Mil­i­tary women in the line of fire to­day

The Washington Times Weekly - - Letters To The Editor - Pre­ston L. Plews Lt. Col., U.S. Army, Ret. Yp­si­lanti, Michi­gan

In the let­ter to the ed­i­tor by Pa­trick Weir (“Mil­i­tary women,” Nov. 6 edi­tion), he ex­pressed out­rage over the way women get “all the mil­i­tary ben­e­fits and no ex­po­sure to the mil­i­tary re­al­ity of com­bat” while men “do all the dy­ing” and “lose all the limbs.”

Has Mr. Weir been sleep­ing through the cur­rent war? One re­cent con­gres­sional can­di­date, a re­tired mil­i­tary he­li­copter pilot who had lost both legs when she was shot down, was lit­er­ally stump­ing on a pair of pros­the­ses. Also fea­tured on TV was a one-armed West Point alumna, still gungho. Other women have sus­tained ex­tremely dam­ag­ing com­bat ex­po­sure with­out dy­ing or los­ing limbs. The res­cue of a teenage sol­dier, in­jured and cap­tured in an am­bush (which did kill an­other wo­man, a mother) got ex­ten­sive news cov­er­age. Me­dia ques­tions about “sex­ual as­sault” — eu­phemism for a dev­as­tat­ing and of­ten per­ma­nent trauma of body and soul, on a level with com­bat trauma — went unan­swered in this case; but it was ac­knowl­edged that yet an­other wo­man re­cov­ered from cap­tiv­ity, an Army sur­geon, had been thus vi­o­lated.

Th­ese are only a few highly pub­li­cized ex­am­ples. And Iraq is not the first war in which sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of women — vol­un­teers, all of them — have been ex­posed to the mil­i­tary re­al­ity of com­bat. We might re­mem­ber, among many oth­ers, the nurses of Cor­regi­dor, treated for years to the hos­pi­tal­ity of Ja­panese prison camps. Few jobs other than nurs­ing used to take our fe­male ser­vi­ceper­sons rou­tinely into dan­ger. Now, with the ex­pan­sion of women’s num­bers and roles and also the ubiq­uity of harm’s way in mod­ern war­fare, more women in greater pro­por­tion have come to know hard­ship and haz­ard. Mr. Weir sug­gests that “a few women in black body bags or a few scarred and shred­ded fe­male com­bat sol­diers” will dis­cour­age oth­ers from seek­ing “equal­ity in the mil­i­tary.” We are cer­tainly los­ing more fe­male sol­diers in com­bat — and more of them are los­ing body parts — than he or the rest of us have be­gun to no­tice. But quite “a few good women,” fully aware of what they are get­ting into, con­tinue to en­list and re-en­list, to serve and risk be­com­ing ca­su­al­ties.

I fa­vor max­i­mum rea­son­able use of women in the Ser­vice. I had the priv­i­lege of serv­ing with many, usu­ally though not al­ways un­der fa­vor­able con­di­tions. A high pro­por­tion were among the finest sol­diers I have known: bright, ca­pa­ble, well-mo­ti­vated, dis­ci­plined, trust­wor­thy and coura­geous.

At the same time, I for one am less than happy to see women ex­posed to the ex­tent now con­sid­ered ac­cept­able. I grew up with the tra­di­tional no­tion that we should be pro­tect­ing our women, rather than re­cruit­ing them to risk their own lives. It is in­fin­itely more sat­is­fy­ing to be able to fight. But women are not men and should not be de­ployed as men. Risk is in­evitable, but it can be lim­ited up to a point. We need to be aware of the fool­ish risks be­ing in­flicted on some women and their male com­rades by overzeal­ous fem­i­nist ca­reer en­hancers, in­clud­ing ac­tivists, politi­cians and civil­ian se­nior bu­reau­crats; and by mil­i­tary plan­ners ea­ger to please th­ese in­flu­en­tial per­sons and des­per­ate for good tech­ni­cians to staff units likely to come un­der hos­tile fire.

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