I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (never having read it before, surprisingly enough), and I came across this passage, when Father Christmas returns to Narnia and gives the characters a variety of gifts:
“Why, Sir,” said Lucy, “I think — I don’t know — but I think I could be brave enough.”
“That is not the point,” he said. “But battles are ugly when women fight. …”
In general, this is the cultural tradition in the West and this attitude is maybe one of the last vestiges of the “old ways” of warfare, ways that included things like parley, pauses in the battle for casualty collection, and the almost-legendary Christmas truce of 1914. Now we live in the era of asymmetric warfare, where battle lines are fluid and where everyone, regardless of MOS or job position, is a potential front-line combatant.
One of the most glaring collisions between the asymmetric battlespace and American cultural norms has been the subject of female military casualties. Probably the most notable example was in June when a convoy of Marines near Fallujah was hit by a suicide car bomb, killing and injuring a large number of female Marines. The Associated Press headline was “Female US Marines Ambushed.” This headline was also repeated in the Stars & Stripes (where I read it originally), and it seemed mighty strange; weren’t there also male Marines in the convoy? It wasn’t the Secret Lady Marine Auxiliary Detachment that got hit. It seems disrespectful to those Marines to segregate them in such a way – male or female, they’re all Marines, and as such they all deserve the same honor (and the same freedom from blatant sensationalism as displayed in that headline).
“But battles are ugly when women fight.” That’s the idea – it’s fine for our boys to die over there, but when the women start dying, stop the show!
Not that I think that we should throw women willy-nilly into combat – I still agree with the military’s decision to prohibit women from taking combat arms MOSes (more on that in a minute) – but the women who serve are Soldiers and Marines and sailors and airmen (? airwomen?) just as much as the men, and they know just as well the dangers of the military profession, and as such don’t need special coddling, particularly when it comes to casualty reporting. Women are in Iraq, manning guns and checkpoints and they do so willingly, and competently.
About combat arms (infantry, combat engineers, field artillery, etc.): my thinking is admittedly a little muddled on the subject, but it goes something like this. While women are certainly involved in combat in Iraq – women of all MOSes – it isn’t their primary job. I would argue that manning an M240B in the turret of an uparmored Humvee while hauling ass between Camp Liberty and Camp Justice carrying parts is a totally different animal than doing the same while rolling down Route Irish actually looking for trouble. I can’t explain fully why it seems wrong – I guess it’s just cultural, or some kind of neo-chivalric feeling on my part, or macho chauvinist patriarchial attitude – but it just is.
Another factor is a social one. I don’t think that there can be any argument that when you get a bunch of men cooped up for a year or more with no sex and a lot of stress, adding a small number of women to the mix can prove to be something of a distraction (to say the least). You can blame this on the natural dirty nature of men, or social oppression of women, or whatever – but it is the truth. Just watch the heads turn in the DFAC when the Babes of the Signal Corps™ would walk in (a game The Pontiff and I would play often) – it was almost robotic how the mens’ heads would track the women as they marched in. The Navy doesn’t allow women on submarines, for exactly that reason.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’ve fallen victim to the same collision of military egalitarianism (“One Team, One Fight!”) and American social mores that I’m writing about. On the one hand, women soldiers and Marines (et al) are still soldiers and Marines first, so they should be treated equally. On the other, I’m not keen on seeing women getting blown up and shot and whatnot. (There’s also the issue of men being more naturally suited to combat because of aggressiveness and other biochemical factors, but I’m not going to open that can of worms.)
What do you think? Should the Babes of the Signal Corps™ be strictly in a supporting role? Or should we have Warrior Princesses slitting throats right alongside the men?