Women in Combat


“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”  “It is sweet and right to die for your country.”  The line, in Latin, is from Horace’s Odes, 3.2.13.  It is a memory from Miss Lovering’s 8th grade Latin class at the Beaver Country Day School.  Everyone said Miss Lovering was a truly great Latin teacher, mostly because she was old enough that she was surely there in Rome when it happened.  She was one of the older living Radcliffe College alumnae and had, it was said, found marriage a pale alternative to the glories that were Rome.  I remember the above quote as the moment I started thinking Romans were simply not very nice guys. The “lie,” apparently often quoted to soldiers at the beginning of World War I — ostensibly to give them courage — was nicely incorporated into a poem by Wilfred Owen that expresses what yucky stuff war really is.  People die of a lot of horrible things, and anyone who has seen combat veterans or lost family has probably figured out that death is just as ugly, if not more so, when it is for your country.

In the poem, he cites, “vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.”  Our friends at the Center for Disease Control show — avoid this page if you are faint of heart — a syphilis sore on a tongue, which is what this sounds like.  An attempt to get sexy prior to combat is my guess.  Soldiers have tried to use the “I could be in combat and die tomorrow” line on me; it never worked, obviously.  Opening combat to women might be good in some ways.  Good for military rank climbing or professional climbing.  If a woman feels compelled to do this, I guess she should be allowed to.

People fight about physical readiness.  I had a lot of trouble with the physical requirements for military service; I suspect other women might, too. Me, I shot my immune system so bad I got ocular herpes, generally reserved for the immunocompromised at my then-tender age.  It meant some blindness at the time, a lovely reason to leave the military.  It has been said there will be no lowering of physical standards to accommodate women.  If women are that athletic and want to do this, let them.  Will women then be drafted?  The government official talking about women going into combat did not even know who was in charge of seeing if selective service would include women, too. There is a difference between “letting” and “making.”

Reality often lags behind ideology.  Women and men are different. “Vive la difference” — hooray for the difference — goes the French dictum that generally elicits a smile and a wink.  The reality is that women are getting raped as prisoners of war and killed in action, not to mention some reports that can be called discrimination at best from our side.  Remember Tailhook?

According to these generally regarded as reliable folks, there really is nothing going on in the present way of things that would keep women from achieving whatever they want and need from their service, like professional advancement.  I do wish this country would look at other countries before taking leaps.  Other countries have policies that include women.  They also have forms of discrimination.  Somehow, everyone muddles through life.  In the U.S. uniformed military, 14% are female; so there is already a lot going on.  I think even the most sexist and the most feminist social critics have to smile at Russia’s new way of getting young men to sign up for the military — the second annual “beauties in shoulder straps” military beauty pageant.  Not exactly respect for work done well, but something else.  Although there are not enough close-ups on this page for even a disinterested party like me to assess how hot these babes are, the text suggests they are pretty hot.  I do suspect there may be a little coercion to sign up.  I mean, I do feel for the poor woman psychologist who said that if she did not participate, she thought her career as a psychologist would be over. Having women fighting in combat does not remove discrimination.  Law is lovely, but I think something is going on and everybody seems to be missing the boat.  Maybe a lot of my ideas were formed in the 60’s, when I was impulsively reading Ms. Magazine and wrote an article about how being female could impact college majors and subsequent professional decisions. It was rejected from the Beaver Star, my school newspaper, as “unsuitable.”  I remember they actually said I wrote quite nicely, but I ought to turn to a topic more suitable. I was happy to see Gloria Steinem’s official website, happy to know she is running about advocating for peace. I always like that as a doctor, I was supposed to serve anybody who was sick enough to need me, even if they were the enemy.  By the grace of God, I was never in a combat situation, but I would have gladly done that without flinching. Women have, I thought, traditionally been for peace.  This is certainly a good thing about being female that I would rather not change.  Nobody should die, whether for their country or another creative reason.  I know of nothing more horrible in life than losing a loved one, regardless of gender.  Younger is worse.  For a war that seems to be motivated by a nation’s finances — much worse.  I do not understand how anyone with the maturity to remember other wars, other deaths, can forget them.

I do not understand the right wing Christians who support the military wildly enough, only quoting the Bible when it suits them.  Let’s all go to Isiah 2:4.  No matter what translation, it says the same thing. Let’s make weapons into farming equipment and stop making war.




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