Join 3,561 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Women at Arms: In Their Own Words
August 17, 2009 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Three female US soldiers talk about their experiences in the military. (sound starts automatically)

Related: G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier
posted by gman (102 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Photos advance automatically as each soldier speaks.
posted by gman at 2:30 PM on August 17, 2009


I read this yesterday (the article, that is) and my immediate reaction was pride. I'm just really proud of these women for breaking this particular gender barrier. It sucks that it's happening in wars that I really wish we weren't fighting, but I have always been puzzled that women weren't allowed to fight, and I'm glad that these women are proving the misguided reasoning behind that policy false.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:43 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I couldn't get past the first one's "gee, shooting at brown people rockz, dude".
posted by signal at 2:50 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Damn. That crazy lady called shooting people "enchanting".
posted by Burhanistan at 3:06 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm just really proud of these women for breaking this particular gender barrier.

Killing for imperial resource wars? Call me a traditionalist, but that's one glass ceiling I'd prefer to see unbroken.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:07 PM on August 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Killing for imperial resource wars? (Burhanistan)

No, being combat soldiers in general. I don't agree with these wars, but I think that it's stupid to say women can't be in combat. You will note I did not say "Hooray killing people in the name of imperialism!" above. Please do not imply that I was.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:20 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but the distinction is so academic as to be irrelevant here.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:21 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I disagree, but that's okay.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:22 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm with ocherdraco -- I'm glad this was posted, I honor these women for their service and bravery, and I'm glad that their stories are coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. As they're proven, it's already past time for women to be free to join combat units...
posted by vorfeed at 3:35 PM on August 17, 2009


Sorry, but the distinction is so academic as to be irrelevant here.

Oh, so I guess that's why you pointed it out then? Brilliant.
posted by dhammond at 3:42 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find myself of two minds about this. I loathe war, hate the idea that people are out there killing "in my name", etc... But I'm very pleased to learn that our army is finally finding gender parity for its service members.
posted by hippybear at 3:49 PM on August 17, 2009


Sorry, but the distinction is so academic as to be irrelevant here.

Uh, no. As a soldier you don't make individual value judgements on which conflict to fight and which to stay out of - that's the job of the chain of command. As a soldier you carry out orders. You kill who you need to kill to get the job done. I'm totally against both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but if I were put there, I'd do my best to fuck the enemy sideways and not think twice about it. The military can't function any other way. This is illustrating that women can do this, too.

This isn't about global politics. This is about gender equity.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:51 PM on August 17, 2009 [13 favorites]


Well, that's lovely. Having compartmentalized versions of reality is how we get into war in the first place, so enjoy the presumed equality of this while you're lead down the garden path.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:57 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


...but if I were put there, I'd do my best to fuck the enemy sideways and not think twice about it.

I'm constantly amazed at the otherwise rational human beings who, when confronted with orders from a politician or a guy with shiny medals on his chest, volunteer to throw themselves unthinkingly into the breach and, in your words, "kill who you need to kill ... and not think twice about it."

Sometimes I feel as if the entire 20th century never actually happened, and that the lessons learned about conscientious objection, "just following orders" and human rights just got lost in the haze of collective forgetfulness.

Anyway, I don't look forward to the day when North America is awash with young Muslim soldiers, jaws steeled with grim determination to follow orders and get back to their loving homes alive while they drop bombs on American houses and take shots at our commuters on their way to work. I mean, hey, the Americans started the war and we're just here to finish it, right?
posted by Avenger at 4:11 PM on August 17, 2009 [20 favorites]


In the same vien, is the documentary Team Lioness : "How did a group of Army women end up fighting alongside the Marines in some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq war? Directors Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers offer an unprecedented look at war through they eyes of the first women in U.S. history to be sent into direct ground combat as part of Team Lioness."

I saw the Independent Lens episode on it and it was very interesting.
posted by nooneyouknow at 4:18 PM on August 17, 2009


This isn't about global politics. This is about gender equity.

It's about the fucked-up intersection of both.

Am I happy that the Old Guard in the military is finally forced to confront the fact that women are not delicate flowers who faint at the sight of blood, or are too weak to left a gun? Yes. Am I happy that this realization is happening in the way in which it is? Not to mention where? Not so much.
posted by rtha at 4:19 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


We KNOW these wars suck and nothing in this post or thread is meant to support them. Perhaps you're a peace loving hippy and that would be totally Ok. Conversely, joining the military doesn't automatically make one a warmonger or a kook.

The fact that females are finally finding their way in the military in these combat roles means that eventually the will be admirals and generals and joint chiefs of staff. That should promote some more balanced leadership. (No, it's not a big help TODAY, but, evolution takes time.
posted by snsranch at 4:26 PM on August 17, 2009


Tell me where not back to the war already, we haven't even done sorn syrup yet this week.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 4:29 PM on August 17, 2009


Where the fuck is eye-raq.
posted by chunking express at 4:29 PM on August 17, 2009


As a soldier you don't make individual value judgements on which conflict to fight and which to stay out of

That's our current doctrine and I see the practical value of it. However, doesn't that imply that when a soldier enlists he/she is accepting moral responsibility for things they cannot possibly anticipate over the course of their enlistment? Back when our military was made up mainly of volunteers who joined for a specific war those people were making a personal endorsement of that war. That might not be the most practical way to fight a modern war but what does a "professional" soldier do when they find they have a serious problem with a war they are obliged to fight?
posted by Tashtego at 4:34 PM on August 17, 2009


I have to admit, this post is kinda like; "Hey, Chicks dig killin' Aye-Rabs Too!" I can see why hackles are up. But as bad as the "whole war thing" is, it's pretty awful talking crap about soldiers.
posted by snsranch at 4:40 PM on August 17, 2009


I'm with Burhanistan.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:45 PM on August 17, 2009


“I mean, hey, the Americans started the war and we're just here to finish it, right?”

Because their society is of such moral character that wouldn’t happen? The Ottomans weren’t imperialistic? The Greek war of independence? Crimean war? The Greco-Ottomans at the end of the 1800s? History is often debated at the point of the sword. Doesn’t make it right, but c’mon, rapacious assholes abound throughout history.

“Sometimes I feel as if the entire 20th century never actually happened, and that the lessons learned about conscientious objection, "just following orders" and human rights just got lost in the haze of collective forgetfulness.”

I think the point was that U.S. troops don’t “just follow orders” but rather swear to uphold the constitution, and follow the will of the people through elected officials. You either have a standing army or you don’t. I’d be fine with not having one. We can debate how to accomplish that practically and realistically. But we do have one.

And as long as we have one, yeah, I’m a damn sight happier with them “just following our orders” rather than getting tricky ideas in their heads as to what constitutes what’s right and what’s wrong for our national policy. I think the key would sorta be not, y’know, sending them off to fight. Pretty sure they’d be thrilled to sit on a post the rest of their lives being with their families and drawing pay for being a nearly never used insurance policy.

“Having compartmentalized versions of reality is how we get into war in the first place,”

Huh. You’d think in an imperial war over resources it’d be the fat ass populace who sit at home and elect politicians to prosecute wars to ensure the excesses of their lifestyle being how we get into war in the first place, not the troops getting killed over it. Weird. But then, I do remember bringing home five hundred thousand metric tons of sour crude oil and putting it in my mom’s garage next to the rakes.

“but I have always been puzzled that women weren't allowed to fight,”

Short answer - It’s hard to have a class of person one might feel protective of fighting in combat tactically speaking.

This is slightly different than the b.s. with homosexuals in ranks. Many armies in history have had homosexuality in ranks with various degrees of success and problems and aims and goals. As it is, the British have had gay folks in the ranks without much of a ripple. Different sort of animal though, as they have a very strong NCO ranks – although traditionally it’s been much stronger. In the U.S., that’s been a problem. Still is. More NCOs are seasoned, but still having a hard time retaining them, as far as I know. And that’s pretty much the backbone of your military right there. They’re responsible for discipline in the ranks. They guide junior officers. All that. So the problems with gays in the ranks are – stupid headed considerations aside – merely a matter of practical execution. Easily overcome.

(And I’ll note the British, last I heard, don’t allow women in infantry units)
Women, different story. Romantic relationships (same 'problem' with gays), pregnancy, rape, physical agility, unit cohesion (again -gays), none of that much matters really – if a given individual is able to pass the fitness tests, meh.
And for a number of other reasons, in part because of the nature of modern warfare from the basic fact we don’t lug armor around anymore to the fluidity of modern battle lines.

But – importantly – because of that fluidity most of the policy was looked at. So, mostly, I’d call the “barrier” already broken. Hell the Marines gave twenty-odd women combat action ribbons for fighting in the gulf, and it concerns me that the piece doesn’t mention SGT Hester who was a Raven and got a silver star
….however, and I pull a bit from Grossman here…
Socially, the U.S., many other western cultures – and especially the Islamic cultures – women are often physically protected (granted sometimes to their detriment) by a male reaction so ingrained it’s no fault to call it instinct.
And it reflects on the tactical situation.
This is backed up by the Israeli’s experience with women in combat – the women themselves do just fine, the men tend to prefer to protect the women though instead of completing the mission.
So, not unit cohesion. Tactical response. Of the guys.

And there’s the “I got beat by a chick” response from the other side. Most people who die in survival situations die because they won’t take the steps to humble themselves and insure their survival. It’s not a stretch to say a Muslim who’s been indoctrinated all his life that women have a certain place will die rather than surrender to a woman. Kinda tough if you need to capture someone.
And it’s not like a company picnic outing, there are plenty of targets of opportunity. Planning an assault is more art than science. That can be dealt with but it complicates your planning.

So – uniformity. If you have to make special allowances for anyone in combat you’re going to have a problem (and that’s not a money thing, hell we spend waaaaay to much on our war toys as it is, women in combat would be a drop in the bucket practically speaking).
But as it sits, the accommodation has to be made for all the men rather than the women themselves who might well be fine troops.

And one has to decide if that is the kind of society we want to have. I’m with Jesse Ventura on that personally. I’m not for it or against it. But do you want to train men – general infantry - who will ignore a female as they would a male?
People talk about sexual harassment and rape as a problem…what’s that going to do for that kind of fratricide?
I don’t know.

I do have an opinion though – Baumann has his head up his ass - we don’t “need” to put women in infantry combat just to have women in infantry combat. The Soviets had female snipers, they did well. Plenty of other specialized combat roles women can serve in than enlisted infantry (I’d consider a female infantry officer as a “specialized” role because of the basic numbers and the role of officers). Artillery and armor would be fine too, different set of tactics.

Again, not for or against really, I just don’t see it as a necessity to treat women and men as exact equals in all roles in all places and all times. Actually, check that. For. With certain extremely narrow caveats.

I think Sanchez is wrong, the military is not just another corporation (in the context she’s putting it in) and McArthur was all about logistics so it’s not “front lines”. You’re not going to have a female Patton. You don’t need to have a female Audie Murphy or Chesty Puller and it’s dumb to try and manufacture one for some egalitarian ideal.

And I disagree with the – unintentional – implication, that support personnel are less valued. I personally owe my life to support personnel. And this leading from the front stuff is b.s.
Wes Clark was on staff in Vietnam doing operations planning and he won a bronze star for it. I’ll grant he was in command of an infantry unit after that (and he got shot one month in), and he was pretty much a cowboy rappelling off stuff and so forth in his later years, but again – he was involved in planning first. Wound up in armor school after Vietnam.

Moshe Dayan was in recon and did a lot of covert ops with the Vichy resistance, yes he got into combat, but again he was a small unit fighter, not main infantry.

Bull Halsey and Ray Spruance – those guys weren’t real fighters because they weren’t infantry or weren’t at a front?
No reason a woman couldn't command a ship in combat.
So I think the problem is not that they're not getting promoted past field grade because they're thought of as inferior because they don't have combat command, I think the problem is they're just plain thought of as inferior and so not promoted. Which yeah, is stupid.

Women are already in combat, so the only question is defining men’s roles in relation to them.

And I’m a bit wary seeing the way war has screwed up so many societies, including ours, in the past - just generally. This’d be one more thing.

Equality is important, I’m not sure how to train people to ignore the gender difference though – precisely because of the social impact.
Putting African-Americans in the military, having them serve alongside people of other ethnicities, did have an impact on society in the U.S. And I think it did further the cause of racial equality.

Would this serve to further the cause of gender equality in the U.S.? Yeah, I’d speculate so. I don’t know at what cost though.

I mean, it’s not like we’re doing so swell a job allowing returning troops to decompress and retrain them to reintegrate into society now.

Hmm…. I suppose that’s more of what I’ve got in mind – the supports – than the change in the social landscape. I guess I’m more concerned with more people coming back broken generally and projecting my own feelings about that happening to a woman, perhaps the sight of a woman in peril would help change things.
It pains me to entertain the possibility that it could be otherwise. But it could be. And I'd hate to see that on top of what already goes on.
Just speculation. Sorry.

“Don't be conspicuous. In the combat zone, it draws fire. Out of the combat zone, it draws sergeants.” – murphy’s laws of combat.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:51 PM on August 17, 2009 [12 favorites]


Burhanistan, having compartmentalized versions of reality is the only way most people with even vestigial consciences and ideals can survive without killing themselves from guilt. I wouldn't be so quick to knock it.

There's a significant moral difference between going to Iraq and getting your photo taken on top of a stack of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:53 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You fight. You make a great point about moral responsibility, and you're right. That is the case.

I recently visited the grave of a good friend. He was a vet of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He didn't dig that shit (the killing). But he fought. What part of that makes him less than a great American? He couldn't pick and choose what war he wanted to be in, but he was their for us.
posted by snsranch at 4:56 PM on August 17, 2009


above was to Tashtego.
posted by snsranch at 5:01 PM on August 17, 2009


Smedleyman, I knew that comment was yours before I even was finished reading the first sentence. I still remember the time you said that you would gladly kill an innocent Iraqi or two if it meant keeping your buddies safe.

I'm done with you.
posted by Avenger at 5:01 PM on August 17, 2009


"I still remember the time you said that you would gladly kill an innocent Iraqi or two if it meant keeping your buddies safe."

Really? I don't remember saying that. Show me.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:14 PM on August 17, 2009


Avenger, ha, I knew it was his too!

“but I have always been puzzled that women weren't allowed to fight,”

Short answer - It’s hard to have a class of person one might feel protective of fighting in combat tactically speaking...by Smedleyman.


That's kinda B.S. right there. There were a few females in my corps support unit in Iraq during the gulf war. By the time we hit foreign sand the were just fellow troops. (Yea, it takes a little training.)

FTR, none of those females ever pissed their pants, unlike several of their male fellows.
posted by snsranch at 5:19 PM on August 17, 2009


This proves without a shadow of a doubt that some woman can be as brainwashed as a man, somehow sadly so.

Everybody was waiting to be the first guy to be shot at...so I could fire back..kill somebody..I stole the thunder from a bunch of infantry guys... what the.. ?

It's not a game, christ. I have no doubt the guys who disembarked during the D-day were scared shitless, for they knew chances were they were going to die.

Luckly enough, the two Seargents seem to have seen the gruesome truth of war.

War is a racket by Major General Smedley Butler.
posted by elpapacito at 5:25 PM on August 17, 2009


Avenger - did you have anything to refute anything I said? I don't know that it's a crime to be concerned about gender equity while worrying about the impact on society or the poor mental and physical health care for returning troops.
Nor do I see a flaw in the argument that other societies have prosecuted imperial wars (which were also unjust...which I'm pretty sure agrees with that part of your point that ours are unjust as well) and that historically I'm unaware of any national war, barring mercenaries, being initiated by the men that were to fight them.
Furthermore, quite to the contrary of your characterization, I'm certain I've expressed support for conscientious objectors.

snsranch - know how to read? Pretty much "yea, it takes a little training" is what I said. It's the training part I'm concerned with.
Did I not say "Women are already in combat, so the only question is defining men’s roles in relation to them."? Did I not mention Sgt. Hester as a fine example of women in combat? Or mention that over twenty marine women recieved combat ribbons before this? I didn't say I favored this but I had misgivings? I didn't fucking say that right up there?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:27 PM on August 17, 2009


Wow, gender equality.

Except for all those women vets I know who have been in the military a bazillion years, who are either medically retired because the pt was more than a female frame was intended to take, or managed to soldier thru and now dealing with all the arthritis and old injuries, etc....

Hey, if we have to fight an all female army from whereverstan, fine, but I boldly say women do not belong in combat, period. Unless you can come up with some method to give the majority of them the same upper body strength as the average dude. Or the ability to quit getting all those hairline fractures or hip injuries or etc. etc. etc. simply from trying to keep up the PT. (Mind you this is armycentric. The Air Force lets women have different criteria, which is a complaint of a different type.)

I never said a woman couldn't have the heart to fight-of course we can-but the evidence I have seen is what it is.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:30 PM on August 17, 2009


Smedlyman, no need to get pissed at me. I admit...I skimmed through!
posted by snsranch at 5:36 PM on August 17, 2009


Really? I don't remember saying that. Show me.

Well here you start jibbering on about how it's okay to kill innocent Iraqis who accidentally pick up road-side trash that we've cunningly disguised as det cord.

You actually have a pretty long history on Metafilter of pulling this "Hey I'm just an Honest Soldier who Does His Duty, Man" sthick and it gets pretty tiresome.

I'm thrilled that the US Government can count on men such as yourself to kill dumpster-diving ragheads and then have a good laugh about it with your bros' over beer back home. Thats awesome. You're a monster who has proudly served his country, but that doesn't make you (or these wonderful ladies) any less monstrous.
posted by Avenger at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


The fetishisation of militarism crosses the gender boundary, hoo-fucking-ray.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 6:13 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


snsranch - just sharing what I've read/heard, it's 2nd hand, hence all the "I dunno's" but mostly - I'm just suspect of the push to put women in combat. As a good thing. The equality is good, sure, but...
On top of the stuff with Walter Reed, on top of all the b.s. vets get - hell, just here alone - getting beached by the government generally, what I hate to see - more than these asshats spouting this self-righteous holier than thou 'the troops are evil' crap - is exactly the fear that there will be a female Chesty Puller or hell, a real Jessica Lynch, and they'll be held up as yet another symbol and it will lead to yet more glorification of war and exactly that we will shift even more towards a militaristic society (all the belligerence of the Spartans without the mitigating disdain for merchants and gold) and so more war, etc etc.

I cringe every time I hear some media head talk about the troops 'fighting for our freedom' or some such jingoism.
You look at Lynch and the media and propaganda circus (and to be clear - no fault of her own) around her because she's pretty and blond while Lori Piestewa (who?) who was actually doing the driving was pretty much just a footnote.
Lynch - again, taking nothing away from her - joined more or less to pay for college.
Piestewa economic reasons as well, but to feed her kids. And she comes from a military family.
Pretty clear who going to get the spotlight.

I'm solidly for civilian control of the military. And I'd oppose any draft on general principle. But I do take my nickname from Smed Butler (rather than say, Chesty) and I hate the glamorization of war. And maybe - I don't know, but maybe - this would be one more thing on top. One more thing that lets people think war is 'ok.' Not that "oh, God, this horrible thing is necessary" but "hey, girls do it too! It's ok!" My concern is indeed that they become "just fellow troops."

That it will become more 'normal,' and it shouldn't be normal. It should be a state of emergency. People - the people that do the voting - should be at home thinking/saying "Oh, shit, we're at war."

As it is, we can have engagements on two fronts and still dicker about health care.
To my mind worse than the people laying blame or shaking their fist at the tired 60's tropes on brainwashing or innocents in other countries, all the 'babykiller' nonsense, are the indifferent.
They're The ones watching America’s Most Can You Dance Monkey whatevertf and not caring, allowing themselves to be distracted. The ones distracting them, of course, are the worst. And that’s what I fear.
That this would be yet another distraction.
And yet another ‘atrocity’ by an enemy when oh no it’s a woman who was beheaded, with the “no, YOU!” games we play all the time when they do the exact same thing we did but it’s wrong when they do it.
That’s not the least of it. I’m reminded of the post on Baida.
She wants to kill the foreigners because they’re foreigners. Because they’re outside of the paradigm she’s been raised in. They’re not her brand of muslim. Yes, the warmaking from the U.S. was a large factor, but she’d be that way in any case even if she weren’t willing to be a suicide bomber.
What concerns me is we might well be on the path to being that kind of insular society. Not just because of this, but this would be one of the increments.
And of course it has the name ‘gender equity’ of course it’s appealing. And really that’s the hell of it. You’ve got a nice thing like women being treated equally and yet you have to look at the other end of it, the military end, and ask, what is that going to do to us socially?
posted by Smedleyman at 6:39 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


It sucks when gender equity brings women down to the level of men.
posted by oddman at 6:41 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman, I'm just curious... what is the difference between a single and a double line break in your writing? I can never read your long posts because it hurts my brain trying to parse out the paragraphs.
posted by ericost at 6:43 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Short answer - It’s hard to have a class of person one might feel protective of fighting in combat tactically speaking...

This is absolutely true. Men do have problematically instinctive reactions to protect women.

If this instinct could be extended to also protect other men, things would be a bit better.

Either way, though, this definitely demonstrates the problem with men in combat.
posted by rokusan at 7:02 PM on August 17, 2009


Damn. That crazy lady called shooting people "enchanting".

I believe she was referring to the actual physics and rhythm of firing the gun, in the same way one might appreciate a rumbling engine.

That said, it unnerved me too.
posted by rokusan at 7:03 PM on August 17, 2009


As nearly as I can tell, the current interpretation of policy on the Nuremberg Defense is that a soldier does not have the right or the responsibility to refuse deployment into a theatre of war, because merely to be deployed into action is not a war crime on the part of the soldier. That deployment may be a crime against peace committed by the superiors who ordered it, but it would seem that soldiers are not held responsible for crimes against peace, that's a command authority liability.

Once deployed, a soldier would (supposedly) have both the right and the responsibility to refuse to obey an unlawful order -- though how and where ordinary soldiers become schooled in what is lawful in war, or the extent to which what is termed international law is honored by the US both generally and in any specific exigency pretty much beggars analysis in the real world. Because having said all that, I think we all know that either the prosecution or the absence of prosecution for such a disobedience would always be a political matter, never a principled one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:06 PM on August 17, 2009


"Well here you start jibbering on about how it's okay to kill innocent Iraqis who accidentally pick up road-side trash that we've cunningly disguised as det cord."

No, "some targets are off limits from first principles" would include innocent civilians. And I'm pretty sure my tactical assessment AUGMENTS the point that it's a waste of a sniper team's time to target civilians and that "Either way in the case of the latter it should be investigated, for criminal purposes, but also for best practices." - criminal purposes having been addressed and the obvious horror in deliberately targeting civilians being...y'know, obvious. I also mentioned we shouldn't be in Iraq in the first place. So...kinda pulls the whole context away from maybe I'd be in favor of killing innocent Iraqis in the first place, if, y'know, I didn't think we should be there to begin with....yeah.

"You actually have a pretty long history on Metafilter of pulling this "Hey I'm just an Honest Soldier who Does His Duty, Man" sthick and it gets pretty tiresome."

Never said that in my life. It would be my duty to disobey a criminal order. And I have in fact disobeyed a criminal order which led to some issues which I had well, and with finality, resolved.
I have continually supported individuals like Lt. Watada and contentious objectors. I support Veterans for Peace and other groups.
But I don't see how arguing that the troops should not overrule the decisions of the civilian authority is at all controversial. Perhaps they think the war in Iraq is wrong, or perhaps they think Obama shouldn't truly be president because he wasn't born in the U.S. and they should remove him. I don't think they should make those policy level decisions.
Someone wants out and wants to apply for contentious objector status - there's a process. Nothing stopping them. Hell, I think it should be easier, at the very least destigmatized.

"I'm thrilled that the US Government can count on men such as yourself to kill dumpster-diving ragheads and then have a good laugh about it with your bros' over beer back home."

I don't drink beer. I can think of about 30-odd people in one incident who were pretty happy I killed a raghead. I don't laugh about it though.

"You're a monster who has proudly served his country, but that doesn't make you (or these wonderful ladies) any less monstrous."

Pretty sure I don't have to take that shit from you. You have no idea who I am. You clearly don't understand abstract thought or consideration from a technical standpoint and you become unreasonably aggressive when someone agrees with you but on a path not perfectly aligned with yours. And you have no sense of my posting history, nor, in all likelyhood, who the hell Smedley Butler even is. Strange as it may seem, one can wear a military uniform and fight - directly even - fascism.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:10 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I can never read your long posts because it hurts my brain trying to parse out the paragraphs."
Sorry. It's this machine. I'm not a computer guy. It looks fine when I write it. I hit post comment and it flips out. I'll work on it more.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:12 PM on August 17, 2009


If this instinct could be extended to also protect other men, things would be a bit better.

You know nothing about the military.
posted by gsteff at 7:31 PM on August 17, 2009


"And really that’s the hell of it. You’ve got a nice thing like women being treated equally and yet you have to look at the other end of it, the military end, and ask, what is that going to do to us socially?"
And, I'm posting too much so I'll stop, but I have to clarify - what happens when the brutalization of women in combat is as normal as brutalization of men, how is the social landscape going to change as it concerns gender expectations - all that in mind not of the simple fact of women in combat - because as I said, female U.S. troops have been in combat already - but rather, how will it be used, framed, etc. and the social effects of that.
Hell the government is...or was before Obama, trending away from it's responsibilities to protect it's citizenry. I'm talking more policy than practice, as in practice, the matter's settled that women can fight. I'm just thinking of the pro-wrasslin version that's shown on t.v.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:35 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that women are being allowed to participate in combat because it may make it easier for them to get promotions, which I think might help us stop wasting so many dollars on unnecessary weapons and lives in unnecessary wars.
posted by gsteff at 7:42 PM on August 17, 2009


Pretty sure I don't have to take that shit from you.

Uhoh.
posted by Avenger at 7:46 PM on August 17, 2009


"You're a monster who has proudly served his country, but that doesn't make you (or these wonderful ladies) any less monstrous."

What is this shit? What's with the idea that military service is all about killing/destroying?

I don't remember which hurricane it was, but I got detailed out from Ft. Bragg to rescue folks on the coast (NC) in the hurricane season of '89. I can't say how many folks were rescued, I can't count that high. But I will say that when Uncle Sam calls, soldiers come running. They are there for YOUR benefit.

If you have a problem with policy, blame the policy makers. Every single soldier, sailor and marine is willing to risk their lives to save yours. So, STFU.

Uhoh.
posted by Avenger at 7:46 PM on August 17


How do you serve YOUR country?
posted by snsranch at 8:01 PM on August 17, 2009


I'm constantly amazed at the otherwise rational human beings who, when confronted with orders from a politician or a guy with shiny medals on his chest, volunteer to throw themselves unthinkingly into the breach and, in your words, "kill who you need to kill ... and not think twice about it."

Sometimes I feel as if the entire 20th century never actually happened, and that the lessons learned about conscientious objection, "just following orders" and human rights just got lost in the haze of collective forgetfulness.

Anyway, I don't look forward to the day when North America is awash with young Muslim soldiers, jaws steeled with grim determination to follow orders and get back to their loving homes alive while they drop bombs on American houses and take shots at our commuters on their way to work. I mean, hey, the Americans started the war and we're just here to finish it, right?


...and I'd never, ever join the military so it's a moot point. But, if I were conscripted during WWII I'd sure have done my best to win. What else can you do? Yours is a view of the world that doesn't exist and never has. Our history is defined through conflict. Our world is a violent one, and sometimes you need to fight - regardless of the circumstances.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:07 PM on August 17, 2009


Every single soldier, sailor and marine is willing to risk their lives to save yours.

However, the airmen are not to be trusted.
posted by gsteff at 8:12 PM on August 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


Maybe when people's daughters start coming back mangled (in quantity) they'll start reexamining sending people to war all over the damn globe- a little more outrage will set in. Tradition (and stories) have it that war "builds character" in men. We don't have that mindset for women.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:27 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Uh, no. As a soldier you don't make individual value judgements on which conflict to fight and which to stay out of

via army.mil

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

Thus you ARE called upon to make individual judgments - is this order Constitutional?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:30 PM on August 17, 2009


Thus you ARE called upon to make individual judgments

Yeah, try sitting one out and see where it'll get you. That oath is not literally applicable in today's army.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:35 PM on August 17, 2009


At this point in history, I think that there's more than enough evidence from psychology (e.g. the Milgram experiment, the Stanford prison experiment) that when placed in the right context, and given the right social pressure, the majority of people are capable of acts of extreme cruelty and criminality. It's well known that after WWII, the army was disappointed at the reluctance of soldiers to fire on the enemy, and ever since then they've been developing a highly successful program to overcome this natural instinct. So now we have an institution that's highly practiced at creating the right context, and exerting the right pressure to motivate ordinary people tp violence. Given this, I think it's absolutely remarkable that troops ever disobey orders, and I guess it makes it difficult for me to fault them for not doing so. I'm not saying that we shouldn't ever prosecute soldiers for war crimes, but that we have placed some of them in a situation where we know in advance that most of them will "fail". The principle fault has to lie with government (and society as a whole).

I think the only reasonable point of disobedience is the moment you decide whether or not to join. Some people have no choice: they're poor, lack connections or job skills, and the army is their best way out. I was lucky enough to not have that problem. For me, I just couldn't get past the whole "following orders" thing, especially when it might lead to death. I didn't want to charge up that hill, so, no thanks. But that was just selfishness ---it didn't even occur to me that I might be asked to do something immoral. The army goes after kids right out of high school. Back then, all I knew was that we were the good guys.

Now I guess they're getting more women. For me, I'd rather we acheive equality by getting fewer men. But I'd guess that until the day comes when every high school student knows about Milgram, and they've all read "A People's History of the United States", there will be no shortage of high school kids willing to sign up. And 90% of them are going to obey any orders they are given.
posted by Humanzee at 8:36 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

Thus you ARE called upon to make individual judgments - is this order Constitutional?


Wow. That's some epic cherrypicking. How about the next part of the oath you conveniently left out?

"And that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
posted by Cyrano at 8:49 PM on August 17, 2009


Avenger, you're being a dick. Cut it out.
posted by cortex at 9:18 PM on August 17, 2009


Uh, no. As a soldier you don't make individual value judgements on which conflict to fight and which to stay out of - that's the job of the chain of command. As a soldier you carry out orders. You kill who you need to kill to get the job done. I'm totally against both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but if I were put there, I'd do my best to fuck the enemy sideways and not think twice about it. The military can't function any other way. This is illustrating that women can do this, too.

I see you don't know about Nuremberg.
posted by kldickson at 9:21 PM on August 17, 2009


What is this shit? What's with the idea that military service is all about killing/destroying?

Maybe not all about killing/destroying, but surely killing/destroying (or threat thereof) is the primary function of the military... isn't it? Or are you going to tell me that an AH-64 apache is used only for hunting todays super-animals.

The reason that the home guard/army is drafted into doing emergency humanitarian aid is because they have the equipment, personnel and materiel available to provide that aid. I don't think you can argue that a non-military service, given the same funds/personnel/equipment could not do the same job.

I'd wager the non-military aid agency might do it better because they wouldn't be spending most of their budget on the pew-pews and $400 shovels.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 9:46 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


You phrased it as such...how could I not? Your comparison of our soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq to a Nazi SS holocaust sideshow which went on not as combat operations but as an ethnic cleansing is utterly ridiculous; a nonsensical conflation. It's the glaringly obvious, sophomoric argument to counter with, and yours was especially poorly made.

Maybe I wasn't perfectly clear.

Nuremberg set a precedent for war crime law; it said that subordinates can be tried for war crimes even if they only did it because their superior officer told them to. This pretty clearly enumerates the fact that, even if only to save their ass, it is IMPERATIVE that any member of the military NOT follow orders without question. If an order is ethically dubious or wrong, they have a duty to not follow it.

I wasn't equating anything.

As much as I realize the necessity for the military and its important role in humanitarian operations such as Hurricane Katrina and rescuing concentration camp people, the culture of it, from what I understand as an outsider who has a handful of family members who have been in the military during war and have ended up having some major issues with its culture, is somewhat frightening and borders on fascistic at times.
posted by kldickson at 9:47 PM on August 17, 2009


[Okay, enough with the going and the fucking yourselves, people.]
posted by cortex at 9:47 PM on August 17, 2009


/me sadly puts down the Anal Intruder.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:10 PM on August 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


but I boldly say women do not belong in combat, period. Unless you can come up with some method to give the majority of them the same upper body strength as the average dude. Or the ability to quit getting all those hairline fractures or hip injuries or etc. etc. etc. simply from trying to keep up the PT.

Okay, what?

In 5 years, I can't recall ever being injured "simply from trying to keep up the PT" and certainly not in a way that would be unique to women rather than just anybody who is required to fit a certain physical standard. (And frankly, female standards for the Army physical fitness test are not exactly achingly difficult.)

As for coming up with "some method" -- wouldn't the method be having equal physical fitness standards and accepting whoever can meet them? This is not a matter of average women vs. average men, it's individual soldiers achieving a physical standard regardless of sex.

And even though I think it's probably already clear, I'll just note that the above is in terms of women serving in combat arms branches, such as infantry or armor. Women already serve in combat with distinction, just not in combat arms.
posted by lullaby at 10:33 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


You actually have a pretty long history on Metafilter of pulling this "Hey I'm just an Honest Soldier who Does His Duty, Man" sthick and it gets pretty tiresome.

I just wanted to point out that I am nearly pacifistically anti-war, but I always really appreciate Smedleyman's contributions. I have never gotten even a whiff of a "shtick" as described from his posts. Instead I see thoughtfully considered opinions of a matter that deserves thoughtful consideration.

I may not agree with all of Smed's conclusion, but I feel that comment is not just unfairly harsh, but inaccurate.

I have no illusion that I'm going to change anyone's mind either way, but given that my first thought on reading Smed's initial comment was to thank him for his input, I think it was worthwhile to say so after seeing the rest of the derail.
posted by flaterik at 10:43 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I should have tacked this onto the end of my previous post, but I wanted to add that I strongly disagree with the sentiment of the first soldier in the link. Like her, I'm a medic, and I'm serving in a combat zone right now, but I honest to God have no desire to pull a trigger. I can understand, in some ways, where people like her come from, but I chose to be a medic to save lives too, and that means not firing my weapon (or any weapon) unless I really fucking have to.
posted by lullaby at 10:44 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Uhoh."
posted by Avenger

Completely delineates our respective positions and communication I think.

Two other quotes I think have actual bearing on the subject at hand though:

"Western culture would, indeed, not be what it is unless it could respect both the lawful bearer of arms and the person who holds the bearing of arms intrinsically unlawful. Our culture looks for compromises and the compromise at which it has arrived over the issue of public violence is to deprecate its manifestation but to legitimize its use. Pacifism has been elevated as an ideal; the lawful bearing of arms -- under a strict code of military justice and within a corpus of humanitarian law -- has been accepted as a practical necessity." - John Keegan, A History of Warfare.

And:
"Whatever you would make habitual, practice it, and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practice it, but habituate yourself to something else." - Epicetus.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:07 AM on August 18, 2009


I grew up in the military. I liked the culture and the capabilities, still do. But it I am tired of seeing it so misused. I suspect that woman are allowed into more roles, because they are having trouble recruiting enough men to do them. I wish that they would have to fold operations for a lack of recruits.

I was thinking of joining, but decided not too, because by the time I was 18 it was evident that you couldn't trust politicions to use my skills ethically.-thanks Reagan! There needs to be more of a balance to the presidents ability to make war and congress is not fulfilling that role.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:59 AM on August 18, 2009


Smedleyman, don't fix your machine. I like being able to tell it's one of your posts just from seeing the shape of your text, at a great distance.
posted by adipocere at 3:35 AM on August 18, 2009


Look Out Casey Jones!
posted by chillmost at 3:55 AM on August 18, 2009


Men do have problematically instinctive reactions to protect women.

Oh, so that explains:

domestic violence. sexual harassment. rape. date rape. rape as a tool of war. 'crimes of passion.' murder-suicides. just plain murders of women who have left men (sometimes of their kids too).

That *is* problematic!

This is bullshit. At best, *some* men are taught that they have a special responsibility to protect women, and some of those men *even* apply that teaching to women who are of a different class, race, or nationality than they are, women they're not romantically interested in or related to, and women who've rejected them.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:26 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman, I don't always agree with you, but I learn a lot from reading your posts about how other people view stuff I don't know a lot about....and I think you'd made a damn fine neighbor.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:38 AM on August 18, 2009


Salamandrous: I think it's not so much a "protect women" instinct, it's that the idea of women as property on some level, for men to possess is still quite pervasive and widespread. The so-called instinct is to protect one's possessions from others (women must be protected from combat), to possess others' property (e.g. rape as a tool of war), and if one's property doesn't behave the way one wants, to bring it back in line (domestic violence, harassment, etc.)
posted by casarkos at 6:43 AM on August 18, 2009


I'm not a big fan of war, or guns for that matter, but I like Smedleyman's posts. I'd rather have his brand of thoughtful commentary from the military perspective than have these threads just be all the liberal antiwar people like me patting each other on the back.

Also this:

and I think you'd made[sic] a damn fine neighbor.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:37 AM on August 18, 2009


That oath is not literally applicable in today's army.

Well, I think that's not quite true. It's an 'out' that's meant to be used only in extreme situations, when an order is clearly illegal. The expectation is that if you refuse, you're willing to defend that decision, quite possibly in front of a court martial. But it's understood that shouldn't be a dissuasion because it's only meant to be used in extremis.

The circumstances in which it might be exercised are those where the illegality is clear-cut and would be obvious to a typical observer (the two typical examples being Nazi-style war crimes and coup attempts). It's not meant to encourage widespread second-guessing of typical orders or amateur lawyering; the idea is to provide an escape valve for exceptional cases, not alter the day-to-day operation of the military or 'democratize' the process in some way.

It's not an invitation to question every order on moral grounds, either—the avenue for objection on the basis of personal morality is conscientious objector status, which is a different procedure and has its own guidelines and process. Hence, someone who comes back from a ToD, reads a bunch of Chomsky and Zinn, and suddenly decides that the war is a really bad idea doesn't have grounds to refuse to deploy based on the illegal-order exemption (not in a way that will probably hold water), since it's pretty clear that the military as a whole doesn't regard that particular order as illegal. However, he wasn't summarily executed for his refusal (as would have been the case in some other points in history, in other militaries) or otherwise punished aside from detainment, and got his chance to defend his decision in front of a court martial. That is pretty much all you are guaranteed.

It's important to understand the purpose and limits of a soldier's right to refuse an order; it is certainly still relevant and comes into play occasionally, but it is not as broad an objection as some people would like it to be. That doesn't mean it doesn't serve an important purpose even under the current interpretation of the enlisted and officer's oaths.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:01 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


snsranch - my apologies for letting my irritation bleed over.

Salamandrous - casarkos has it. Protected as protected class not protected as literally trying to defend from all harm (although I do mention that). Socially as well as in many religions, women have a set role. Not saying I endorse it, I'm saying it's there.
Although I will point out domestic violence, as casarkos alluded to, does seem to stem from that control aspect of the psyche. I can't speak authoritatively on it.
And indeed some men are interested in literally protecting women in combat. Enough to make it a problem statistically.
I'm just drawing from Lt. Col. Grossman's studies (from On Killing and On Combat) regarding the IDF's experiences there.
But it would be an unnecessary variable in planning.
And indeed, I think I mentioned that element of it. If we train men to ignore brutality done to women in combat, what's the statement we're making socially on issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, etc? What's that do to the male perspective?

In practical application of that statement - consider: currently women don't have to register for the draft. That's predicated on their - perceived - role as not being in combat.
I don't buy into the perception, but it's no endorsement of it to note that it exists.
Once we remove that, what are we saying as a society?
The flip side of that is that it's currently manifestly unfair to men. Why should women have the privilege to avoid the draft and yet men have to go?
I'd rather have Boadicea at my back than some little guy who doesn't want to be there.
(incidentally - women warriors in history)

But it does too get to 'pacifist' as a separate class. To my mind. That is, I like people like freecellwizard, flaterik, and other pacifists, I like the fact we have social supports in place for those perspectives. And I like that there's respect for them (even where my own service is derided - although why someone would think the guy who has to march off into war would be less antiwar than someone behind the auspices of his protection I don't know. I'll grant, and this is a big digression, there are people who do want to go to war, but that is not bloodthirst. The bloodthirsty are worse than useless in warfare. That is simply a wish to test one's skill and mettle. But again, big complex digression there.), I think more people should be wary of guns and war - as reflected socially I mean.
All kinds of action films have some guy on the cover with a gun, some steroid hero being a one man army, all that.
I like the fact that women are, socially in the U.S., expected to have distaste for such things.
Someone said upthread that it was disturbing to hear women talk this way. I like that.
Because it's apparently normal in our culture for male troops to talk that way.

So I suppose my distaste is linked to that mindset - that having 1/2 your population effectively exempt from participation in combat acts as a sort of braking system to how militant your culture can get.
This is more of a visceral feeling than anything else though. And I think I recognized that, perhaps not fully, above. And I recognize that this can lead to inequity so I don't philosophically endorse it. Just being honest that, hey, I like having women not in combat because it seems there is at least one sector of society spared from that brutality.
And recognizing that perhaps that colors my perspective so I'm saying "I dunno" a bunch.
I do know I don't like the Avenger type of "pacifist."
And I'd rather have the enmity for war and the warmakers than those who we ask to follow our orders.
But again, I think the dislike for war in a society is a healthy thing and throughout history you do have women in combat, but generally they're treated exceptionally in the social context and as an example of the righteousness of the cause - Joan of Arc being dead center of what I'm talking about. You have the hundred years war (and gosh, just not long enough that one) with the son of a madman taking the French throne as a result and instead of being a factional decline in the role of English fortune suddenly it's this holy thing.

Now I don't like being called a 'monster' by hypocrites who conveniently ignore their aggression, but neither do I like being called a 'hero' by folks who want to buy in to war as something other than just the execution of a republic's national policy, albiet as Clausewitz said 'by other means'.
If we recognize women as just troops doing the job they are asked to do - whether they like it or not and whether they agree with the national policy or the will of the people or not - that would be fine.
But my point is, we're not doing that with the men either. It's this love or hate thing with no recognition that the ultimate responsibility lay with the people who actually send the troops off to war whether that engagement is necessary or not, or 'good' or 'bad' in anyone's personal opinion. And no recognition that this, really, is one of the sacrifices we ask they make.
I think it's a function of abdication of our collective responsibility, which I'm part of as a civilian now, that many people forget that.
And I ask what it is we'll forget - since we're so manifestly f'ed up over gender (and war, graphic images, propaganda, etc,) as it is - when we send our daughters off to fight.
And how will we dichotomize (socially), perhaps stereotype (as I am a 'raghead' shooting, laughing, beer drinking, macho prick) the female warfighters in our society?
I can only say I don't know. I just have misgivings.
I don't think those should stand in the way of gender equity of course.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:49 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman, I would say that the notion that women have some sort of 'role' is as manifestly ridiculous as the notion that men have some sort of 'role'.
posted by kldickson at 11:29 AM on August 18, 2009


And I would disagree with that, kldickson. Maybe they shouldn't, but they still do in most segments of our country.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:40 AM on August 18, 2009


It's totally ridiculous. But it's also reality. Smed said "Not saying I endorse it, I'm saying it's there." And it is; it's less defined in (much of) the U.S., perhaps, but it's still absolutely present. I don't like it but I'm not going to pretend it doesn't exist and that its existence doesn't affect how we make policy.
posted by rtha at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2009


Smedleyman, I would say that the notion that women have some sort of 'role' is as manifestly ridiculous as the notion that men have some sort of 'role'.
posted by kldickson at 11:29 AM on August 18 [+] [!]


Whether you agree that it's appropriate or not is one thing, but denying that there's a "traditional" role that's still prevalent in many places is a little silly.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:48 AM on August 18, 2009


If we train men to ignore brutality done to women in combat, what's the statement we're making socially on issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, etc? What's that do to the male perspective?

- Smedleyman


I'm not sure I'm understanding this point. I'm just ignorant about the training you are referring to, I think. Are you saying that people in the army are trained to ignore the brutality done to their fellow soldiers in combat? not to deal with it or help but to ignore it? I don't know anything about the army, obviously.
posted by ServSci at 12:39 PM on August 18, 2009


It's totally ridiculous. But it's also reality. Smed said "Not saying I endorse it, I'm saying it's there." And it is; it's less defined in (much of) the U.S., perhaps, but it's still absolutely present. I don't like it but I'm not going to pretend it doesn't exist and that its existence doesn't affect how we make policy.

Well, yes, but I'd argue that the "role" that black men played in America before the integration of the Armed Forces was both more socially universal and more severe. Many of the justifications above ("unit cohesion", "uniformity", "the enemy won't surrender to them", "our men won't respect them") were made to oppose an Army with black men in it, and then they were used once again to oppose a desegregated Army... yet when ordered to do so, the Army was able to integrate. Fast forward, and you'll find that the exact same arguments were used against an Army with women in it... and now, even after women have shown that they can serve in combat, they're still being used against a more gender-integrated Army. Hmm.

I agree that the social role of women needs to be taken into account, here, and of course race isn't the same thing as gender... but at this point, the social-role argument against integration is beginning to look like a circular, self-fulfilling prophecy. There's a difference between "the role's existence affects how we make policy" and making policy which amounts to a tacit approval of that role. Iraq and Afghanistan have provided some solid, real-world evidence that "a woman's role" doesn't necessarily decrease unit cohesion or fighting capability, even in combat. If that doesn't "affect how we make policy", then something's not right.
posted by vorfeed at 12:53 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Note: I am not in the following making a comparison. This disclaimer is necessary fo r the brainless.

If you have a problem with policy, blame the policy makers. Every single soldier, sailor and marine is willing to risk their lives to save yours. So, STFU.

Do you apply the same principal to, say, the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland? If not, why not? How about 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich?

Didn't we settle the question of whether soldiers or simply policymakers should be held responsible roughly 65 years ago? Being given an order does not absolve you of moral culpability for the results of following out that order.
posted by Justinian at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2009


There's a difference between "the role's existence affects how we make policy" and making policy which amounts to a tacit approval of that role.

Totally agree, vorfeed. I don't want to make it sound like I'm saying the perceived role(s) should be catered to; rather, how or whether they affect people/organizations should be recognized and dealt with.
posted by rtha at 1:39 PM on August 18, 2009


I just wanted to point out that I am nearly pacifistically anti-war, but I always really appreciate Smedleyman's contributions. I have never gotten even a whiff of a "shtick" as described from his posts. Instead I see thoughtfully considered opinions of a matter that deserves thoughtful consideration.

This.

When I first started to notice Smedleyman's posts, I immediately took them as the kind of 'my country right or wrong' bullshit I expect from people with a military background. It took me a little while to recognize that his posts are much more nuanced and much more considered than I'd given him credit for, and now, while I might not always agree with him, I always value his contributions here, despite my inclinations towards rampant anti-militarism.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:03 PM on August 18, 2009


Justinian, yes, we did settle that question. The members of Nordland committed treason against their home countries when they joined the Waffen SS; the members of Das Reich committed war crimes when they murdered the residents of Oradour-sur-Glane. Neither division (in my understanding) was held responsible for participating in an unlawful war because of their other combat actions.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 2:13 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


See also paragraphs 152-160 in this Canadian court's denial of refugee status to a U.S. soldier who argued that the war in Iraq was illegal.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 2:19 PM on August 18, 2009


“Didn't we settle the question of whether soldiers or simply policymakers should be held responsible roughly 65 years ago?”

Totally. That’s why at Nuremberg we tried at and executed every single member of the 16 million man German military and war material production worker that served during WWII. Also all the civilians that voted for the members of the German Reichstag that voted for the enabling act. (Some 60-odd million)

I’m sorry, was someone defending war crimes? Genocide? Pretty sure I’ve argued (and contributed) to aggressively pursue the people responsible for torture in the U.S. from the guy on the scene to the top of the chain of command.

Not sure anyone said following an order to mobilize is the moral equivalent of personally following an order to kill or torture civilians though. Did you want to hold some noncom driving a forklift on an army base in the middle of Kansas responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib? Or perhaps the entire war policy of his country?

Or can we recognize the concept (widely held in international law and well defined at Nuremberg) of command responsibility?

“Are you saying that people in the army are trained to ignore the brutality done to their fellow soldiers in combat? not to deal with it or help but to ignore it?”

In a sense. Let me set aside the training aspect for a moment (although I do have in mind the basic social dangers of training humans to kill generally)
I’m not thinking of the direct – walking along the trail and finding your best friend with their gonads cut out and placed in their mouth sort of immediacy.

Instead I’m thinking of the inverse of the cultural ideology as to how we classify people against whom violence can be legitimately used. Again – how we perceive the validity of violence culturally, the policy, not the practice (which, again *sigh* settles the matter for me since women ARE and have been in combat and have been proven, I have zero beef with that)
There’s a (cultural anthropology) paper that touches on this concept.

That paper explores the cultural myth (that Avenger, et.al. buy into) that all troops always completely dehumanize the enemy all the time (they don't) but also gets into the IDF not using (at the time) females in combat roles a bit.
And, as I mentioned (and feel free to google) Lt.Col. Grossman mentions the same thing on the IDF that they found their males risked themselves more for the females than the males and on occasion to distraction. (It is an older work tho.)

Also that the fanatic Muslims, because of their view of the role of women culturally – which again I don’t support but c’mon, these specific muslims in question make women – at best – cover their femininity - that they’re less likely to surrender to female troops. (I’ll add that many religious groups in the U.S. oppose women in combat on religious grounds – again, I’m no Orthodox Presbyterian or Missouri Synod Lutheran, say, but those cultural norms are out there)

Again, to be clear, I don’t know that. It’s what he said. I’ve been hearing men do just fine fighting alongside women in main infantry in the U.S. military, etc but I don’t know that either. I can’t really have an opinion other than to say it jibes with my own experience generally of women in other combat roles being successful so it’s plausible too. People don’t want to read the plain English I put things in, what can I do?

I am pointing out tho that – and the title of Grossman’s book is “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” – that there is a social cost to training to kill that we’re ignoring right now and that, as a society, we’re abandoning our responsibilities to aid in the transition home – as it currently stands.

And I’m questioning the social impacts this might have – across a wide plethora of concepts. I mean, offhand – biologists have, in the past, spoken of war generally as macho male sexual aggression and a proxy for rape (ignoring of course women at war in the past). How does women participating in combat, let’s say playing a perfectly equal role eventually from grunt to chief of staff – change or affect that idea?

Doesn’t affect my personal views much. I see war pretty much as motivated by social greed unless it’s in dire necessity.
But you have tons of views of warfare and human violence – psychogenetic, instinctive hostility (Clausewitz), social stress, early mother-child interactions, suppressed or latent homosexuality, will to power, will to death, righteous rape, ethnic purification, sacrificial ritual, etc. etc. etc. (again, not my views, just detailing them)– which will be affected by the change in perspective – socially – this will bring.
This guy thinks males are more violent because they have less empathy from a smaller corpus callosum (although it’s much more complex than I can briefly explain) and notes that most warriors in history were male, most males perpetrate interpersonal violence, and suicide f’rinstance.
If women have an equal role in warfare – can he then make the same claim? I dunno. But the interpretation of that message differs given the social perspective. (And indeed - what would it then say, from that position, about a woman who chooses combat as opposed to a man who is just "more violent"?)

So too – vorfeed accurately notes the tautological nature of the arguments against having women in combat, but this illustrates the change in how we look at gender socially.
And yeah, the returning female warfighter, the dead female warfighter, the captured female warfighter, all the elements that we’re used to (and ignoring in some ways) with men as regards to violence in our society - that's a gender shift, yeah.
I’m questioning how will it change how we look at that violence socially and what would be considered legitimate uses of violence – in a number of ways.

If some guy gets in my face, pushes me, belts me one – I hit him back. What if it’s a woman? If interpersonal violence is equal, can I hit her? So let’s say the guy is 5’2’ and the woman is 6’5.’ – Does showing, or changing, their sizes change the picture? If so – why? And what's that say about how we look at violence? And why, then, wouldn't how we look at it change if a woman is proven capable in combat?
(Really ham fisted example there, but I’m just trying to relay the gist)

Domestic violence as well. Women beating on men is kept on the down low mostly now. Will that get worse with returning female vets? We’re not supporting returning males much now as it is, how much attention would a violent woman get?

What I’m saying is, there will be a change, perhaps in a number of broad social concepts, and I’m admitting that I don’t know what those will be. Just posing some questions based on my experience with violence.
(My experience, of late, with gender amounts to me saying "Yes, dear.")

I’m happy to entertain the notion that it will be socially beneficial. I brought up Boadicea for that reason – although (a bit north) the Celts had a pretty strong feminist vibe in their society and women fought alongside men, but again, they tended to have an iconic status.
Which, in our culture I think is pretty poisonous in and of itself, for anyone. Audie Murphy was hooked on sleeping pills for a while, had PTSD, and by accounts was talking about suicide for a while (he wasn’t the only MOH recipient to entertain that notion. Someone snapped him out of it - Murphy - by inverting the pressure of his iconic status to him - they said "think of all the kids who look up to you and the folks who need you" after that he started bringing the issue of PTSD - before then dismissed mostly as 'shellshock' to the fore socially - so lots of pressure - but it took a lot of hard work by the guy feeling all of it to wrangle social expectations away from "suck it up, coward" regarding returning troops.)

Though I’ll readily admit that while Lynch was used for spectacle (at best, and which was used in the past) and propaganda for the Iraq war, Sgt. Hester and others (Sgt. Monica Brown especially) belay that, in that they haven’t been used that way. At least not broadly. Maybe Lynch herself is to thank for that. She fought being turned into an icon. On the other hand Lynndie England...

I suppose what concerns me is not the sharply disciplined desensitization required in the military, it’s the, as Grossman put it, dangers from the unrestrained desensitization in society.

Troops can deal with it, yeah. Putting the IDF from Grossman aside, you still have women serving in Germany, et.al. So we’ve seen it can be done in the military. But that’s a closed society.
Civilians? I dunno. Seems like there’s a lot of folks more than willing to throw leagues of infants out with the bathwater in this thread alone.
I suppose I'm afraid we're opening a Pandora's box.
But hell, the root of that thought is sexist anyway, no? Women have the right to be called monsters as well. Like men, some of them actually are.

I'm not saying anything really. Other than the matter of women serving in combat is a settled question (they can) but that we've been socially in denial of it to some degree and I don't know what kind of effect dispelling that particular myth will have socially.
The assumptions in counterpoint seem to be "none", that it will be the same treatment women receive from their comrades in combat, but far too often one illusion is used to replace another in a society.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:29 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


“I always value his contributions here, despite my inclinations towards rampant anti-militarism.”
I appreciate the kind words, all. I will point out – my background is military. I’m probably more anti-militaristic, as a social value, than most folks here ( I don’t like the rise of the paramilitary vibe in policing, for one example.)
But some folks – with many exceptions here – take, say, an explanation of Blitzkrieg operations and perhaps a contrast with Mongol tactics but with modern technology – as an endorsement of war, Nazisim, horse archery, yurt building, or any other such thing related to whatever their pet peeve is.
Just showing the technical aspects. And I’d hope that explaining how such a thing works, lending that information to a discussion, augments – for example – someone like PeterMcDermott’s brand of anti-militarism beyond what I see as simple, albeit perhaps more widely palatable, passion in response.
And again, my expertise my be in violence, but my passion is in ending conflict.
Really, first thing that came to my mind was the fish speakers Frank Herbert had in Dune and his notion that women don’t express violence the same way as men en masse.
I’d love to believe that, and I’d hope to see that kind of change.
But the U.S. isn’t Arrakis.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:59 PM on August 18, 2009


Smed, when are you going to write a book? There are a few thousand second lieutenants and ensigns who could use your perspective.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:06 PM on August 18, 2009


Troops can deal with it, yeah. Putting the IDF from Grossman aside, you still have women serving in Germany, et.al. So we’ve seen it can be done in the military. But that’s a closed society. Civilians? I dunno. … I suppose I'm afraid we're opening a Pandora's box.

I think that's a legitimate concern, but I don't know if we ought to allow it to stop us. You could have made a very similar argument regarding slave emancipation, and I suspect very strongly if you looked into the historical record (prior to the rise of southern separatism when it became a more loaded issue, politically) you would see it. And it wouldn't have been a misplaced fear, either. But that doesn't mean emancipation wasn't or wouldn't have been the right thing to do all along.

Likewise, I don't think we have the right to oppress and apply a double standard to an entire class of people—women—because of some fear that if we grant them equal rights it will be a net negative on society. That's not a card you get to play in a society based around the concept of the individual and where the goal is, allegedly, equal treatment under the law.

There are a lot of 'social order' arguments that you can use to justify all sorts of ugly social policies. Virtually anything that changes the status quo is vulnerable to claims that it will create havoc, and sometimes those fears are real. But that's the wrong reason to refuse to do the right thing.

I don't doubt for a minute that there may be some profoundly negative consequences as a result of a fully gender-integrated military. However, I would much rather live in that society than in one that discriminates in official policy while at the same time claiming to stand for individual equality.

If it means that we have to confront our own tendencies towards militarism or plumb the depths of our brutality to find out just how deep they can go, so be it. Better to face that challenge head-on while trying to do the right thing than to shrink from it by doing something we know to be wrong.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:11 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This was kind of a tough thread, and Smedley, I apologize for my posting while skimming. I got all in a kerfuffle with all of the anti-military talk and took a couple of pot shots.

This thread has left me with one thought. The U.S. should implement compulsory service.
posted by snsranch at 6:02 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This thread has left me with one thought. The U.S. should implement compulsory service.

This is so true. And, it needs to be compulsory for everyone, with very few exceptions, so that unlike draft times of old, the rich get to serve too. Our lack of understanding about the purpose of the military and how it works to be a soldier is astounding to me. It's pretty clear from these posts which people have served and which have not.
posted by Houstonian at 4:05 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


If we train men to ignore brutality done to women in combat, what's the statement we're making socially on issues of domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, etc? What's that do to the male perspective?

Currently the rates of domestic violence spike among (male) soldiers returning from combat. I guess I would hope that it could persuade men that violence, harassment, and rape, are something that the *enemy* does and not the friend/date/husband/comrade.

Exemption from service and combat has always signified that the exempt class isn't a full participant in civil society. It also does create career barriers. I don't think that's less true or problematic if the class is women, as opposed to Blacks or Jews. I also don't see much historical evidence for the idea that keeping women out of the military contributes to a more peace loving society (and of course it has never meant that women are exempt from being targets of violence, by both enemy forces and their families).

People often refer to the experience of the IDF. Nowadays, women do serve in many combat roles, just in the military police, as opposed to the army. As you can imagine, the difference is not necessarily so stark. Also, as much as Israel in its youth had great ideals of social and gender equality, its ideals and vision of itself were not so close to the reality. Gender roles were definitely perpetuated (it wasn't men providing day care in the kibbutzim, generally), and that combined with intense post-holocaust pro-natalism do not exactly provide the best test case for women in combat.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:02 AM on August 19, 2009


"You could have made a very similar argument regarding slave emancipation..."
&
"I guess I would hope that it could persuade men that violence, harassment, and rape, are something that the *enemy* does and not the friend/date/husband/comrade."

Except - we've already considered torture as -maybe- acceptable. As a society.

"Better to face that challenge head-on while trying to do the right thing than to shrink from it by doing something we know to be wrong."

Sure, and again, I wasn't making an argument that women shouldn't be in combat. (In fact I've considered the entire point as moot as the argument as to whether the Earth is flat or not since they've already been in combat. It's not even an open question.)
Merely that it's problematic, or at least has been seen to be problematic, in a number of ways. Which, as with the arguments against homosexuals, blacks, etc, can be overcome.

The position I'm taking (as opposed to making an assertion) is that what we understand as legitimate violence will change. And that bugs me.

Because as I've said, we've already seen shifts towards torture maybe being ok (yea, they use euphemisms) and people already can't get the legitimacy angle straight - take Avenger as an example - violence bad, initiating abuse which (in other contexts) could lead to violence - basically ok.

So you would have rationalizations, albeit of a different kind, which would come up.
Y'all are looking at the front side of this: e.g. - the aversion to seeing a female POW, say, as one of the base reasons to *not* want women in combat.
I'm saying - so what's the reaction when it does happen? ('Cos it will) And we've seen a bit of that with Lynch.
But if that overreaction goes away - what does that say about what we accept as legitimate violence -and- most importantly - what's the back side of that coin?
That is, what will replace, socially, that response? What is it we'll look the other way from (for one example) as we do now with PR problems in prosecuting a war?

And I'm saying, I don't know. It's something we should think about. Not that it's a reason not to put women in harms way, because again - moot point, there they are.
And really think about the hypocrisy about that going on now.
It's pretty much only on paper they're not in combat - and that is discriminatory, yeah.
But I'm pointing to the cultural roots of that. We're bullshitting ourselves into thinking it's not true.

Col. Ann Wright (a fellow "monster" responsible for the atrocity of safely evacuating 2,500 people from the civil war Sierra Leone and on the lead foreign service staff to reopen the U.S. embassy in Afganistan) talks about, what, one in three women getting sexually assaulted or raped in the service?
I can't speak to the validity of that, I haven't done the homework. I can say I personally prevented a rape from occurring and that discharge was a moot point for one of the men involved (medical).
And I don't know how widespread the perception is of women service members as lesbians is, but I've heard it in the military quite a bit. And a hell of a lot more at home.
(Watched some civilian guys hit on a timid kid just out of boot, most all recruits are a bit timid out of boot, and she didn't know how to deal with it at that point, her head being elsewhere, and when she left they assured themselves she was a 'dyke' as most women in uniform, in their opinion, were.)
And of course, there's the cover up of suicides. Seen that too. (Although in some cases some people who had served well above and beyond the call had to be listed as a suicide, different thing).

So, to use the 'slavery' analogy - I'm anticipating the civil rights struggles of the 60's and saying "hey, we should think about how to get laws and protections passed and square things away socially so black folks aren't hosed after they become 'free'"

'Cos historically, just being called equal doesn't really make it so.

So while we agree and you: "don't doubt for a minute that there may be some profoundly negative consequences as a result of a fully gender-integrated military" - I'm saying "Yes, and I wonder what those negative consequences might be and how we can prepare for them?
'Cos I don't know.
I'm only sharing what I know from my military experience and what I've read.

It's been my experience that the cliche is true and preparation and organization are everything - a pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood.
I like knowing the 'how' if I'm already on board with the 'why.'

...I'd oppose compulsory military service. Vigorously.
It hasn't been equal in the past. And even if we could make it perfectly egalitarian and the rich folks kids went off to war too, and even had to serve in harms way like everyone else - we would absolutely have to make allowances for pacifists and other folks who either refuse to fight on general principal or disagree with a particular foreign policy decision.

One of the things we have now with a volunteer military - you can refuse to go. And a lot of people did refuse to sign up. I'd like to preserve that right. It protects the minority and dissenters - who may be (and were IMHO) right about a given decision like going to war in Iraq.
Maybe if we had a peace corps or an Americorps option.
I dunno. Still makes me skittish.

I don't know how to reconcile community service - which I agree is a duty and should be treated like one/ and making it compulsory where someone who might have a moral beef with the government entire would have to work for it in some capacity.
I mean it'd be someone IN the government making that decision for them as to where to serve no matter how broad the policy.
I don't think anyone would disagree that building homes for folks in poverty (Habitat for Humanity, say) is a good thing.
But are we going to tell an Amish guy ("Be not conformed to this world") he's got to run cat-5 cable or wire electricity through a house?
(Probably be a hell of a carpenter though....)
Maybe if it was broad enough with exceptions. I don't know. Just seems like if it got too liberal a policy it'd wind up being just a show pony.
Some kid spends a few hours picking up trash - ta da! Meanwhile some other guy is under fire in some 3rd world nation for trying to deliver food.

Socially, without compulsion, different story. I take my kids with me when I do charity stuff. Gotta lead by example.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:14 PM on August 19, 2009


But if that overreaction goes away - what does that say about what we accept as legitimate violence -and- most importantly - what's the back side of that coin? That is, what will replace, socially, that response?

Do you mean, what would happen if there was a female POW, and we saw her as "a POW" instead of "a female POW"?
posted by Houstonian at 3:40 PM on August 19, 2009


So, to use the 'slavery' analogy - I'm anticipating the civil rights struggles of the 60's and saying "hey, we should think about how to get laws and protections passed and square things away socially so black folks aren't hosed after they become 'free'"

I'm with you 100% on that front.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:31 PM on August 19, 2009


Thanks for answering my question regarding the training, Smedleyman. I think I understand what you are trying to say about the gender-shift issue in problems of social violence.

I'd be happier with a society that treated all cases of transgressive violence as problems, regardless of the genitals of the people involved, but I'm aware that that constitutes a serious shift in a lot of assumptions about gender.

Anyway. I appreciated the links in your response, sorry it took me so long to get through them and return with a thank you.
posted by ServSci at 9:25 AM on August 21, 2009


"Do you mean, what would happen if there was a female POW, and we saw her as "a POW" instead of "a female POW"?"

No. That'd be the social/gender thing. I'm talking about the social/military thing.

Historically - and to draw from civil rights - you have different sorts of reactions to social changes. E.g. Black nationalism. Lots of guys would rename themselves African names and get steeped in African culture and different sorts of things and that's great in a lot of ways but you also had this sort of denial that slavery existed.
Not overt, but sort of implicit in the movement. A sort of revisionism. Not as egregious surely as holocaust revisionism. But there's this sort of slavery never happened thing, or if it did "didn't hurt me none, I'll keep on keeping on" sort of thing.
Which ignores that component of identity.

You have a lot of moms conveniently ignoring their kids being trained to kill, f'rinstance. And calling everyone who serves a hero. Well that generalization is, IMHO, as at least ballpark as harmful as Avenger (et.al) considering everyone who serves in the military a monster.

So what I'm saying here is not that there's a difference in the (asymmetrical) risk - that is - that there's more to lose than to gain (and perhaps that is the case, or it isn't - I don't know - I'm with Kadin2048 that we should do it in any case) - but that it's a difference in kind and that, socially, we - in the U.S. - have blindspots which we tend to replace with other blindspots.

And I think we should look at that. What we're ignoring.
For example - Afghanistan. We're working to give women the vote. 'Imperialism' was brought up, upthread.
I suspect this is from the "liberal" position, but that trope only takes into account U.S. aggression and has in mind, contextually, aggressive acts.
I would ask then that is giving women the right to vote - by use of force, ultimately, by the U.S., cultural imperialism?
On the one hand you've got the folks on the "right" saying kill 'em and convert 'em to Christianity, and on the other hand you've got folks on the "left" with the bleeding heart concern saying all 'wrongs' should be 'righted' and of course women should be allowed to vote.
Well, I can hardly disagree with the latter. But on the one hand, it requires the impetus to be there in the first place (which the U.S. gets from its right wing - and which the left calls imperialism) and on the other - requires our changing the culture of a given country.
Well, what gives us the right?
Now one can argue human rights, but then, does that not justify nearly any invasion of nearly anywhere? And indeed, why not one place that has a lot of oil resources first? Strategically, that'd make sense if you want to continue to 'free' people.

...I don't believe any of this horseshit. Just playing devils advocate and highlighting the things we tend to gloss over in these matters.
So - what we need to ask is - once we 'give' women in Afghanistan the right to vote - what happens? Are they really 'free'?
Seems like a lot of them vote along with their husbands. Maybe they'll vote themselves back into the full chadri and their daughters out of education.
What then? We subvert them against their will? By force?

Realistically, probably not. But what will be the cultural ramifications of women running around in *gasp!* pants? More rapes? Assaults? Honor killings?
It's silly to address one facet of a human right without contemplating the cultural ramifications and looking at what might be needed in the future to safeguard the shift.

This, and I mean the cultural acceptance of, not the already manifest reality of, women in a combat role in the U.S. armed forces, will be a shift in how we think about war, warfighting, etc. etc.
And my point being - just signing the papers doesn't make everyone think "oh, so we're doing this now" and shift all their thinking to conform to that new (in perception) reality.

Regarding the "female POW" - it'd be nice if we saw her as "a POW." Looking at the stuff with Lynch (et.al), it's pretty clear we haven't been doing that.
And it's those components - the ancillary social mores - that I'm questioning.

So, ok, howzabout an enemy POW? Ok for us to torture her? Think it would have made any difference if at Gitmo we were beating on female detainees?
I think people in the U.S. would have been more outraged. As it is we've seen some culture based gender response from U.S. troops there ('thug squad' debate aside - you do need a response team in prisons, on the other hand, there has been brutality - and the entire premise of Gitmo is wrong so.... but all that aside).
And we do, by some accounts, have female prisoners at Bagram - heard *anything* about that in the media?
Additionally - we've used female MPs against male Muslim detainees (by accounts, at Gitmo) who have problems, in their cultural framework, being escorted, touched (or having panties placed on their heads) by women.
That would raise questions about cultural sensitivity, no?

Again, the conflict, in my mind, is military/social - the state department tries to walk a sort of middle path. For example female embassy employees are not required to wear an abaya in Saudi Arabia but the guidance is that non-Muslim women dress very conservatively in public and western women in the Riyadh area (and the more conservative central region) wear one, and carry a head scarf in order to avoid harassment by the Mutawwa'in (the religious cops) - and yet, harassment still occurs with the abaya.

Never mind that the state department supports a female diplomat/ambassador/etc. in whatever personal choice she makes - the reality of the support has nothing to do with the perception.
So - how is it we "see her as 'a POW'? We just sign some papers and that's it? People in the U.S. just start thinking it? Guys like Avenger stop generalizing?
And what - we use force to make the Saudis accept our women can wear short-shorts?

Some folks got put out of kilter that the Obama administration suggested to the female members of the press corps traveling to Jordan, Saudi, etc. that they not wear green and wear headscarves, etc.
Well, y'know, there's right and there's wrong and there's the reality that needs to be dealt with and worked through.

No, there's a lot of work, culturally, that needs to be done to accomplish that OUTSIDE of the military - on how we view military matters and use of force - as regards gender, not as to gender.
And that reconciliation takes time and effort. In and of itself, sure, seeing a female POW as just a POW would be a good thing.
But in the U.S. the cultural perception of military affairs - by itself - is not at all monocular, and as we see here - many people 'hate war' but 'love gender equity' and so, ok, where's the reconciliation?
Is there going to be one? Don't you think we should address it? And indeed - what does it say about our culture that we are going to allow women to fight in combat but we still have a glass ceiling in so many other areas? Seems like we're using (again) the military as a closed culture where we can experiment and force whatever change we like (and again, I agree this is a good one) and go on to disavow whatever happens there.

Much as Avenger (et.al) blames me, apparently, for every war the U.S. has ever engaged in and yet, still participates in and benefits from the policy decisions made by the general population.
Since I'm part of the general population as well, and I too benefit, that condemnation can only carry so much freight, since I'm just as guilty despite whatever personal efforts and altruism I too am engaged in (an Avenger might well be joe hero working at a soup kitchen, saving lives, etc. who knows).

But hopefully the form of it is clear. The military is used for a lot of 'dirty' jobs and scapegoated if something fails, all that.

So, ok, if U.S. culture doesn't see a female POW as a just a POW - but instead sees the entire matter as heartless and cruel machinations by bloodthirsty military officers and as a facet of the drive to rape already inherent in warmaking - and the female POW as victim/hero - what then?

Not that I'm saying that kind of thinking specifically will happen. But that's been the typical form of the interaction between the culture in the U.S. and it's military. "Oh, we love you all! You filthy babykilling bastard scum. Thank you so much for protecting us. But why do you hate brown people so much? We needed you so badly to do what we told you to do, thank you. But why do you do what we tell you when we're wrong, why can't you revolt against us and only do moral things? But don't have bases on domestic soil...." and so forth.

There's always been this dichotomy between what we think - or what we say we think - about the military in the U.S. and what actually goes on in U.S. society/military relations (NYT link there - essentially - wounded vets wait on their disability checks while VA employees get big bonuses - with a nice little 'inappropriate personal relationship' cherry on top), and of course, other examples abound in the past.

Americans are pretty fucked up when it comes to trying to parse the legitimacy of force as it is.
It's been like an alcoholic moving to cocaine to stop drinking (Stop being so defensive you warmongering scumbag!)
Given that they're pretty damn well fucked up about gender issues as well (-Say look at this hot woman in a swimsuit, let's judge her - oh my god she posed nude in a magazine! How salacious!) - yeah, I'm a little apprehensive of our ability to handle it.

And I think it's going to, yeah, take a little more work than just giving the go-ahead for women to serve, officially, in combat roles.
Women in the U.S. will probably be just fine. Servicewoman - I don't know how it will affect them - as a component of the 'service' part of being women in the U.S.

So if we're looking at women in the military, let's look at them as troops first and recognize the issues and problems that are already at hand and think about what they might additionally face as an already separated class of individual - that is - what they might face as women because they're in (or were in) the military, not just because they're women.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2009


"You have a lot of moms conveniently ignoring their kids being trained to kill, f'rinstance. And calling everyone who serves a hero. Well that generalization is, IMHO, as at least ballpark as harmful as Avenger (et.al) considering everyone who serves in the military a monster."

To be clear on that - there are some opinions out there that 'hero' shouldn't be bandied about predicated on the idea of troops being trained to kill, break stuff, etc. - that's fairly wrongheaded IMHO - since if such a thing as legitimate violence exists at all - and I'd be hard pressed to find someone who would argue that you shouldn't shoot someone (given that's the best necessary option, you can't talk him out of it and -taking, say - jamming the signal off the table if he's hardwired) who's threatening to blow up a bus full of kids.
Quakers perhaps. Still, one life to save 65, 70 children. Dunno. Easy call for me. If I were Superman I could zip in, remove the explosives, have no loss of life. Being human, I'm at best a good shot and I have to do what's necessary with the tools I have.
So if legitimate violence exists one can act heroically while doing it. I wouldn't say it exists in all cases, but that's a whole other big issue.

No, to call someone a 'hero' or a 'monster' in both cases eliminates the recognition of their humanity. And, implicitly, abdicates our responsibility for them. You don't have to help returning vets reintegrate into society because either - f'em, they're fllthy monsters or - hey, they can handle it, they're heroes. And/or the same people we sent off to war.

So I think recognizing that in a gender issue is important - that is - we see it's important to see women as 'just another servicemember' - but do we in that process forget, as we do with the men, their humanity and how it's expressed socially as well?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:41 PM on August 21, 2009


I agree with a lot that you say. But, if we wait and think through all the implications throughout our society and the world before we make change, we'll never make any change.

You mention about Muslim women wearing the abaya and niqab. I remember the first time I saw this in person -- horrible, to my eyes. It was like the woman really was invisible, and separated. And I would have been the first to say, this is a women's rights issue. But then I read an article (which I cannot find now, but I think it was in the NY Times or Washington Post) which interviewed several Muslim women. They were asked how they feel about the abaya and niqab. Some did not like having to wear it. But others did, and not for the reasons I'd suspected. I thought they were wearing it because they were forced to, or because they felt their religion required it. In the article, though, one woman said she liked to wear it because it made her feel safer from sexual harassment, which had been a problem before she started wearing it.

So when I look at that now, I think we shouldn't try to enforce any rule. I don't like it when scarves are illegal (France) and I don't like it when they are forced to wear a niqab (Saudi Arabia). I think they should have choice.

Look again at slavery. When we ended slavery in the States, we pretty much did it entirely wrong. But, should we have waited until we'd sorted out a better plan? Of course not. Even as the years following emancipation were horrible, they were a small step in the right direction. And, even if we'd tried to think through all possible solutions to all possible problems, we probably would not have been able to predict them all.

Congress required US military schools to admit women in 1976. It was harsh for quite a few of the young women, they were clearly not welcomed there. VMI was the last hold-out, fighting it for 20 years: It took a US Supreme Court ruling in 1996 to force them to let women in. It was hard, VMI claims, to adjust to having women around. They weren't sure about the gender-norming, and they weren't sure about whether the physical requirements should be the same or not. The women got a lot of hazing (and probably still do). But should we have waited any longer?

And if we decide to provide equal rights in the military, and something goes wrong (like with emancipation, like the final admittance of women to military schools, like with all change), then at least shouldn't we extend to women the right to choose that for themselves? Shouldn't it be that women are given the choice?

We'll definitely get some of it wrong. But, it will be taking 2 steps forward, and 1 step back: Progress, though slow progress.
posted by Houstonian at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2009


Progress, though slow progress.

Yes, absolutely! I work with active dury military folks and probably just a little less than a 1/4 of them are female. It's amazing and very inspiring. I'll have to say upfront, though, that there is a baby-farm crew too. Females who have baby after baby and never really serve in their full capacity. But they are a very small number compared to all of the pilots, flight crew members and gun toting females.
posted by snsranch at 5:37 PM on August 21, 2009


Well, again, I'm not talking about waiting to make the change or not doing it, merely that there are other aspects that need to be addressed.
To wit:

"So when I look at that now, I think we shouldn't try to enforce any rule. I don't like it when scarves are illegal (France) and I don't like it when they are forced to wear a niqab (Saudi Arabia). I think they should have choice."

There's still the context there. That being the method by which they evade sexual harassment. The fact that the women are being asked how they feel about it - but - they still have their backgrounds in their religious and social tradition and the society still has it's relation to them and what others think the niqab means. Not to mention the problem of the sexual harassment itself.
That's a problem standing in those societies. And the acceptance or non-acceptance of what women wear is secondary to the context of the need, or not, to wear it.

So again, the issue is not women in combat. 'Cos they are. And have been. It's not an issue in the military socially (and as I've said debatable in operations, but certainly nothing that can't be overcome) because the social order in the military is "You do it."
The issue (the one I'm addressing) is the social context surrounding accepting women in combat in American society and military women in general.
I don't know how valid the 'slavery' et.al assertions are. They're social/gender analogies. Not social/military.
I'm using crude conceptual tools to try and illustrate this tho, so anything at hand I guess.
Buffalo soldiers might be a better analogy. Most of the gains veterans make are in spite of society.

And I'm not contesting anything really. I think your opinions are perfectly valid.
Most of what I've been saying is "I don't know." And I think part of the problem is we don't know. And we very often use the military as a sort of social test tube, and this allows us to scapegoat, no matter how much bunting we fly or little American flags we wear.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:56 PM on August 21, 2009


Let me put it another way - currently, socially, we give very little solace to our returning combatants.
Civil war era vets talked about their experiences to each other, made peace with each other and the memories of war. Even in WWI there was time made in the military to decompress, even right after battles, in part thanks to technology - there wasn't as much night-fighting going on and there wasn't as much mobility.

And in WWII and Korea to a lesser degree but usually only after weeks and months of combat. You had the ship home. You had slow processing time, so you sat in a barracks with other returning vets. More people talked. It got diluted rather than distilled.

Vietnam - different story. Troops were flown home. And usually straight home after their tour. So first contact was family, friends, and other perhaps well intentioned folks, but people who no longer spoke the same kind of language.

So WWI vets tried to bury their memories. WWII, Korea, Vietnam vets, yet more so.

The analogy there to female troops now and when they become generally accepted by society as such - when the novelty wears off, even if nothing else happens - is the difference between, say, a fighter pilot and a grunt.
The processing is different.

Joe Fighter pilot shoots down some planes. Maybe the enemy pilot bails out so he can have a successful mission without having to kill anyone. He meets with supportive leaders, talks about it, etc. Other specialists as well, typically have a network to rehash technically the days operations, so they spread out the pain. It's a burden shared and divided among others.

Instead of multiplying the success and dividing the pain for regular infantry - it tends to be the opposite, the success is divided (because he likely killed someone - but what manifest impact did it have to the effort?) and the pain is multiplied and they're often ashamed of their efforts in a war zone.

And it's not like we as a society don't encourage this even though we're the ones that send them. You have manifest proof in this thread. Not just open hostiles like Avenger and Burhanistan but the already extant dichotomy women face from those who 'hate war' but are giving them kudos for...well, what exactly? Being women? Being equal?

Well, that's predicated on warfighting, yeah? Which we 'hate' no?
(and it's been intimated on metafilter that it's not only ok, but right and proper that vets kill themselves - that's going to exclude women is it?)

So allow me to further illustrate the 1000lb gorilla in the room the gender issue seems to be blinding y'all on - people become what they're habituated to, what's going to happen is that we're going to destroy them for doing exactly what we've told them to do after training, equipping, enabling and empowering to kill by acting ashamed of them when they do.
Not because they're women. But because it's what a big swath of our society already does.
And now, I'm saying, it's going to happen to women as well. Not as an argument against changing the role of women in combat (officially), but because it's what happens.
So the gender issue - yeah, good thing - but we will still judge war as evil and still judge harshly those who attempt to distill some goodness from it.

Now on the gender front - the statistics on women, girls really, getting into fights at school have been climbing. I don't care. Additionally, girls have been fighting boys more, and winning, because in junior high they've got more growth on them. I don't care.

End of the day though - we haven't really laid blame for this. Whatever the science says, whatever the studies say - our collective Jerry Springer social mindset hasn't had its gut response.

So with what I've said in mind - where you think the blame is going to land?

I'll throw another thing to think about out there - after shootings in schools, traumatic events, etc - sexual activity is heightened. Female combatants - and many women who are subject to extreme stress (and in many cases physical training) - often stop having their periods.
Think that might pile the stress on to come home from a battlefield ('cos y'know, we're the U.S., fuck you and your "emotions" trying to get over the firefight you had yesterday, you're a hero/monster!), jump someone's bones and then ...no period? Oh, and back to the war (where maybe you're trying to skate by getting pregnant, hmm?) 18 -19 year old woman, think that's a little stressful?

Might be a good plan to include that sort of information in, say, a basic combat training program that women are in, no? Hey, it's stress, you're not pregnant, don't kill yourself when it happens.

Progress is great. Slow progress is better. Progress without implementing the supports one can foresee is criminal.
And again, not saying we shouldn't recognize women in combat roles officially and bring them in. Just saying we - manifestly - don't have any desire to support them in any way now. And that's a problem our society has with recognizing legitimacy in force - and yes, in gender, but that's sort of a side dish.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:18 PM on August 21, 2009


« Older You've seen the national anthem sung at baseball g...  |  Bicycle Inflation in Paradise?... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments