Soldiers at Home

UNDER the general heading of violence, the latest subcategory concerns domestic violence in the military. A United States Army study suggests that spouse abuse occurs in 1 out of 3 military families - twice the civilian rate. Every week, on average, a child or a wife dies at the hands of a man in uniform. While military personnel has shrunk by roughly one-fourth in the past seven years, domestic-violence cases have almost doubled, from 27,783 a year to 46,287.

Downsizing the military is cited as one cause, imposing new stress on career soldiers who used to feel assured of their future. In addition, a typical military family must move once every three years. Life is further unsettled by separations when the husband goes on sea duty, peacekeeping assignments, or extended training.

Still, none of these circumstances, singly or together, sufficiently account for the higher levels of violence in military families. A family violence expert who worked on an earlier study, which found measurably more domestic violence among Air Force personnel trained for combat than among Air Force personnel trained for noncombat jobs, concluded: ``There's a spillover from what one does in one sphere of life in one role to what one does in other roles. If you're in an occupation whose business is killing, it legitimizes violence.''

This observation is not an indictment of the military. With paraphrasing, it could apply to pro football players or to business executives who set up their ``war rooms'' and plan ``strategic strikes'' on their competitors - even to young children raised on search-and-destroy video games.

The point is, there is all too much legitimizing of aggression in American life. Only when this high degree of combativeness crosses the boundary into crime are people shocked.

To its credit, the Defense Department plans a swift response to deal with domestic violence, ranging from adding civilian counselors to establishing a panel to review child deaths.

If the face of a battered wife or child, in or out of the military, reminds Americans that every supposedly isolated case of violence is subtly supported by a culture of violence, even a gloomy report like this military study can have a positive effect.

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