On the same day that the Pentagon authorized putting female soldiers into front-line combat, a different news item involved military women: A congressional committee heard testimony about the sickening number of female recruits who are raped or molested.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told a House committee that sexual assaults by fellow servicemen and superiors are a "cancer" within the military. His testimony focused on Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where six instructors have been convicted and nine more await courts-martial.
Last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a Pentagon report estimating that 19,000 U.S. military sexual attacks occurred in 2011 -- nearly all of them against female personnel -- but only 3,000 were officially reported. Shame, fear and humiliation cause most victims to stay silent, the report said.
Meanwhile, a different crisis -- suicide -- plagues America's armed forces. More soldiers kill themselves than die in combat. The Pentagon estimates that about 350 active-duty personnel took their lives in 2012, but this doesn't include many others who killed themselves after returning home.
Disturbing reports like these have heightened significance for West Virginia, a highly patriotic state that historically produces a larger ratio of military enlistees.
These troubles should cause concerned people to think soberly about America's role as the world's most militaristic nation.
Counting all outlays, including veteran expense and interest on past spending done with borrowed money, American taxpayers pour about $1 trillion per year into militarism. That's almost as much as the rest of the world combined. Other modern democracies don't bankrupt themselves in this manner.
Charleston lawyer William DePaulo noted that America's baseline military budget has doubled since the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. Why, for heaven's sake, when the chief military threat disappeared?
As we've said repeatedly, warfare is fading in the 21st century. Only terror cells and local civil wars remain. Huge armies, navies and air forces have less purpose today. Commando units and killer drones are what's needed. America could save hundreds of billions by downsizing its military.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch commented that battles like those in World War II probably "will never be fought again .... Today's reality is 'irregular warfare,' wars without front lines fought by small units against guerrillas .... There will be less need for the heavy tanks and howitzers that must be moved by sea and serviced by crews of strong men."As civilization evolves away from warfare, America's military rapes and suicides are extra complications. They wouldn't loom so large if U.S. armed forces weren't so huge.