The stereotypes exist because they're true: the U.S. military pays too much for weapons, fumbles postwar planning and can't protect its people from sexual predators within the ranks. That third maxim surfaced again Feb. 15, when 15 women and two men filed a federal suit against the Pentagon, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for failing to prevent and punish sexual abuse by fellow service members.
The plaintiffs allege that reports of rape or other forms of abuse are often ignored or mishandled and that troops "openly mocked and flouted" the weak protections currently on the books. Offenders are rarely punished, even when wrongdoing has been proved, and in many cases continue to serve alongside their accusers. Advocates urge a new system of handling abuse allegations that would allow victims to go outside the chain of command and report incidents to an independent party. A Pentagon spokesman said the issue "is now a command priority, but we clearly still have more work to do." It's not the first time the military has promised to do better. The record suggests it won't be the last.