One can only welcome the Pentagon’s decision to tear down another fence barring female members of the Armed Forces from full participation in the security and defense of our nation. It’s not really about being more so in harm’s way—women have been wounded, maimed, or killed (300 in Iraq and Afghanistan) in national service for time immemorial. Moreover, this is a common sense decision that will be leavened by specifics: just like there are some things women cannot do, there are other things men cannot perform.
War is not only waged on battlefields.
The contingencies of upper-body strength, the special insight women bring to a reconnaissance of an about-to-be invaded village, and, invariably, the rigid traditions of “a band of brothers” and the harrowing special danger that female soldiers face in captivity—all these factors will mix in as the ruling settles. But the bottom line here is simple and correct: women will have access to more and better paying jobs in the military.
This is a milestone only on paper, however. Women have always been in the fight and they have always endured warfare. And unlike men, they have not always been given the benefits of helmets, armor, or firearms. They have just worked very hard in munitions, stockpiling, manufacturing, armament assembly, medical intervention, and the spiritual consoling of men and boys who were not equipped for the “glory”—and for whom other men had little patience or tolerance.
For all these physically and emotionally draining responsibilities, and for the attendant, conscious devaluation of their critical roles in winning wars, women have been systemically rewarded with legal discrimination, social isolation, poor wages, and—all too often—sexual abuse or worse. War is not only waged on battlefields; it is fought in the back of army base bars, aboard naval vessels, and in the plush offices of generals and special attachés.
Women have also been “the Marine Corps” when it comes to dealing with the searing battle wounds, physical and otherwise, of returning soldiers, seamen, and pilots. They have been beaten and bruised, humiliated and discarded, by the sufferers of combat fatigue, post-traumatic syndrome, and skewed machismo that were infected by the brotherhood of organized killing. Women, noble, forbearing, just trying to reach out, have experienced a kind of war in their homes, offices, and even in their automobiles that rivals what any man has known in a tank or F-16.
For all this they have not been paid in tandem for their work; they have been relegated to the shadows and to the disposal of male instability, whimsy, and the duress that men truly do suffer from war but only women are asked to endure in the retreat. There are all kind of trenches women have always been in them.