Our government treats few of our soldiers fairly, but the injustices women suffer are particularly acute. Sexual crimes threaten virtually every woman employed in the US military, and approximately one third suffer at least one sexual assault during their service. In The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq. Helen Benedict sheds light on this and other examples of physical and mental damage that soldiers, especially women, face as they wage the Iraq War.
Benedict regularly provides facts and data about the military at large, but she focuses on the stories of five soldiers in particular. These five women have vastly different ethnic and political backgrounds, but their overall experiences in the military follow similar trajectories. Though they joined the military for different reasons; they were united by their experience with recruiters.
It is common knowledge that many military recruiters lie, but it is one thing to know that and quite another to disbelieve someone who looks you in the eye and promises honor, glory, or a way out of poverty. All five women took the information provided by recruiters at face value. They believed without question that they were guaranteed dignity, health barring the expected danger from the enemy, and valuable work, during and after their time in the military.
None of these expectations were satisfied. The required birth control treatments cause considerable embarrassment, discomfort, and damage to female soldiers. The treatments do not work properly, unless the miscarriages count as prevented pregnancies; one of the five women became pregnant despite the drugs supplied, even while the drugs doomed her pregnancy.
As extreme as that case may seem, most female soldiers face the greatest dangers during deployment. They make up such a small minority of soldiers that they face isolation from anyone able or willing to relate to them. The book is titled The Lonely Soldier because Benedict thinks that the isolation inherent in having one or two women among dozens of sex-starved men is the root cause of the women’s exceptional suffering. This atmosphere of isolation makes the victim-blaming common in our culture even more extreme, which undermines prevention and practically precludes retribution.
Benedict thinks that if female soldiers are deployed in larger groups, they will be better able to protect one another. They might even accrue enough political power to counteract the indifference of the military administration. Of all of the military’s problems, that of sexual assault might be one of the easiest and least expensive to solve since the distribution of female soldiers is merely an administrative issue.
Benedict tackles problems that affect every soldier in the U.S. Army, male and female, but The Lonely Soldier shines brightest when Benedict describes the experiences of her five examples. Though the causes of their pain often seem too broad and cultural to be tractable, Benedict identifies policy after policy that, if enacted, would considerably improve the lives of our soldiers. In light of the immense sacrifices made by the military in our name, The Lonely Soldier has valuable information for anyone who thinks these soldiers deserve justice.