Documents reveal Hollywood cover- up of Pentagon’s sex crime problem

The Military, Movies and #MeToo

Tom Secker
May 31, 2019 · 22 min read
Screenshot from Vet TV

Published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a crowdfunded investigative journalism project for people and planet.

The US military has a sexual assault problem. But internal documents obtained under Freedom of Information reveal that Hollywood has worked closely with the Pentagon to conceal the extent of the problem from public awareness.

Sex Crimes: A Pentagon PR Concern

Sexism and sex crimes by members of the military has been a PR concern for the Pentagon for decades before the documentary The Invisible War helped make it a widely-recognised media topic.

The rapists and the whistleblower (Michael J Fox, left) in Casualties of War

Combat film which captures a popular view of the nature of the American experience in Vietnam. Squad sent on recon mission kidnaps Vietnamese girl, rape her, and ultimately kill her. Based on true story which appeared first in the New Yorker and then in book form. The one soldier who did not take part in sexual abuse reported what happened and men were court martialed and sentenced to prison but did not serve time. “Hero” portrayed as villain for reporting crime.

That the Pentagon included this film in their limited database demonstrates that stories like this are a worry for them. This database category also includes 1999’s The General’s Daughter, where the document says:

Murder mystery about who killed daughter of a politically ambitious general who tries to suppress evidence. Negative scenes include USMA cadet daughter raped by fellow cadets and compliance by officers in cover up.

The database entry shows that the Pentagon actively keeps an eye on Hollywood’s output for any film containing such ‘negative scenes’.

They are going to make millions off this film in which my ex-husband is portrayed as an All-American hero when the truth is he is not.

Likewise in 2005 the Pentagon refused to help with a French documentary project called Army Rapists, and in 2011 they turned down the documentary Women at War because ‘the angle of the production deals with sexual harassment & PTSD.’ As a result Women at War was never made. While the similar documentary Uniform Betrayal: Rape in the Military was produced, the Army refused the film-maker’s requests for interviews.

The Pentagon’s Conservative Outlook on Sex

A more comprehensive look at the Pentagon’s values around sexual relationships shows they consistently take a conservative, some would say repressively moralising view. They rejected Independence Day (1996) in part because they felt Will Smith wasn’t a good representative of the military as he was dating a stripper — but these values go back several decades in the entertainment liaison office.

Will Smith and Vivica A. Fox in Independence Day

It showed POW wives being unfaithful and completed film would be shown in North Vietnam as soon as it was released in US. And the wives’ infidelity would hurt POW morale, especially if film had received military support.

Five years later the Air Force turned down Rolling Thunder because the script contained an ‘unfaithful wife’. The following year Coming Home was also denied, in part because of a plotline about a deployed soldier’s wife who falls in love with another man.

MIA wives are vulnerable, easy prey and available for the asking. This was not always the case and the endings are not always happy.

This was changed so the affair is with a woman whose husband was killed in Vietnam, to sidestep any question of infidelity.

Yeah. My reaction, too. Relatively politely declined the offer from the producer of this hit ABC show (the networks #3 show in all markets) to feature an Army wife (either the wife of a Soldier or a wife who happens to be a Soldier herself) “swapped” with the wife of a civilian family.

Incredulous, I inquired that even if I could possibly reconcile the concept of Army Soldiers or Army wives being “swapped,” with all the ’60s era connotations that implies, to what sort of family would the wife go?

The producer let it slip that it would have to be to a family that would create “good TV, you know, a progressively minded family” and then I was treated to this producers bent on how she believes most members of the Army must think and behave and how good that would be to show that compared to “a family who doesn’t necessarily believe everything they are told”.

Sex and Sexism in the Forces

Aside from unfaithful wives another consistent problem for the DOD is romantic and sexual relationships between service members, especially those of different ranks. The military’s rules on fraternization are extremely broad, in some ways forbidding even friendships between troops. For a long time the military’s Hollywood offices also tried to cover up sexism in the military, while simultaneously adopting sexist attitudes themselves.

Title card for Fire Birds a.k.a. Wings of the Apache
Military-annotated script for ‘Tanks for the Memories’

Majors in the Marine Corps do not conduct themselves as “Flirtatious and/or funny” when dealing with superiors. No Colonel for that matter is going to be seen dancing cheek to cheek with a Major. Suggestion: make Sarah Grant a civilian secretary or paralegal on Hodges’ staff or, make her a lieutenant colonel who has been selected for colonel. If she remains military, though, the flirting should be toned way down.

In the end, this character was removed from the film. Rather than give this female military character (at that time still quite a rarety in entertainment) something more to do than be an object of romantic interest, they simply eliminated her from the story. In trying to cover up for sex and sexism in the military the DOD and the film-makers doubled down on their sexism.

Top Gun and Tailhook

This conservative approach backfired horribly when it came to Top Gun — the film that the DOD said ‘rehabilitated the military’s image, which had been savaged by the Vietnam war.’

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in Top Gun
DOD Inspector General report on the Tailhook scandal
Marine Corps entertainment liaison office report on Top Gun: Maverick

G.I. Jane

The 1990s also saw the rather clumsy effort to discuss women’s progress in the military that was G.I. Jane (1997). The plot features an ambitious senator who tries to raise her profile by taking up the cause of women in the military and demanding a series of ‘test cases’ whereby women are put through elite special forces training. Jordan O’Neill (Demi Moore) is chosen to undergo a fictional Navy special warfare training similar to that undertaken by real-life Navy SEALs.

US Navy script notes for G.I. Jane — including Ridley Scott’s responses in the margin

“Dur” humour notwithstanding, the CO’s remarks to O’Neill during her confrontation with him are too sexist.

Scott responded, ‘Don’t want to modify’. Another issue was a scene where Moore shaves her own head. The script notes observe:

As discussed, there are many very short haircuts that O’Neill could get, but a shaved head on a woman would be considered out of line.

Scott’s comment says ‘can be negotiated’. One other problematic element was a scene where a SEAL urinates in a foxhole in front of O’Neill. The script notes say:

While addressing issues related to the presence of women in front-line ground combat, the urination scene in the foxhole carries no benefit to the US Navy.

Other problems were some ‘racist remarks’ and in particular the sequence where the Master Chief confronts O’Neill while she is naked and in the shower.

The Invisible War

Fast-forward to 2012 and finally we got a major American documentary that takes an unvarnished, uncensored look at the problem of military sexual assaults and military sexual trauma. Indeed, the fact that the experience is so common that we have the phrase ‘military sexual trauma’ should tell you how rife the problem is.

Minutes of meeting of military entertainment liaison offices to discuss The Invisible War

It really highlights some of the problems with this film. If only we could get the mass media to carry such an article, we could start to work on addressing the real problems instead of responding to falsehoods.

How the Pentagon Uses TV to Cover Up their Sexual Assault Problem

The Lifetime Network’s Army Wives

█████ is working with writers to develop story line involving the sexual assault of a female soldier while deployed. █████ is working to include SARC [Sexual Assault Response Coordinator] involvement and restricted/unrestricted reporting as part of storyline.

By the end of March the storyline had been firmed up, and the Army and DOD were keeping close tabs on its development.

Episode 510 deals with the sexual assault of a female soldier while deployed who eventually becomes homeless as a result of the PTSD she suffers from due to the attack. Female Soldier was a pilot. ███████ is aware of the subject matter and has notified appropriate channels.

The finished episode depicts a homeless Army veteran who gets into trouble for assaulting a man at a shelter. Lawyers investigating the case realise she has PTSD, and eventually the veteran reveals she was raped while deployed to Iraq, by a fellow soldier, resulting in her leaving the Army. While the lawyers succeed in getting the charges against her dropped and she begins counselling, the rapist gets away with his crime due to a lack of evidence. While the Army looks sensitive and caring, the system still fails the female soldier, though this is brushed off due to the rapist having subsequently died in a motorcycle accident.

This show continues to have a weekly audience well over 4 million, specifically targeting centers of influence in the 25–50 year old female demographic.

This cuts to the heart of a disturbing trend in the entertainment liaison offices — they are seeking to boost female recruitment, but are doing nothing to advocate for justice when a large minority of those female recruits are sexually assaulted.

NCIS on CBS

Submitted request to NCIS production staff for site visit and meeting with Prod Execs/Writers to discuss future episodes demonstrating NCIS [in service of] sexual assault investigations and adjudication.

In an unusual move the Navy’s entertainment liaison office actually pitched the idea to the producers, they didn’t wait for a relevant script to come in. A dozen episodes later and the writers of NCIS delivered:

Episode #255 thematic depicts a service member(s) sexual assault. NAVINFOWEST Project Officer will forward to SAPRO for consultation and input recommendation to ensure victim advocacy and reporting are accurately depicted in the script.

After the Navy and SAPRO’s script review they asked the writers to make changes to promote the idea that if you are sexually assaulted in the Navy then your fellow sailors will stand up for you:

[S]eries producers/writers successfully incorporated script rewrites that demonstrated Sailors helping Sailors seeking assistance and reporting sexual assaults. Current episode air date in April TBD will align with the DoD’s Sexual Awareness month.

As the Navy reports record, the episode was watched by some 16.73 million viewers and the episode was re-run just months later. In exchange for a minimum of support the producers wrote in the Navy’s desired messaging, which totally contradicts the grim reality.

Executive Producer called to notify us that script #288 revision was in progress based on feedback provided. Episode #288 will now take place on a DDG and will depict Sailor by-stander intervention, perpetrator adjudication, and timely and effective engagement by the Triad.

Even though the Navy provided no production support on this episode the producers completely rewrote their script in keeping with the Navy’s PR objectives, showing them responding efficiently and sympathetically to sexual harassment.

How to Recruit More Women and Lie to Them About Sex Crimes


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Tom Secker

Written by

Journalist, podcaster, editor of spyculture.com, author of National Security Cinema, support at patreon.com/tomsecker

INSURGE intelligence

We are crowdfunding adversarial investigations into power, to empower people and save the planet. Join us via www.patreon.com/nafeez

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