Equality Equals Death

by George Neumayr

The American Spectator, August 2004

NIGHTLINE CALLED THE ORGIES AND TORTURE in the unisex units at Abu Ghraib "a twisted tribute to gender integration in the U.S. military." Host Ted Koppel observed that "you have only to look at those leering thumbs-up photographs with naked Iraqi prisoners to know that a certain level of gender equality has, indeed, arrived."

Daughters and mothers in body bags — in some cases, single mothers — also served the media as a window on the progress of women in combat. By late May, 20 female soldiers had died in Iraq. The first woman to die was Lori Piestewa, 23, a divorced single mother with a boy and girl in preschool. Peggy F. Drexler, a scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University, noted with pride that "it was a mother who was the first U.S. woman soldier killed in the war."

"For all the misgivings stirred in us, mothers in risky professions are establishing new roles for women that we must finally accept and even embrace," Drexler wrote in the Christian Science Monitor in 2003. "In a recent interview, Brig. Gen. Mary Ann Krusa-Dossin, the first mother to receive a U.S. general's star, counsels other mothers in Glamour magazine not to 'shy away from trying to have both.' General Krusa-Dossin, the mother of a 22-year-old daughter, 'wouldn't have it any other way.'"

Drexler concluded from the deaths of mothers fighting in Iraq that "Only when we accept that the mothers can keep the home fires burning and fight oil fires in Iraq will we truly honor motherhood." Piestewa's orphans have the consolation of knowing that their mother died for an important experiment in equality and self-actualization.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette honored Piestewa's death with an editorial calling for an end to all restrictions on women in combat: "THE BEST WAY TO HONOR THIS WARRIOR-MOTHER IS TO END AN OUTDATED COMBAT BAN." (Women are not allowed to serve in some combat units in the military, such as the infantry and field artillery battalions.)

More single mothers will likely die in Iraq. The military has become a jobs program for single mothers, and the military not only extends but requires that they partake of the equal opportunity to die. It turns out that Teresa Heinz's late husband, John Heinz, was a rather stodgy fellow. He regarded the deployment of single or soon-to-be mothers as barbaric, reported the Boston Globe. He thought it "questionable whether an 18-year-old tantalized by offers of tuition money has any inkling of what he or she is giving up in 'volunteering' to leave children yet to be born behind." The policy reminded Heinz "of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, the dwarf in German folklore who exacts a terrible price for helping a desperate young woman — her first-born child."

The Pentagon disregarded Heinz's comments, as it "worried about the abstract unfairness of granting single-parent soldiers the full set of career and educational benefits without the obligation of front-line service," the Boston Globe explained.

Feminist folklore from Iraq is a grim tale, not only for orphans but also for families who greet their returning daughters as amputees. The Washington Post reported in late May that "162 women have been wounded in Iraq, 99 of them too badly to return to duty." Recruiters, eager to meet female quotas, presented to many of these women a picture of careerism without combat. Former Notre Dame basketball player Danielle Green was one of many who learned that the rhetoric didn't match reality. She lost her left hand during an attack in Iraq, the Post reported, which came as a surprise to her old coach. "It was just a shock to hear she had been injured because she had said that her job was going to keep her on the sidelines," Irish Coach Muffet McGraw said.

Feminists who condemn a culture of violence against women don't mind it in war. "We are seeing women POWs, women with their legs blown off, women who are heroes," Lory Manning, director of the Women in the Military Project, told the Post.

"We became intimate with death. We saw it," said Stephanie Thurston, who led an "all-woman crew in an armored Humvee in Iraq," reported the Buffalo News.

Where protecting women against rape is a feminist priority in peace, it is a point of pride not to protect them against it in time of war. Jessica Lynch, held up as an example of the glories of women in combat, was sodomized in captivity.

Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness served as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, which warned in the early 1990s that placing women in combat would mean exposing them to rape and torture. Feminists, she recalled, said that Americans could get used to violence against women. The same feminists who wanted men more sensitive in civil society assured the panel that male soldiers could be desensitized to violence against women in their units. Feminists demanded that Bill Clinton's defense secretary, Les Aspin, eliminate the phrase "substantial risk of capture" as a "factor in determining where servicewomen would be assigned," said Donnelly. After that, military programs were instituted to teach male soldiers how to accept in stride females brutalized in captivity.

Some American male soldiers, now officially not expected to behave chivalrously toward women, have absorbed the new ethos too well, as the steady stream of sexual assault charges from Iraq bears out. The problem is so out of hand that Congress in May was reduced to passing legislation asking the Defense Department to define for the first time "sexual assault."

Not that the policy of women in combat isn't producing some happy news. There was the report last year that babies are now being born on battleships. A 33-year-old female Marine gave birth aboard the warship USS Boxer. Thanks to Bill Clinton's secretary of the Navy John Dalton, pregnant women serve too.

And then there was the happy story of "combat heroine" Teresa Broadwell in the Washington Post. Broadwell had given up a modern-dance scholarship to the University of North Texas to work a machine gun in Iraq. The Post reported her "standing on tiptoe in the turret of a Humvee in a vain attempt, at 5 feet 4 inches tall, to see through the sight of her M-249 machine gun." The Post gave her an A for effort in a gun battle it reported in November 2003 in which three Americans died and seven were wounded. So did her properly conditioned colleagues. "She was on top of it," said Pfc. Jonathan Rape. "If she were two inches taller, it would have helped, but you couldn't expect anything more." Since Broadwell, reported the Post, "wasn't quite tall enough to see through the weapon's sight, she was gauging the accuracy of her fire with tracer rounds."

The story put Elaine Donnelly in mind of a comment one soldier unhappy with the prospect of women in combat made to her commission: "This is not Olympic diving. We do not get extra credit for adding an extra degree of difficulty."

From women wardens to sadomasochistic female jailors to single mothers sent to die on the front lines, the war in Iraq resembles a perverse myth Aristophanes wouldn't have been able to conjure up.