The tragedy of LaVena Johnson 


On watching The General’s Daughter, a tragically brilliant account of a high-ranking U.S. Army officer’s complicity in silencing his own daughter, herself an army captain, about her sexual assault to further his career, I found it a monstrous, wholly plausible story I had to be grateful was a work of fiction. On learning what in reality happened to Private First Class LaVena Johnson, there wasn’t a damned thing for which to be grateful.

You can find the facts in full, appalling detail in LaVena Johnson: The Silent Truth (2010 Midtown Films). This man’s army is, in this day and age, still exactly that — a place of male privilege where the more attractive and independent a woman is, the greater risk she runs that a fellow solider or fellow soldiers will rape her and, quite possibly, murder her to cover their tracks.

In 2005, 19-year-old PFC Johnson’ body was discovered on a military base in Balad, Iraq. She’d sustained a broken nose, black eye, loosened teeth, chemical burns on her private parts, and a gunshot wound to the head. U.S. Army’s finding: suicide.

In other words, she beat herself half to death, poured acid between her legs, and then blew her brains out. They had the gall to deliver that finding to her family with a straight face.

Her father, Dr. John Johnson, understandably was shocked beyond belief, absolutely enraged by the brutal death of his daughter and by what he contends is authorities’ muzzling of the media. He’s quoted at www.democraticunderground as saying, “No one will touch LaVena’s story with a 10-foot pole. The military sure as heck don’t want to admit Black female soldiers are being raped and murdered because they’re having a hard time recruiting and retaining Black females.”

He believes the Pentagon went so far as to block mainstream coverage. “If 60 Minutes (CBS) or ABC News were to air stories such as LaVena’s, the military would pull advertising.” Dr. Johnson is not alone in his assertions. Toward Freedom’s John Lasker writes, “Essence magazine, for example, was threatened to have their military ad dollars pulled if they ran a story on Lavena. The magazine eventually caved to the Pentagon, running a watered-down story as the editors reportedly said their survival depended on military advertising.”

Bad as Black women need to find work these days, for their country to lie by omission about the sinister risk they run by signing up to serve America by putting their lives on the line on foreign soil is unforgivable. For Uncle Sam to strong-arm one a magazine that reaches millions of Black women into soft-pedaling this tragedy, and forcing television news that reaches an even wider audience to altogether drop its coverage — which was in production to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars — is base betrayal and cruelly unconscionable.

For something this unthinkable to be perpetrated against someone who, days short of her 20th birthday, still in her flowering youth, had yet to qualify as full grown, and then for this government to deny the truth to the rest of us… Frankly, Private First Class LaVena Johnson was over in Iraq shooting at the wrong enemy.


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