Military women in the line of fire today
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.