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Marines caught sharing photos of female colleagues draw condemnation

March 10, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
It started with a private Facebook page that had hundreds of explicit photographs of female Marines, accompanied by obscene, degrading comments. Women who have so far been identified said it had been done without their consent. Military officials have launched an investigation. William Brangham gets reaction from retired Col. Mary Reinwald of Leatherneck Magazine.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: We turn now to a growing scandal in the U.S. Marine Corps, where male Marines have been caught sharing sexually explicit photos of female Marines without their consent.

William Brangham has the story.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It started on a private Facebook page called Marines United, hundreds of explicit photographs of female Marines, followed by endless obscene, degrading comments.

Some of the photos appear to have been taken consensually, but others were not. None of the women identified so far said they had agreed to their photos being posted this way.

The Facebook page is gone, but many of the photos — these are some of the tamer ones — have now been uploaded to other Web sites. Military officials have launched an investigation. And, today, Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former Marine himself, called these acts egregious violations of the fundamental values.

The commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, also expressed his dismay.

GEN. ROBERT NELLER, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps: These allegations themselves, they undermine everything that we stand for as a Marine Corps and as Marines: discipline, honor, professionalism, and respect and trust amongst each other.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For more on this, I’m joined by retired Colonel Mary Reinwald. She spent 27 years in the Corps and now edits Leatherneck magazine, written for the Marine Corps community.

Nice to see you again. Sorry it’s under these circumstances.

Tell me, when you first heard about this, what was your reaction?

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD, Leatherneck Magazine: I was angry. I was absolutely angry, because, you know, both General Neller and General Mattis mentioned in their comments that, you know, this is about honor.

And the Marines who did these type of things, they don’t have the honor that we value as Marines. I was ashamed. I was ashamed for my Marine Corps. And I was mad for my fellow Marines. I was mad for my fellow male Marines, because the vast majority of male Marines don’t do this type of behavior.

They are honorable, they are decent, and they’re the type of humans that everybody should aspire to. And now there is a whole segment of our country who will believe this is what Marines do. And it’s not. It’s absolutely not.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And what have you been hearing from other Marines? I know you talk to them on a daily basis. What do you hear from them?

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: I do.

I have many friends that are still on active duty. I also talked to a female Marine whose picture was posted on the Web site. And it was just an innocuous picture from her Instagram with her and some other female Marines. There was nothing wrong with it. They were out in public.

And the photo was taken and posted on the Web site. And they asked in terms of her attractiveness, but they asked in much cruder terms than I would use. She is an officer Marine. She’s a pilot. She’s got an exemplary record. She’s one of the future leaders of our Corps.

And we have these individuals who decided that they were going to be disrespectful and vile and not uphold our ethos. How dare they? I absolutely believe that our culture has some role to play in all of this, social media.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You mean American culture more broadly?

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: American culture more broadly.

And it’s very easy to get on social media and be anonymous. And thing is, these individuals — and I really do hesitate to call them Marines — if these individuals weren’t the cowards that they are, they would be putting their names up there. They would be proudly proclaiming their misogyny and their disrespect toward female Marines.

But this almost gang mentality on whatever social media account, whether it’s Facebook or some of the others, where they feed off each other, I have no respect for them, because they wouldn’t do it in public. They wouldn’t do it in front of the commandant. But they do it behind the anonymity of both Facebook and the Web.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As you well know, the Marine Corps and all the other branches of the services are integrating women into combat roles.

That’s the first reason I spoke to you several months ago.

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: Right.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you think it’s coincidental that the Corps is moving women into these more forward roles at the same time that this kind of a scandal breaks out?

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: I don’t know that it’s necessarily coincidental.

There is probably an element of that. It’s brought out more of the individuals who think back — you know, have the mentality from 50 years ago: Women don’t belong in the infantry, so, by God, we’re going to be disrespectful to all of them.

So, you can’t — you cannot dispute the timing in many ways. But I think these guys were always there. There was always an element, a very, very small element who had no problem saying these things. And now it’s just easier to say.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And it’s just amplified.

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: It’s amplified.

And once one makes one comment, then the others feel like, hey, he said it, so I can say it, too, because everybody feels this way.

Well, everybody doesn’t feel this way. This is not the majority of Marines.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I know you’re also a great champion of women going into the Marine Corps.

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: Absolutely.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What do you think that this kind of a thing does to those women who are either just entering the Corps or aspire to enter the Corps?

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that it would make them pause and ask them — and have them ask themselves, say, hey, is this what I want to join? Is the organization — is this who I want to be?

But I would reassure them and say, again, that this is not the majority of Marines. Ironically, I was at the United States Naval Academy last night, speaking to some future female Marines, along with Major General Lori Reynolds, the senior female on active duty in the Marine Corps.

I was heartened by what I heard. I was thrilled by what not only Major General Reynolds said, but the other female Marines who are on active duty with me, who all echo in many ways what I said. Our good experiences in the Marine Corps vastly outweigh our bad experiences. And we would encourage any American young lady today to join the Marine Corps.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Mary Reinwald, thanks so much for being here.

RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: Thank you.

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