Sexual assaults in the military have been in the news lately, but it's not a new issue. Troops' sexual appetites have plagued the military as long as anyone can remember.
Former U.S. Navy chaplain John Wolf, 94, of Valparaiso, has one of the longest memories around. Recently, he shared his frustration with how the U.S. military dealt with the troops' sexual urges in World War II.
Back then, the military was different. "We didn't have the female gender in our ship or on our bases anywhere," Wolf said. Women in the military did secretarial work "to release men for service at the front."
During World War II, with so many young GIs far from home, the military set up brothels for the troops. Yes, you read that correctly.
At 18 years old, "their hormones are jumping all over the place," Wolf said, so the military recruited women to serve as prostitutes in these brothels.
Wolf, who graduated from seminary at Columbia University in New York, visited his old ethics professor, Reinhold Niebuhr, during the war and discussed the Naples brothel situation. They were disgusted. Neibuhr agreed to publish Wolf's "Foxhole Religion" article anonymously in Neibuhr's journal "Christianity and Crisis." Wolf shared that article, and the many responses, with me.
"The Army houses for prostitution are well known, though I've never met anyone who knows where they are," an Army Air Force pilot wrote in the March 6, 1944, issue. "I could mention some very high men who advocate this practice in that a man going into combat who knows that if he gets back he'll have his 'reward' at a GI brothel, will be more anxious to get back. These brothels, as far as I know, exist only in areas near combat."
The stories continued. "A Catholic chaplain revealed that through the confessional he learned that 50 percent of the men, who carried on sexual relations for the first time, did so because of the presence of an Army (brothel)," Wolf said in an April 17, 1944, article he said he wrote anonymously.
"In a sex morality lecture a line officer, through the medium of a foul story, was even heard to equate fornication with fighting ability," the article said.
Neibuhr's remarks in that issue said, "We had rather hoped that the testimony of the chaplains would not be so unanimous."
The World War II chaplains were appalled about the brothels and the military's involvement in establishing them. "They weren't thinking about the women involved who were recruited for 'special services,'" Wolf said.
Today, the military is fully integrated, and complaints show sexual assaults are rampant, and not just near combat zones.
"I don't think the military knows how to deal with it," Wolf told me.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., questioned key Defense Department nominees about investigations of sexual assault cases. It remains a timely issue.
Sexual assaults, whether in a brothel or with a fellow soldier, are appalling. The culture that has overlooked them must change, and that process must begin now.