The connection between rape and warfare is not a new concept. The rape of women during conflict is referenced in the Old Testament of the Bible: “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped…” (Zechariah 14:2). The subjugation and rape of both genders, but particularly women, is highlighted throughout history. The violent spread on the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan in the 13th and 14th centuries in China engaged in widespread rape as a psychological weapon of war (Bidwell 1973:20). Bidwell (1973) draws attention to the prominence of rape with the example of Khan’s quote to his courtiers: “The greatest pleasure in life is to defeat your enemies, to chase them before you … and to ravage their wives and daughters” (Bidwell 1973:20). Greek and Roman armies also participated in war rape of both women and men throughout the reign of the empires (Clifford 2008:5). In short, as Clifford (2008) points out, rape was seen as a naturalized part of war and often viewed by historians as merely a by-product of conflict, inherent to a conquest mentality (Clifford 2008:5). To understand rape as a weapon of war, we must first understand the context from which it emerges: patriarchy, male warrior socialization and bonding, and patriarchal military organizations embedded in a rape culture. Kimmel’s (2000) analysis of Marvin Harris’s theory of male supremacy arising as a by-product of war will act as a basic framework for how we can begin to analyze rape as a weapon war. Harris’s theory will be discussed in relation to the U.S. army’s rape of Vietnamese women and compared to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s rebel force army’s rape of east Congolese women and girls.
Anthropologist Marvin Harris has attempted to explain male supremacy as a necessary outcome of war (and a contributing factor to it) (Kimmel 2000:52). The use of women as “rewards” for acts of courage or admirable warrior skills enables misogyny to flourish as a by-product of this, and results in male bonding as the pillars of military organization at all levels (Kimmel 2000:52). Men thus gain a monopoly over weapons and dominate the rest of a society’s resources, often adopting cultural practices such as patriarchal religions to reinforce women’s subordination (Kimmel 2000:52). Harris also points out that female infanticide common in many warrior societies such as the Yanomamo of South America, and serves as a means for population control due to fewer fertile females (but can also lead to wars over women) (Harris 1989:100). The relation of Harris’s theory to rape as a weapon of war is that it establishes a base for understanding the link between misogyny, patriarchy and the formation of military units.