Friday, March 14, 2003

Women in Combat

See the girl in the upper left corner? That's Shoshawna Johnson, American soldier, single mother of a two year old girl, daughter of a Gulf War veteran, aspiring chef, and now an Iraqi prisoner of war because someone made a wrong turn at night near the nasty town of Nasiriya. Does she look frightened to you? Here maybe this will help:

Yeah, she looks frightened to me. So why do we put our women in harm's way?

Over at National Review Online, David Klinghoffer makes mention of the matter. Upon hearing of Miss Johnson's plight, Mr. Klinghoffer is wistfully reminded of the trials of Sarah (he spells it Sarai). Yes, that Sarah, Abraham's wife, from a really very long time ago. The first woman captive in the Bible. While fleeing famine in Canaan, Abe and Sarah end up in Egypt where the ravishing Sarah falls into Pharoah's clutches, who may even have laid "a hand on her skin." That's a little ambiguous for my taste. Did he or didn't he do the bad thing? Pharoah and his courtiers are eventually stricken by a "gruesome sexual disease" called rattan. An angel did this to them upon Sarah's say-so. For touching her skin? I guess it's one of those hyperbolic lessons the Bible likes to give us about the seriousness of impurity in God's eyes. But somehow I don't think Miss Johnson's captors will be likewise so stricken. Call me cynical. Mr. Klinghoffer parallels Sarah's captivity with that of the Israelites, concluding that her liberation, "Israel's liberation, is our own." All right, now I feel all better. He concludes that "America will pound Saddam's regime again and again. Then, along with the Iraqi people themselves, our captives will be liberated. History guarantees it." Meanwhile, the article verily screams in its avoidance of the obvious: Why do we put our women in harm's way? He does mention at one point that "Needless to say, what sickens us about imagining a woman held captive is the unspeakable thought of what men with no respect for women could do to her." He then goes on to offer us Biblical solace without ever wondering why she was there in the first place. As I wrote to him (receiving an immediate and everlasting non-response):

That's all quite comforting. Meanwhile, her relatives and husband or boyfriend (if she has one ) get to sit around wondering how many times she's been raped and to what other vile tortures she's being subjected. And she was put at risk by our own policy of allowing women closer and closer to the scene of combat. It's an insidious policy and your column might have dealt with it. A country that willingly puts its women in harm's way is suffering from some kind of horrible intellectual and spiritual decadence, especially when we know that the people we're up against are barbarians.

Such a thought seemed obvious, and I assumed it would be equally obvious to a conservative writer for a conservative publication. But nothing's obvious anymore. Perhaps I need to be deprogrammed for thinking that a woman is what a man goes to war for. He wants to protect her, not be protected by her. He wants to make the world safe for a woman's world: children, family, home. I know some of them turn out to be bitches, but every decent American male is looking for the queen of his universe. He wants to worship everything about her that makes her a woman, not admire her battle skills. Nothing is harder for him to think about than the idea that harm might come to her. It is his role in life to see that it doesn't. In spite of the obsessions of popular culture, he is not looking for Xena, Warrior Princess. He is looking for Guinevere, albeit one who will not dally with Lancelot. These truths are not arrived at through reason. They are prior to reason. They are in our nature and cannot be changed. And how do I know this? I simply think of the girl I married and ask what would become of me if she somehow found herself in Miss Johnson's place, and what I would think of myself for ever allowing it to happen, and to how many ends of the earth I'd be willing to travel to find the thugs who did to her what we all fear could be happening to Shoshawna Johnson right now.

No man doubts the bravery of any woman. She will lay her life down for her children, but I don't want her to lay it down for me. I watched my own wife go through childbirth. No thank you. But that's what a woman does, give birth, in one way or another, every day of her life, and a society that asks its lifebearers to protect it and die for it is a society that has lost a big battle, if not yet the war.

It's an interesting fact that during the first Gulf War Major Rhonda Cornum (sexually assaulted by her Iraqi captors) and Army Specialist Melissa Rathbun-Nealy were the first women POW's since Corregidor, where the Japanese captured some Army nurses in 1942. Things have changed hugely, and rapidly, and everyone seems to think it's fine. Except me. But don't worry; my kind is going extinct. The world will continue to progress in its obliteration of the only distinctions that make life worth living.

And for those who think our cause in this war is nothing to die or kill for, I'd ask you to take one more look at Miss Johnson's picture and ask if you'd be willing to shoot a few Iraqis to get her back safely. Would you lay your life down for this friend? She looks like she could use one right about now.

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