The Thin Veneer of Civilization
Vladimir Putin's war is a mass descent into savagery
I hesitated sharing this. Some things are so vile, so reprehensible, that it’s important not to amplify or otherwise spread. But I decided to pause and look at this, because it’s important to not look away. Because it’s necessary to understand what the Ukrainians—indeed all of us in the civilized world—are up against.
Since the launch of Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine and the escalating collection of atrocities against civilians, it’s become increasingly hard to believe in the notion of a modern world defined by progress. Barbaric images of violence have led to a growing outcry that Russia is engaged in genocide—including from President Biden. But this audio from an intercepted call of a Russian soldier and his wife or girlfriend (released by the Ukraine Security Service) sent me over the edge.
Her: So yeah, do it over there. Ukrainian chicks there. Rape them. Yeah. Don’t tell me anything, understand?
She laughs. Her partner seems surprised.
Him: So should I rape and not tell you anything?
Her: Yes, so that I wouldn’t know anything.
They both laugh.
Her: Why do you ask?
Him: Can I, really?
Her: Yeah, I allow you. Just use protection.
She laughs again.
Soldiers raping women in wartime is not anything new. In the 20th century, this weapon of war was acknowledged in Article 27 of the Geneva Conventions, a 1949 statute concerning the protection of civilians in war “against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitutions, or any form of indecent assault.”
Systematic rape was defined as a crime against humanity in 1993 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It was called a war crime by the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. In 1998, the International Criminal Court gained jurisdiction over rape cases and in 2008 the UN Security Council declared that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.”
In his book Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Antony Beevor wrote that “Russian soldiers raped every German female from eight to 80.” Some estimates have concluded that two million German women were raped by Soviet Red Army soldiers during the last year of WWII. “If anything,” Beevor wrote, “the events of 1945 reveal how thin the veneer of civilization can be when there is little fear of retribution. It also suggests a much darker side to male sexuality than we might care to admit.”
In the weeks and months ahead, there will be other brutal lessons emanating from the sick, profoundly unnecessary attack on Ukraine and its people. As the statistics mount, it may become increasingly hard to grasp the level of savagery Putin has unleashed. Perhaps this one terrible story of a Russian wife or girlfriend, who urges her man to rape Ukrainian women, is the only thing you’ll ever need to remember that war is hell and human decency and civilization must be fought for every single day.
It is essential that we not look away. The personal cost to us of bearing witness is nothing compared to the cost to the victims. I share here the link to a Euronews piece (https://www.euronews.com/2022/04/13/protest-held-outside-tallinn-s-russian-embassy-against-women-raped-in-war) on a recent protest in front of the Russian embassy in Tallinn. It is graphic, powerful and disturbing (trigger warning for victims of rape and sexual abuse!). It was posted last night by Rebecca Solnit on her FB page, and I have hesitated to share it, but your piece today has given me fortitude, and reminded me that my sickened outrage is not only a legitimate but necessary response to this horror. At the risk of really rocking the boat, I must link the rage I feel when confronted with evidence of the systemic use of sexualized violence as a weapon of war to the news in recent days of the several states that have now moved swiftly to ban abortion, thereby forcing women to bear children against their will -- even the children of their rapists. This too is a form of sexualized violence. These terrible examples exist on a spectrum of violence perpetrated on the bodies of women.
The world is full of rapists, unfortunately. In this example, the girlfriend was more rabid than the boyfriend who showed an unsureness. Another terrible lasting mental picture is of a Ukrainian mother weeping , looking down a water filled hole where Russians had killed and left the body of her son. When the leader of Russia is a man with no morals, no ethics, one can expect his people to be encouraged and follow suit.
It should also be noted that American soldiers have been guilty of the same in time of war. Just covered up. Never sure when telling a vet I am proud of his service, I really am. Who knows?
Many have been guilty of war crimes. Few have paid the price. Look at our past president. trump is accused by 14 women of rape. Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh also accused to mention only a few. No war, but crimes indeed. How many women have killed their husbands who have brutalized them, yet, they are the ones who go to jail. Parents, especially mothers, should do a better job when raising a son.