A reader writes:
Finally this thread has been moved in the direction of the true apprehensions regarding women in combat: rape. I find this apprehension invalid for two reasons. One, women in combat can be trained and prepared to deal with that experience, just as they might be trained to deal with torture. That doesn't mean that rape can be prevented, but the soldier can be trained in the best ways to deal with the experience. Rape will be an obvious risk to women.
But that is where I come to the second reason it is not a valid reason to keep women out of combat – this can and will happen to male soldiers as well. Saddam Hussein's son was notorious for using male rape as an intimidation and punishment tool. Men ARE NOT immune to this threat. But men, particularly military men, will not talk about this danger or this reality, and therefore we allow it to apply to our conversations of women in combat only.
I remember after the first Gulf War seeing an interview with a female fighter pilot. She was asked about what would happen if she was shot down and captured. The interviewer wanted to know how she would handle the almost certain fact that she would be raped. She said two things that stuck with me (I'll paraphrase). She said first of all, men get raped too. Secondly, she felt like she had a chance of getting over being raped but knew she couldn't get over being dead. Rape against women has been a common tool in armies the world over. Why not arm the women and give them a fighting chance against such attacks?
The former Marine officer who wrote about the danger of female prisoners being raped really pissed me off.
Here’s why (if it isn’t obvious): men can be sexually abused also. What’s worse, it has been the US military and the CIA who have been the perpetrators. The Abu Ghraib photos were only a tame example. The US torture regime only makes the eventuality of US troops being raped all the more likely, one of the many reasons it was a horrible mistake. Of course women who serve will need to know the risks, and will have to choose for themselves. And this is why anyone who publicly defends torture should be shamed into obscurity.
I appreciated the post by the former combat-arms Marine officer. Which sort of opens up a whole new can of worms doesn't it? I'd point out that women in our own military are at more risk of getting raped by their fellow soldiers than they are in civilian life, and more at risk to be raped by a fellow soldier than be killed by enemy fire. And that US military men also get raped by fellow soldiers. And that men across the world also get raped during wartime.
I'm pretty sure that women and men are well aware of the risks they take if they fall in the hands of the enemy. But it's pretty sad that many of them are not aware of the dangers within their own ranks.
This women-in-combat conversation is not adding up to me. I've never been in combat, I've never remotely thought of joining any sort of military organization, but I have been sexually assaulted. As have a huge percentage of the female American population. So hearing all of these men swooning over the very remote possibility of a female fighter being captured and raped … really? It's pretty clear that whatever is stirring them up has a lot more to do with surrounding circumstances than the actual event of rape.
You should excerpt that Gulf War article another reader linked to, because it is kickass, and illuminating, because it seems that Cornum is perfectly able to contextualize her own experience, thank you very much:
Major Cornum, who says her mission in the military is "to go to war," said it was puzzling and frustrating to see herself portrayed as a member of the weaker sex needing protection that combat cannot guarantee. The straight-talking major skydives, jumps horses, shoots beer cans and armadillos with a 9-millimeter Beretta pistol and gets her red sports car up to 130 miles an hour on the roads of rural Alabama.
In an interview at a bar in downtown Dothan, not far from Fort Rucker, where she graduated last week from the Air Command and Staff College, Major Cornum said the sexual assault in Iraq in that winter of 1991 "ranks as unpleasant; that's all it ranks."
Everyone's made such a big deal about this indecent assault," she said, in her first interview since the war. "But the only thing that makes it indecent is that it was nonconsensual. I asked myself, 'Is it going to prevent me from getting out of here? Is there a risk of death attached to it? Is it permanently disabling? Is it permanently disfiguring? Lastly, is it excruciating?' If it doesn't fit one of those five categories, then it isn't important."
Do you hear her? This is a lady I want fighting my wars, dammit. She's rational, she's prepared, she's awesome, and she seems to be rightly annoyed that a risk she considered and accepted when signing up is now being held against her by idiots who can't deal.
The part of the article covering male POWs is similarly enlightening. They all claim that if they were assaulted, they'd never tell, and that they might even kill themselves because of it. One also stunningly wants women out of combat because while he's dealing with his own POW experience, he doesn't want to have to deal with thinking about what the woman might be going through. Auuuuugh! Stop projecting!
Are they worried that if a woman is being raped nearby, that treatment might ripple out to the male POWs? Is it a weird possession thing, where they consider women a resource and that raping "their" woman is somehow a victory for the enemy (which fits the general tradition of civilian rape in wartime)? Does this seem worse because in civilian life you can wave rape away if the woman doesn't shout enough, or is drunk, or dating the aggressor, or wearing the wrong clothes – all excuses that vanish in the POW scenario? I don't know.
Bottom line: a woman going into battle knows what she's signing up for.
The reader follows up:
I'm not sure any conversation about women in combat can be complete without referencing the Jessica Lynch fiasco. A young, pretty blonde female gets injured, is brought to a hospital with broken bones, is treated … and then is rescued in a blaze of gunfire and machismo by a squad of soldiers. The imagery of a wan, bandaged girl being whisked away by uniformed men – how stirring! What a rescue! And then to hear that she was raped. The entire nation was frothing at the mouth over that storyline.
So many people still believe all that shit was true, even after Lynch herself disputed it; she was never raped, she was treated well, they tried to deliver her to a checkpoint but the ambulance was shot at, her nurse sang to her. The whole thing was cooked up by some propaganda wing of the military, which apparently decided that taking the Fox News recipe for blonde white girls in peril and pasting it onto a real live POW was the way to win the war.