The U.S. Military Photo Scandal: Whose Fault is It?

In case you haven’t noticed, sexual harassment and assault in the military is back in the news. This time, Marines and retired Marines have been caught sharing nude photos of women Marines inside a closed Facebook group. These photos were either shared or taken without consent. But that was merely the beginning. Digging deeper, investigators have found that it goes beyond sharing nude photos of the service members: this media was being shared to adult hosting sites. This issue is proving to be endemic to not only the Marine Corps, but to the Department of Defense at large.

Leading all those people of sound mind to ask, “What the hell is going on inside the United States military?”

There are two things going on here. The first is an excuse: that this is society’s problem and that what is happening in the military is just part of that. And while I agree that rape culture is a growing issue nation-wide, the problem with this argument is that it 1) somehow alleviates the military of responsibility for policing itself, and 2) ignores the fundamental issue here: Marines see other Marines (or service members see other service members) as “not Marines.” In short, some Marine men do not think that women Marines are Marines.


Well, welcome to point two: we’ve managed to tie a willingness to kill people and having an aggressive mentality to sexual deviance and dominance. It’s 2017 and somehow there are people out there who think that getting consent, being disciplined, and just being a decent human being cannot go hand-in-hand with going out and shooting bad dudes in the face. If we say, “Stop calling women Marines/Soldiers ‘clearing barrels,’” apparently that is going to dull the edge of our nation’s sword? If we say, “Stop eyeballing the public affairs staff sergeant and describing in detail what you would do to her in bed,” then that is going to destroy our ability to close with and destroy the enemy in close combat? (Both examples I heard as an enlisted infantryman.)

Are our “warriors” really that fragile?

No, of course not. It is an excuse that has been built up over time to try to rationalize awful behavior. You absolutely can inculcate an aggressive and winning mentality while also training your troops to treat each other with dignity and respect. Again, if we can expect an 18-year-old to know when to take a life and when not to take a life, we can expect them to know when it keep it in their pants.

This mess absolutely is our responsibility to take care of, because everyone affected relies on each other to survive. When it comes down to it, we all signed up to protect and defend the Constitution, the nation, and each other. The perpetrators who share these photos and demean these service members are sending the message loud and clear that they do not consider women worthy of serving in the military. They are saying that the oath that these troops took is not equal to their own.

So yeah, that is our problem. There are very few other places in society where we place our lives in our coworkers’ hands. This egregious breakdown of trust places that in danger. We have got to own this issue, because we have let it grow for decades; by making excuses, by turning a blind eye to “boys being boys,” and by pretending that “real men” demean and degrade women. The way that women service members are treated is our problem and we must fix it, from the lowest levels all the way to the top. Otherwise we won’t have a force worth keeping.

Because if we can’t trust each other, then who in the hell can we trust?

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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.

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