled by war rapes and the post-war rapes that have become part of the cultures of certain African countries. Particularly the high incidence of child rape going on e.g. in Liberia and Congo.

The appeal of gambling I sort of understand.

The appeal of drugs and drink I sort of understand.

The appeal of corruption and personal enrichment I sort of understand.

And I sort of understand the strategic military value of demoralising the civilian population by ordering e.g. Japanese troops to rape and murder the women of Nanjing in 1937 or the Red Army to systematically rape East Berlin’s female inhabitants in 1945. Most war crimes are committed for some strategic reason, however twisted.

But I can’t understand the appeal of committing rape. I can’t understand it when the victim is a grown woman, no matter how attractive, and I certainly can’t understand it when the victim is a kid. To me, forcing myself sexually upon someone would not be like enjoying shop-lifted candy, a guilty pleasure. It would be like eating a shit sandwich. I gladly pay to eat candy. I would gladly pay to not have to commit rape, if those were the options. I like sex, but rape isn’t sex. It’s more akin to torture, something I would also gladly pay to not have to commit.

“Yay! The war has broken down the fabric of society! Might makes right! I can do whatever the fuck I like! I’m gonna gamble, I’m gonna drink, I’m gonna enrich myself! And then I’m finally gonna be able to have as many big steaming shit sandwiches as I like!” I don’t get it.

The Liberian and Congolese rapists are not acting on any unbridled universal male urges. To my mind, they are simply insane, probably due to war trauma and a broken culture, like the members of Charlie Company at My Lai. There are certain things that no sane person will do, and raping children is one of them.

In the long run, Darwinian selection acts upon cultures. But us in the world at large can’t wait for that to make the current cultures of Liberia and Congo go extinct, taking millions of people with them.

Please check out the blogs Isis the Scientist, Tara Smith?s Aetiology, and Sheril Kirshenbaum?s The Intersection. They’re donating their blog incomes to combat post-war rape and have pledged to cover the developing situation. And if you can, consider donating to Doctors Without Borders.

Comments

  1. #1 Kevin
    June 1, 2009

    Martin, I love you, you are living proof that Swedish affluence and pacifism have successfully sublimated male aggression. I agree that Darwinian selection acts upon cultures, but it isn’t at all clear to me which culture would be selected if Sweden shared a border with, say, Rwanda. If trucks full of thugs with machine guns were driving through your little town, I wonder if you’d discover some universal male urges you never knew existed.

  2. #2 Martin R
    June 1, 2009

    To me the distinction between a truckful of armed thugs and a truckful of nine-year-old girls is pretty clear. Though I have no doubt that I might be provoked to gun down the thugs, I can’t see how I might be inspired to rape the kids.

  3. #3 Thomas
    June 1, 2009

    Martin, not much is needed to twist people. Read about the Stanford prison experiment, or about Abu Ghraib for a real example.

  4. #4 Martin R
    June 1, 2009

    It’s a pretty big prison experiment when a sizeable portion of the male population continues to enact it years after the war ended. How is twisting permanented?

  5. #5 Zola
    June 1, 2009

    Racist much?

  6. #6 Mikael
    June 1, 2009

    Kevin: You are implying that wanting to rape children is a universal male urge. That’s pretty insulting.

  7. #7 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    Zola, I’m curious how you managed to interpret a blog entry where I cited war crimes perpetrated by Liberians, Congolese, Japanese, Russians and Americans as racist.

  8. #8 Stewart
    June 2, 2009

    It’s probably because you mentioned the “unmentionable” word for racism…”Africa”.Westernized black people don’t like the fact that African black people enjoy rape and slaughter.It’s life,it happens..deal with it!

    Western soldiers who have fought there against these (usually) “rebel insurgents”,whether they be mercernaries or NATO troops,can tell you stories of the horror’s they’ve witnessed whenever one of these African nations explodes.
    These places are full of one armed children due to rebel addiction for machetes.That’s if they don’t just kill them outright!
    many of these “rebels” or whatever they may be these days..hutu’s,tutu’s,juju’s etc are seriously doped up 24/7 on drugs,which they chew and smoke because the witch doctor’s tell them that they’ll then be impervious to bullets.They’re not..but thousands of them believe it!
    Rape and pillage has happened in every conquering army since the first one.Part of the “spoils of war”,(and synonimous(sp?) with Vikings Martin :P ) The African nations seem to glory in it,and when a 100 strong gang of armed rebels arrives in a village dressed in pink wigs and dresses (trust me on this)and doped up to the eyeballs,and their commanding officer is a 14 year old called “major general rapist”..then there’s gonna be a shitstorm!

    These people look at 9 and 10 year old’s like we look at 16 – 18 year olds here,it’s their way and culture.Kids are fair game for all kinds of atrocities i’m afraid.

  9. #9 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    These people look at 9 and 10 year old’s like we look at 16 – 18 year olds here,it’s their way and culture.Kids are fair game for all kinds of atrocities i’m afraid.

    Err… You look upon 16-18-y-os as fair game for all kinds of atrocities!?

  10. #10 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    And Stewart, I gotta say, you have some really sweeping prejudices about “those people” and “their way and culture”. The stuff you describe may be true for some of Africa’s most hopelessly war-torn nations. It’s certainly not true for all African countries, nor for all of sub-Saharan Africa. The reason that some countries are so fucked up is not simply that they have developed unpleasant cultural traits.

  11. #11 stewart
    June 2, 2009

    Yeah i guess the 16-18 yr old bit didn’t get across what i was saying,lol. I meant that they class those age groups as “ready for sexual activity” or “the legal age for sex” as we say here.

    You said you were “baffled” by war rapes and post war rapes in “certain African countries”.
    I admit to time saving and not listing all the countries where this thing has happened,but was a sweeping answer to the “why does it happen” question.sorry.
    It’s not about EVERY African country,it’s not about EVERY African.It’s my outlook on how it happens,that’s all.

  12. #12 magetoo
    June 2, 2009

    In the long run, Darwinian selection acts upon cultures. But us in the world at large can’t wait for that to make the current cultures of Liberia and Congo go extinct,

    You mean selection between cultures, somehow? Please explain, because I don’t get it.

    When you say “Darwinian”, I can’t help but think what it would imply in the biological sense; and that this is something that would actually be selected for. Helps spread your genes around, as long as society keeps breaking down regularly. Which would sort of explain the “why” of why it happens, and at least to me, those unbridled universal male urges does seem to fit the bill nicely.

    (No, it doesn’t explain or justify sexual violence, or going after nine-year-olds.)

  13. #13 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    I mean that human cultures accumulate traits pretty much at random that will in the long run strengthen or weaken them. Agriculture is adaptive. Widespread child rape is not.

    Though as I’ve argued here before, most of the cultural traits we come up with are null mutations without adaptive consequences.

  14. #14 Jonathan Jarrett
    June 2, 2009

    Stewart says:

    Rape and pillage has happened in every conquering army since the first one.Part of the “spoils of war”,(and synonimous(sp?) with Vikings Martin :P )

    As a medievalist I have to do the pedants’ bit and say, actually there’s almost no evidence, possibly actually no evidence, of Viking rape, at least of women—there’s some juicy stuff in the Icelandic sagas about dominating and feminising men by such means, if you want it. Lots of pillage, oh yes, but rape, well, no. This is quite possibly because the sources of that period just aren’t interested in what happened to women, but the assumption that barbarians obviously raped the women is primarily based in our own heads. Not saying it didn’t happen: it just isn’t recorded, so if we assume it did we have to ask why.

    My source: Julia Barrow, “Rape and Pillage: Vikings in historiography”, paper presented to the Midlands Viking Symposium, University of Nottingham, 9th April 2005, which as far as I can see she hasn’t yet published, sorry.

  15. #15 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    There’s the slave girl on the banks of the Volga who got ritually gang-banged and sacrificed at a Viking funeral in AD 921/922. Ibn Fadhlan saw it happen. But I don’t think he actually says anything about coercion, only that the several couplings take place.

  16. #16 ASL4U
    June 2, 2009

    as a survivor… I have experienced – and I have seen and heard again and again… expressions of men.. doing or expressing a desire to do what men… do.
    Perhaps men are different in Sweden, but men like you – here in the US are few and far between.
    And the more our culture shifts in the way its going, the more in danger the “nice” guys are.
    The ones that like to rape little girls – also like to torture and kill the nice guys… and while they’re raping and killing.. they’re surviving – and breeding.
    Measures of a Darwinian Truth.

  17. #17 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    while they’re raping and killing.. they’re surviving – and breeding

    Actually, to have surviving progeny, I think it’s generally a better bet to be nice to the woman and help her raise the kids than to kill her shortly after fertilisation.

  18. #18 Johan
    June 2, 2009

    Actually, to have surviving progeny, I think it’s generally a better bet to be nice to the woman and help her raise the kids than to kill her shortly after fertilisation.

    If you can get someone else to raise your progeny, though, that’s an evolutionary jackpot.

    (Although of course, trying to explain rape simply as a way to spread your genes will be gross – and false – simplification of a complex phenomenon.)

  19. #19 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    Hmmm, makes you wonder if over the past million years rape victims have generally tended to cry foul or not. Because if they have, then rape would have been counteradaptive, while smoove cuddly mooves with other people’s wives would have been, as you said, an evolutionary jackpot.

  20. #20 asl4u
    June 2, 2009

    no – you kinda missed the point. They are not breeding these women that they rape – they are breeding their own.. who are (theoretically) not being raped – or if they are, then they are subject and kept alive to rear the offspring.
    but the men who disagree with the status quo – are silenced – and therefore – are not breeding anyone.
    The women are often subject to their sons as much as to their husbands.

  21. #21 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    Wow, that’s a scary perspective!

    Well, I think there’s one or two non-violent men around who breed. I know I do! And even if you have a violent dad you don’t have to grow up to be like him.

  22. #22 DianaGainer
    June 2, 2009

    I would suggest we not look to Darwin for explanations when it comes to anti-social and psychotic behavior. It seems fairly clear to me that the real source of human strength and evolution and adaptation was society, a FUNCTIONING society. This is precisely what is lacking in those war-torn nations. The social order has basically collapsed. Morals and values aren’t active. People are traumatized by ghastly things that happened to them when they were younger. When they get older — if they do — they act out, based on those traumas and what little power they have. There is no useful function for child rape, either in the sociological sense or in the evolutionary sense. There may be in some twisted psychological sense. Some twisted psyche, tortured in the past, may be getting something out of torturing someone who is smaller and weaker. That’s about all. It sets up a new cycle of victimization leading to future victimization. Martin is right. Someone from outside needs to intervene. US.

  23. #23 Christina
    June 2, 2009

    Well, I thought it was a very good post, and I for one am glad that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  24. #24 Mike Olson
    June 2, 2009

    I can’t possibly guess how coercive the sex was with American slaves, but I’d speculate some was out right rape, while in other cases, perhaps not. Either way the power dynamic was so far out of whack as to render any modern perception essentially useless. But, I do know that in the American west atrocities were frequently perpetuated on the Native Americans. Rape, slaughter, killing infants and pregnant women, sometimes slicing open the womb. I’ve even heard of accounts of World War II in which some allied troops raped women of axis countries. I don’t think any of this has to do with being drugged up, or being told anything by a witch doctor. I’d say if you and your buddies trot off to war, are subject to a variety of horrors. Deal with watching some of them die screaming with their entrails dragging, you might just come a little unhinged. Life might not mean too much. Further, if you are subjected to this at an early age with no relief it might even become seen as normal. Civilization is a wonderful thing and to reach the point we have has taken a lot. The fact that we have a difficult of impossible task of imagining being in such a situation is a testament to the civilizations we live in. BTW, I really don’t think America and Americans are as bad as the description provided by one poster. We can greatly improve, but we’re not that bad. *@MARTIN*, I thought military service in Sweden was compulsory. Were you deferred to pursue your education?

  25. #25 Martin R
    June 2, 2009

    Military service is only compulsory in theory in Sweden, because the military threat level is seen as low and so the armed forces don’t get enough funds to train most of the potential recruits. This development began even before my time (I finished high school in ’90) and has accelerated since.

    I was a conscientious objector. It took three years from my visit to the drafting center until they actually called me to serve (in an old people’s home). But my then employer wrote them a letter saying that I was needed on an excavation, and that was that. I am now considered too old to be of any use even in the non-arms-bearing part of the system.

  26. #26 Mike Olson
    June 2, 2009

    I was just curious. I can certainly respect your choice to be a conscientious objector. From what I’ve read there is much in Scandinavian outlook which the U.S. could emulate which would be beneficial. Regarding the military, I’ve recently read that during “the winter war” in Finland 8,700 Swedish volunteers helped to fight the Soviets. A war, which to folks living a little further south, would certainly appear especially harsh and brutal. I have completely disagreed with my countries handling of its foreign affairs for the last eight years, as well as it’s other means of dealing with a perceived threat. This post addresses especially heinous war crimes which should be stopped with violators being adequately punished. Having said that, my overall point is that peace is preferred but shouldn’t be bought at the expense of being a Quisling. Being peaceful is a wonderful thing, but sometimes the fight is truly thrust upon the innocent, or a fight must be taken up for the innocent.

  27. #27 Martin R
    June 3, 2009

    You’re referring to Sweden’s failure to be very helpful during WW2. I have no real position on that issue except that it was, from a utilitarian perspective then and afterwards, an excellent policy for the citizens of Sweden. We’re of course all very grateful for everybody’s great grand-dad’s war effort.

    As to fighting for the innocent, I believe Sweden has contributed quite handsomely per capita both to UN peace-keeping missions and to the global task of giving refugees a safe haven.

    But personally, I can take neither blame nor praise for either of these policies. For many years, though, I have donated money to the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society’s muck-raking efforts to combat the national arms industry.

  28. #28 Lab Rat
    June 3, 2009

    Martin: great post. And i would like to say I admire your stance as a CO :) War is more often damaging as it is useful, I have never been in such a situation myself, but i would have that if I were I’d be able to Object as well.

  29. #29 Martin R
    June 3, 2009

    A comforting fact: above some rather low-level definition of the term, one democracy hardly ever declares war on another. And as democracy becomes stronger, the risk of war approaches zero. That’s the only practically workable path towards global peace that I know of. So we’d better fund research in political science and foreign aid!

  30. #30 Dunc
    June 3, 2009

    To my mind, they are simply insane, probably due to war trauma and a broken culture

    I think that’s it. Most of these guys were child soldiers, recruited at very young ages by being forced to participate in the gang rapes and executions of their own families. They have never really known anything other than violence and abuse. It’s more-or-less impossible to understand how you would view the world if, at the age of 7, you’d been forced you watch your sisters being raped and murdered, then forced to kill both your parents (your father crying for mercy, your mother begging you to do it to save yourself), and then been taken away to a military camp where you got the first decent meal of your life. (Details based on a real first-hand account from Craig Murray’s The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and Other Conflicts I Have Known.)

    They’re fucked up beyond our ability to comprehend.

  31. #31 Martin R
    June 3, 2009

    Alas, tropical Africa. Nobody knows how it got that way (other post-colonial areas having far less extreme problems), nobody knows how to get the place to work again.

    I once read a good one-liner attributed to a native Tanzanian (?) academic: “I know, our country is completely fucked, nothing works, it’s a mess. But hey, before you judge us, try thinking straight when it’s 40 centigrade in the shade, OK?”

  32. #32 Peter Lund
    June 3, 2009

    Why does the rape frequency seem to be so much higher in Sweden than in Denmark?

    Who commits those crimes?

  33. #33 Martin R
    June 3, 2009

    I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, then I have an idea what causes it. Us Swedes are all violent drunks, while you Danes are all mellow stoners.

  34. #34 Ned Flanders
    June 3, 2009

    Living in a country that hasn’t seen war for two centuries

    Sweden has certainly seen war. They’ve just elected to take sides once all the fighting was over.

    That -may- have worked out for them, or it may be one reason that things which generally go untolerated in other countries seem to be find persistent, open support there.

    I have no real position on that issue except that it was, from a utilitarian perspective then and afterwards, an excellent policy for the citizens of Sweden.

    Exactly.

    Also, I’d be very careful before pointing the ‘war crimes’ or discrimination finger at anyone. Yes, Sweden doesn’t fight war so they don’t have war crimes. Some of the crimes they have dsuring peace though are simply astonishing.

    Some things are worth taking a stand on.

    In the long run, Darwinian selection acts upon cultures.

    Ok, but what does a country that tolerates everything so long as it’s an ‘excellent policy for it’s [existing] citizens’ select for?

    But us in the world at large can’t wait for that to make the current cultures of Liberia and Congo go extinct, taking millions of people with them.

    The height of irony. Leading from the back.

    Okily-Dokiley?

  35. #35 Homer Simpson
    June 3, 2009

    But us in the world at large can’t wait for that to make the current cultures of Liberia and Congo go extinct, taking millions of people with them.

    Is this one of those ‘no real position on that issue except that it was, from a utilitarian perspective then and afterwards, an excellent policy for the citizens of Sweden issues, or one you’d actually be prepared to fight for when the shit hits the fan?

    Those of us in the world at large that aren’t quite so fickle would like to know.

  36. #36 Mike Olson
    June 3, 2009

    *@Martin* My intention wasn’t to imply that Sweden was not particularly helpful in WWII. Prior to America’s entry into that war American mercenaries(aka volunteers) went to both China and Britain to fly warplanes. In the case of America we maintained trade embargos which led to Japan’s decision to attack us, which in turn brought us into the war. There are a variety of alternative situations that could’ve played out if the axis had not made the poor decisions they did. I’m suggesting that if Sweden had been attacked the fight would’ve been thrust upon them as well. I was a Navy corpsman(technically my primary job, but working in the lab took up more of my training). A means to serve in the military which CO’s in the past have taken. I would guess my position on such issues is more aggressive than yours, but not as much as you might think. Of course I didn’t have to join the military, I was a college graduate who couldn’t find a job to support my wife and child. The military offered better pay, a start into a career and a full ride for more education which interested me greatly. Otherwise I couldn’t afford to get that education. Please note, I thought my country was the good guy and wouldn’t cross to many lines. I still believe the people are generally good, but I’ve come to realize fear, paranoia and ignorance will allow us to put some real yahoo’s in charge and take horribly ill advised actions.

  37. #37 Martin R
    June 3, 2009

    My knowledge of the War is a little sketchy, but of the countries that did take part I don’t recall any that did so simply out of the goodness of their hearts and a conviction that it was their duty.

  38. #38 Mike Olson
    June 3, 2009

    Nice response re:violent drunks v. “mellow stoners.” Some of the nastiest (most violent/aggressive) guys I knew in high school were, “mellow stoners.”

  39. #39 Dr. Ned Flanders
    June 3, 2009

    So the question remains — you want someone to fight for the people of Africa, right? That’s what you’re calling for near the end of your post.

    Can it please include your parents, brothers, and sons this time as well as mine?

    Here’s a suggestion: before taking sweeping positions on what others have done (as if doing something out of more than just the ‘goodness of your heart’ somehow nullified the fact that you actually did it) or should do, maybe you should try committing yourself to a position on some of these inherently nebulous issues and quit being such a self-righteous, condescending, holier-than-thou prick that stands for nothing.

  40. #40 Martin R
    June 3, 2009

    @Mike, that wasn’t the weed, that was the speed they were taking. Or they were twice as nasty when sober. (-;

    @Belligerent-troll-with-various-pseudonyms, as I mentioned above Sweden contributes quite a lot to UN peace keeping missions. But personally, not being a nationalist, I can’t really take any pride in that. Although I vote, I didn’t consciously help make that happen. Nor did I have a decisive influence on Swedish foreign policy in the 1940s.

  41. #41 Dr. Troll
    June 3, 2009

    In other words, you talk a good game but you’re not prepared to pick a side or spend treasure and life and limb to back it up. Or even take a position on whether Sweden’s foreign policy 60 years ago was good, ok, or terrible.

    So, please, quit telling the world at large what you think we should fight and die for while you move on to hotter topics.

    Okay? Thanks.

  42. #42 Renee
    June 5, 2009

    I don’t understand how you can not understand. Lust is the most basic human desire. If anything, I wonder why there isn’t MORE rape.

  43. #43 Martin R
    June 5, 2009

    I’ve never really been sexually frustrated since I was fifteen. My lust is strong, but it wouldn’t be sated if I imposed it by force upon someone who didn’t want me. Just as if I’m hungry, then I need to eat, not kick a pig or burn down a restaurant.

  44. #44 Phil M
    June 5, 2009

    As regards the idea of rape performed by one side on the other, I believe that part of that is to damage or destroy the society of the other side. Children who are the product of rape have always be stigmatized, as have their mothers. This helps to create problems for the enemy. That it is possible to get so many men to do this says something about the human animal. And remember that for all of our high thoughts about ourselves, we are still members of the animal kingdom, and social pressures and violence can screw us up. Just a thought.

  45. #45 johannes
    June 8, 2009

    > I once read a good one-liner attributed to a native
    > Tanzanian (?) academic: “I know, our country is
    > completely fucked, nothing works, it’s a mess. But hey,
    > before you judge us, try thinking straight when it’s 40
    > centigrade in the shade, OK?”

    Tanzania is a poor country, suffering from heavy-handed state socialism in the seventies, followed by equally harsh IMF-induced “structural adjustment” in the eighties, and it isn’t a model democracy either, but it’s also a very stable country, wich has avoided civil strife for the last fifty years, so I wouldn’t call it fucked up, or a mess. At least they got Uganda (and mankind) rid of Idi Amin, no mean feat for a force of green recruits facing professional Lybian and Palestinian mercenaries and even heavy strategic bombers.

  46. #46 Martin R
    June 8, 2009

    Maybe I misremember the man’s nationality.

  47. #47 Monado
    June 9, 2009

    There’s a myth in some parts of Africa that sex with a virgin cures AIDS. It has led to rapes not only of childen, but also of babies. Some babies die of it. Needless to say, it doesn’t work.

  48. #48 Martin R
    June 9, 2009

    … and in one of the continent’s best-working countries, the Health Minister until recently prescribed garlic and beetroot to cure AIDS…

  49. #49 oscar zoalaster
    June 10, 2009

    Thank you for being another male who think rape makes no sense. Your post was much nicer to read, and was far more consistent with my experiences, than Greg Laden’s ‘All men are rapists’ posts.

  50. #50 Martin R
    June 11, 2009

    I can’t read Greg, he’s too long-winded for me. But his “all men are potential rapists” self-flagellation strikes me as an unscientific hypothesis. Impossible to falsify. How can you test whether this “rape switch” exists when the only way of assessing its on/off state is watching men commit or not commit rape?

  51. #51 Chris S.
    July 4, 2009

    I spent part of the 1980′s involved in the South African Bush War, fought mainly in Angola and the Caprivi district of Southwest Africa (Namibia). I was with white troops and black troops. I never saw atrocities committed by white troops against civilians, and by the same token, I never saw atrocities committed by the highly trained and disciplined black troops in 31 and 32 Battalions. They were consummate professionals. Local militias, on the other hand, were so routinely evil in what they did (usually while high on “dagga” or more potent drugs) that we in uniform-black and white- took to simply shooting them all. The difference was not in the race of the perpetrator, but in the quality of the officers that led them. If you have no discipline, no control, lots of drugs and booze, and combine that with deadly weapons that an 8 year old can operate in an environment that encourages lack of empathy, dehumanization, and brutality in your troops enforced by beatings, humiliation, anal rape (saw it happen many times), you have the perfect recipe for disaster. It got so bad that we did our bit to help the world by shooting everyone with a weapon that was not in a uniform we recognized.

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