There Is No Cat

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Thursday, February 20, 2003

Nationalism, war, and women

Shelley Powers picks up on a thread wending its way through the blogworld about why women don't participate in combat (which started as a discussion of whether or not there would be war in a world ruled by women). She makes the point that we've had matriarchal societies in the past, and yet war persisted. While I don't disagree with that, I do disagree with her reasoning on why women aren't generally allowed in combat today:

The only reason women aren't allowed in fighting infantry is the stupid old men in this country who don't want to face the political backlash of the first women killed in actual hand to hand combat. Horrors! A potential mother killed!

This may be part of the reason, but I think there's an even more visceral reason that explains the desire to keep women at a distance from combat, and that's the possibility of potential mothers being captured.

Jonathan Delacour talks about the changing role of women in modern combat in the western world:

When we consider the major psychological transformations precipitated by weapons and tactics that allowed man to kill at a distance in an emotionally detached manner, it is hardly coincidental that women are integrated into combat units in the US Navy and Air Force—where they would not be expected to engage directly with an enemy—but are excluded from combat in the US Army where the chance of face-to-face contact is significantly higher.

The long, sad history of war has shown that combatants are more than willing to use rape as a weapon. So often wars are precipitated by a sense of nationalism. We Foos are the rightful heirs to this land/religion/tradition, and those evil Bars over there are our God-decreed enemies, blasphemers against all that is right and holy about Fooism, and it is our sacred duty to wreak vengeance upon them for the wrongs inflicted upon us in the past. The very existence of Bars is an offense to us.

With this mentality, the fear of rape is the fear of introducing the enemy into your midst in the form of children borne of such unholy unions. If a male soldier is captured, he can be tortured and killed. So be it; now you have a martyr and another wrong inflicted to inspire vengeance. But if a female soldier is captured, the perceived danger to the community is one that lasts far longer and can even threaten the identity of the community in minds poisoned by nationalism. Excluding women for forms of combat where the chance of face-to-face contact with the enemy is higher minimizes the chance of this happening. It's paternalistic toward the women, but it's also based on a concept of preserving the community.

Even in "enlightened" countries like the United States, there's still a lingering residue of this kind of nationalism.

I'm not defending this point of view. I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying it is.

Posted at 2:15 PM


Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

I think women should be allowed in combat. If we are good enough to be in the military and strong enough to able to do combat training then don't you think we can take care of ourselves out there? The men who have a problem with it need to deal with that themselves. I understand how it could pose a odd atmosphere, but why should we be punished because we are women. I'm 16 years old and I can't wait to join the Marines, and I want to be out there on the battle line fighting for my country!

Posted by ? at 1:22 PM, November 6, 2003 [Link]

Right now, women are performing infantry duties, i.e., serving with infantry squads and MP companies.They are fighting, and getting wounded and killed just like the men.Men are NOT stronger, braver, or smarter than women; nor are they more endurant.I am 16 years old,and I will be joining the Marine Corps ASAP.I think there is no greater honor an American can have than being able to fight for your country.My wish is to be a machine gunner in the infantry.I want to be one of the first female Gunnys to lead an infantry squad to battle.How then can you say I am unqualified???

Posted by Kyra Nelson at 5:30 PM, April 15, 2004 [Link]


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