Psychological warfare was designed to beat an opponent without firing a gun.
The idea was that you could get under an opposing army’s skin without ever having to actually engage them in combat, thereby saving time and valuable resources. So people began to think of ways to scare their opponents.
Some of them were quite inoffensive, such as the removal of iconic flags or monuments that held sentimental value to the opponents. The Ancient Roman standard, an eagle, is an example of such an object.
Others were quite gruesome, such as the launching of the severed heads of enemy soldiers at their compatriots. Some civilizations made it a habit to scalp enemies – for numerous reasons – which would leave opposing fighters terrified.
Small raiding parties without much political or military clout never waged open wars. They would steal into defenceless camps at night and take what they needed. Sometimes, they looted the places, other times they razed them to the ground. Some of them perpetrated massacres, and others indulged in slave trade.
One thing that was common in every different form of war was that women were considered a part of the loot, and they were raped by triumphant soldiers in celebration. Since most of them had no military training, they were completely vulnerable.
But then, it got worse. Powerful generals realized that raiding parties were feared almost as much as great nations, for the simple fact that they were far more brutal and that they would almost certainly rape the conquered. So they capitalized on this knowledge and began instructing their soldiers to systematically rape beaten civilians. They intended to strike fear into civilians to dissuade them from harbouring and aiding opposition fighters, or simply because they were sadistic criminals with too much power.
The rape cases escalated meteorically as soldiers began to travel around the world and conquer new lands. They used rape to intimidate new enemy factions into quick submission. The height of war rape was reached when the Japanese occupation of China witnessed one of history’s greatest atrocities: the Rape of Nanking.
20,000 girls, women and the elderly were victims to one of mankind’s lowest points – if not THE lowest. The Japanese soldiers went on a rampage, purposefully raping and murdering innocent Chinese civilians irrespective of their age. They did unspeakable things in order to make the entire Chinese nation fall onto its knees, but that is hardly an excuse for such sub-human behaviour. Soldiers will always claim that they simply “followed orders”, but really all of those men were very fortunate to escape execution. The only problem was that the War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo placed bureaucracy above women’s rights and refused to punish these criminals in order to maintain their “reputation”.
Fast forward to the Rwandan Genocide, where almost 500,000 women were raped in what was called “genocidal rape” – an attempt to eradicate the Tutsis by the Hutus. The Hutus committed massacres against the Tutsis that have forever eradicated any claims they ever had to Rwanda – there is no way that barbarians like that have a right to the heritage of a nation.
That was the scene of war rape at its very worst. The Hutu soldiers wanted to drive the Tutsis out forever, and they figured that by raping Tutsi women, they’ make them feel so worthless and so undeserving of a life that they’d never return to Rwanda. They wanted to break the Tutsi resolve and crush the morale – and not to end there! They wanted to wipe out every last Tutsi in the world, and so they raped young girls and infected them with HIV/AIDS. They hurt them physically and mentally – both of which had long-lasting effects in many cases.
International organizations took ages to declare war rape a crime but it has now become a part of the official list of war crimes. Several prosecutions have already been made, but not nearly enough. Too many low-ranking soldiers push the blame to the generals, escaping apprehension. Too many generals pay off judges, escaping apprehension as well. It is a crime that is becoming more and more popular as we see fewer international and many more civil wars. Urban warfare can be a disaster, as Adolf Hitler’s forces in Stalingrad will report. So when fighting in open fields is no longer necessary, dictators and warlords will instruct their troops to rape women to terrify the populations.
Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done besides the total abolishment of war. As long as there is strife in this world, depraved war-mongers will seek to commit war crimes and to demolish the rights of women and children in occupied territories. Until we grow beyond the resolution of political problems with weapons, we cannot prevent armies from committing these crimes.
What we can do is make sure that the people who are apprehended pay dearly for their crimes. Anyone convicted of war rape should receive a sentence brutal enough to discourage future transgressors. The field perpetrators should be found and punished heavily. The soldiers who carry out these heinous commands should share cells with their generals, otherwise it’ll never stop.