Carol Rittner, John K. Roth, eds. Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide. St. Paul: Paragon House, 2012. liv + 263 pp. $21.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55778-898-6.
Reviewed by Justin Pfeifer (University of Toledo)
Published on H-War (August, 2014)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
This collection of thirteen important essays from a diverse range of scholars examines the past and present role of rape as a weapon of violent armed conflict that is genocidal in nature. The book is primarily intended for classroom use in various disciplines, with a framework that combines documents and essays to explicate each author’s argument while addressing the overarching topics of rape and genocide. Interesting to note is that the book utilizes the 1948 definition of genocide as determined by the United Nations, though the editors maintain that war is a necessary condition for genocide and rape-as-policy in a genocidal conflict.
The first chapter, “Are Women Human?” by Carol Rittner, is an introductory piece which focuses on an academic article by Catherine A. MacKinnon. MacKinnon’s article noted how societal inequalities around the world predicate women’s degradation in extreme forms. For Rittner, the reason rape is so widespread in war and genocide is “because it is so effective in helping to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic, religious, national or racial group” (p. 9). Furthermore, Rittner believes there is a fissure between the ideals of equality and the realities of inequity on the ground.
Chapters 2 and 3 both address sexual violence committed by the Nazis. Chapter 2, “Rape during the Nazi Holocaust: Vulnerabilities and Motivations” by Eva Fogelmann, argues that Jewish women were highly susceptible to rape during the Holocaust, and the perpetrators of these crimes were motivated by obedience, conformity, role-playing, dehumanization, and group pressure. The more provocative chapter 3, “Sexual Violence against Men: Torture at Flossenbürg” by Dagmar Herzog, focuses on the experiences of Josef Kohout, a homosexual Austrian man imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg during the Second World War. Herzog argues that Nazi pseudoscience and adoption of Christian homophobia were embodied in repressive laws against homosexuals, resulting in over 100,000 prosecutions by the end of World War II (p. 32). While Herzog addresses the horrific brutalities against homosexual males in the camps, she also emphasizes that even in the postwar period homosexual men in West Germany continued to face discrimination and criminal charges.
Chapters 4 and 5 are thematically linked to the events in Bosnia of the early 1990s. In chapter 4, “War Rape and the Global Condition of Womanhood: Learning from the Bosnian War,” Christina M. Morus focuses on the oral testimony of a female rape survivor under the pseudonym “Selma.” Selma’s testimony reveals how a Bosniak woman who was the victim of “hideous gendered violence” committed by Serbian soldiers found her identity torn apart during a time of ethnic struggle (p. 57). Likewise, in chapter 5, “Rape on Trial: Promises of International Jurisprudence, Perils of Retributive Justice, and the Realities of Impunity,” Tazreena Sajjad maintains the need for more “substantive legal responses” to past and present cases of sexual violence in warfare (p. 66, italics in original). For Sajjad, there are major limitations to international law which lessen the prosecution and sentencing of war criminals, allowing for the perpetuation of sex crimes with relative impunity.
Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the Rwandan genocide of 1994. James E. Waller’s “Rape as a Tool of ‘Othering’ in Genocide” is one of the more theoretical sections of the book. Waller examines perpetrator motivations using the concepts of “othering,” “us-them thinking,” and “moral disengagement” to explain the mentality of rapists and murderers (pp. 87-88). What Waller finds is that a psychological analysis of rape as a method of “othering” in genocide proves dehumanization and group-think methodology are “binding factors” in the “social construction of cruelty” (p. 95). Chapter 7, “Justice for Women? Rape as Genocide and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda” by Jessica A. Hubbard, emphasizes the importance of interviews as evidence in the prosecution of genocidaires. Hubbard finds that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s case against Jean-Paul Akayesu was a defining moment in international law, tying rape and sexual violence to the definition of genocide based upon the “intent to destroy” (p. 106).
Two very unique essays are chapters 8 and 9. “Guatemaltecas Have Not Forgotten: From Victims of Sexual Violence to Architects of Empowerment in Guatemala” by Roselyn Costantino dually addresses rape and femicide as forms of violence against Guatemalan women. Costantino explains femicide as “the killing of a female because she is female; concurrently, it connotes deep-seated misogyny and sense of power and impunity ingrained in a masculinist psyche” (p. 120). Chapter 9, “My Name Is Mwamaroyi: Stories of Suffering, Survival, and Hope in the Democratic Republic of Congo” by Lee Ann De Reus, is important for several reasons. Not only did the author travel to the DRC and conduct interviews of victims, but also the essay provides a framework for “social justice” by advocating that people “be informed,” “lobby your elected officials,” and “host a fund raiser” to effect real change in the world (pp. 151-153.)
Chapters 10 and 13 are conceptually bound together by ethical and moral dimensions of rape and genocide. In chapter 10, “Weapon of Sadness: Economic and Ethical Dimensions of Rape as an Instrument of War,” Julie Kuhlken addresses a 2007 report by the UN’s secretary general regarding, among other things, the criminalization of sex crimes. Kuhlken dryly concludes that rape will continue to be utilized by genocidaires and belligerents in the twenty-first century because it is “a sadly effective weapon of war” which “attacks the moral basis of community by gutting its solidarity” (p. 170). In chapter 13, “Crying Out for Action: Rape-as-Policy and the Responsibility to Protect,” John K. Roth challenges the UN’s record at preventing genocide since World War II. By focusing on the brutal realities of “re-rape” and death by rape, Roth asks important questions about the fate of victims of rape-as-policy in war and genocide.
The only two chapters which seem not to quite fit with the rest of the book are chapters 11 and 12. While chapter 11, “Genocide, Rape, and the Movies” by Paul R. Bartrop, examines the role of cinematic depictions of rape in modern warfare, it seems out of place as a mere collection of film reviews. Likewise, while chapter 12, “The Power of Presence” by Carl Wilkens, is an interesting essay on the moral and ethical responsibility of the international community to prevent genocide, it does not fit the thematic categories found in the rest of the book.
Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide is a fascinating collection of a diverse range of essays pertaining to twentieth- and twenty-first century crimes against humanity. The book raises many important questions, ranging from the mixed legacy of the UN and the responsibilities of the international community, to the issues of gender discrimination, the motives of perpetrators, and the fate of the victims. While the book targets a general audience, scholars will find the endnotes, websites, and selected bibliography particularly useful for more detailed research.
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Justin Pfeifer. Review of Rittner, Carol; Roth, John K., eds., Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide.
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