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Sexual assault tears the fabric of our military
Why Sexual Assault Tears at the Fabric of our Military Institutions, by Richard Dunn.

 A letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a mother in Boston whose five sons had died in battle underscores the terrible sacrifice of war.
AP PHOTO/DALLAS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
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Date published: 6/30/2013

IN A MOVING scene from Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. George C. Marshall, learns a family will shortly be told three of their sons have been killed in action. Their last surviving son, Pvt. Ryan, parachuted into Normandy behind the D-Day invasion beachheads, his location and status unknown. When Marshall's staff objects to his ordering an extremely long-shot and dangerous mission to find the last son and withdraw him from combat, he quotes from memory a letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to a widow who lost five sons. The letter concludes:

"I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."

This scene is allegorical. However, it shows the leader of an 8 million-man Army engaged in a global war willing to pay a potentially high price for a slim chance to avoid adding to the terrible sacrifice of a single family. This clearly and dramatically underscores the real Marshall's understanding of the importance of preserving the moral authority of the Army and its leaders: the authority to ask citizens to willing make such an ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

That moral authority is a fabric woven of many threads binding our government, its military institutions, and their leaders with our citizens serving in uniform. Recognition of that authority makes those citizens willing to obey lawful regulations and orders, even at the risk of their lives. The inability of our military institutions and leaders to prevent sexual assaults now threatens the very fabric. Here's why.

When our servicemen and -women enlist, they voluntarily surrender many of their rights by taking an oath obligating them to "obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [them], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice." But they do not obey orders only because of this legal obligation. When their lives are on the line, the legal consequences of disobeying an order are distant and minor compared to the imminent danger.


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