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As war comes home

Violence grows against women

Ft. Bragg murders recall Vietnam era

By Minnie Bruce Pratt

In a pattern chillingly familiar to those who remember the Vietnam War, four soldiers stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., have killed their wives in the last six weeks. Three of the soldiers were members of the Army's Special Operations unit, veterans of the U.S. war against Afghanistan.

Ft. Bragg is the Army's headquarters for Special Forces and Special Operations units. Hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan from there.

The public has suffered a barrage of articles, photographs, opinion pieces and interviews claiming that President George W. Bush's so-called war on terrorism would liberate the women of Afghanistan. The message has been that one aim of Bush's "endless war"is to "rescue" women abroad--and protect families at home.

Now the men who have fought this war are returning home--and the brutal consequences of this aggressive imperial war are coming home with them.

Army officials have expressed surprise at the murders; headlines read, "Slayings of four soldiers' wives confound Army leaders." Sgt. Brian Sutton of the U.S. Army's Special Operations Command said, "This is something strange for the community of Fort Bragg. ... This does not happen." (Knight Ridder newspapers, July 27)

But activists who live in Fayetteville, N.C.--Ft. Bragg's civilian community--find nothing surprising in this onslaught of violence against women.

Rallies were held in more than 20 cities across North Carolina on July 25 to protest the fact that eight domestic violence murders had occurred in the state within 22 days.

The year had begun with the January murder of Shalamar Franceschi, who was stabbed to death on one of the busiest streets in the town by her soldier husband. He had recently held her, her mother and child hostage. He committed the murder after a local judge released him from jail on bond.

Organizer Roberta Waddle, of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, said, "Terrorism is being perpetrated right here in North Carolina ... on women by the very men who 'love' them." (Fayetteville Observer, July 24)

With each U.S. war of aggression, violence against women climbs to epidemic proportions in military towns.

In the 1970s, local people called Fayetteville "Fayettenam" as the level of abuse ratcheted up with the return of Vietnam veterans to Ft. Bragg. Murders of women by their soldier boyfriends and husbands were a common occurrence, sometimes taking on the aspect of public executions. A well-known example was the killing of a woman who fled from her husband to a counseling center, only to be shot there by him in front of the staff.

Women in the downtown area were subjected to a storm of catcalls and harassment, and some "literally became a type of war refugee, leaving town as soon as they became adults and never going back." (Catherine Lutz, "Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century")

According to the Miles Foundation, the rate of domestic violence is two to five times higher in the military than in the civilian population. The foundation is an advocacy group for victims of domestic violence in the military. (New York Times, July 20)

The North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that a domestic homicide occurs every four days in that state. (Fayetteville Observer, July 19)

Local activists are working to stop this epidemic of violence against women. Shortly after Shalamar's brutal killing, activists took their protest to the steps of the Cumberland County Courthouse, chanting, "Stop the violence! Stop the murders!"

In addition to NOW, groups attending included the Women's Center of Fayetteville, a Black women's coalition, and members of a breast cancer resource center where Shalamar had volunteered.

The human cost of war

Virtually every day, articles and news broadcasts openly report on the Bush administration's bellicose threats to militarily invade Iraq. With this threat of the opening up of a new front in the "endless war," the Bush administration is calculating how much a new U.S. offensive will cost. News accounts speculate that it might run as much as $80 billion. (New York Times, July 29)

But the real cost will be wrung out of the lives of the Iraqi people at ground zero if the bombs fall and the troops attack. And U.S. GI lives will be lost, too. And there will be other unseen casualties as well, like Shalamar Franceschi and her husband and family.

The human cost will include abused or murdered women--and the broken lives of U.S. soldiers who come back shattered to the core after "following orders" and killing for their country, only to find they are unwittingly protecting the interests of big money and big business.

The real cost will be the public education funds cut, hospitals closed, summer recreation programs cancelled--and the lives lost or stunted--because the money is being spent on war.

The real cost will be the men, women and children of Iraq dying, again, in a country whose roads, hospitals and schools have been ruined--by yet another U.S. war of aggression.

Yes, stop the violence--the violence against women--and the violence done to humanity by U.S. imperialism. It's time to stop the war against women--and to stop the war against Iraq before it starts.

Pratt was active in women's liberation in Fayetteville from 1975 to 1981.

Reprinted from the Aug. 8, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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