Thursday, June 23, 2005

MilitaryWeek.com: Karen Kwiatkowski: Without Reservation

from MilitaryWeek.com


Without Reservation

A biweekly column by Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D., Lt. Col. USAF (ret.)

Women at War


Militaryweek.com recently spotlighted "Women at War." This eye-opening collection of news reporting reminds us that we have both men and women on foreign battlefields that have "no rear battle areas, no forward line of troops."

Our Congress may debate what constitutes "combat," yet generally agrees that military work in occupying a country, dealing with nationalist insurgencies, and nation-building – whether performed by low-paid servicemembers or contractors at $250K a year – is in fact combat and combat support.

American liberals and neo-conservatives alike often perceive women in combat and combat support positions as a natural extension of the Civil Rights movement, a glowing example of the success of the feminist movement in America.

Interestingly, Christian traditionalists and political conservatives, who typically hold the line on both just war and the proper role of women in society, find themselves presented with a born-again President and a neo-conservative administration that embraces neither.

Images of women dead, dying, and permanently scarred by their battlefield experiences – most recently and most extremely in the American experiments in Iraq and Afghanistan – tend to jar us from our slumber back home. Dreams of an American-sponsored "liberation" are rudely broken when we watch our mothers and sisters buried, or embrace them while trying to ignore their missing limbs or faces.

The ongoing experience of women at war, in particular in Iraq and Afghanistan, should do more than tug at our heartstrings. It should launch new conversations among U.S. citizens and taxpayers.

We have been told by our government and the White House that America is fighting for democracy and "the vote" for all women in Iraq and Afghanistan. We ought to consider the present day lives of women who voted, managed shops, and worked in factories, government and academia under Saddam Hussein's atheistic national socialist program. Since 2003, this life for many consists of an unaccustomed veil, fear of rape and abuse in the absence of law enforcement, and female joblessness in the "new state" of Iraq that features an almost unfathomable national unemployment rate of 70%.

While conservative Americans like me don't approve of socialist dictatorships, we've delivered little to commend us to Iraq's women, who vividly remember a very different existence only a few short years ago.

We have been told that we toppled the Taliban in order to rip the hated burkha from Afghanistan's oppressed women. Yet, Afghan women continue to struggle, and the return to clan competition and political insecurity in Afghanistan has made their lot an extremely dangerous one. It's not just increased poppy production that ought to have the do-gooders in Washington worried.

American interference with Afghanistan may be producing pipelines and permanent basing, but it isn't observed to be helping Afghan women.

Amnesty International was all good back in 2002 when their reports were used by the administration to help justify a preemptive invasion and a nascent occupation of Iraq. However, when Amnesty International reporting doesn't support the Washington agenda, the White House playbook says to discount it entirely, and attack it as a terrorist tool. But the organization is at least as useful as it was in 2002, and we need to view the situation in Afghanistan without our neo-conservative sunglasses and petroleum-based sunscreen.

The news regarding women in the American military also reminds us of the ongoing and increasingly serious recruiting challenges faced by the Defense Department. To meet the shortfall, the Pentagon has relaxed entry requirement relating to drug and alcohol abuse, educational levels, age, physical fitness, parenthood, and offered shorter enlistment terms. In short, we are recruiting and creating a less capable military. Increased use of women in the military, in all types of positions, is wholly predictable, but not wholly good.

We may be amazed at the lies told by Washington on the way to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We may be mystified at the May 2005 Downing Street Memo and stunned at how it fails to interest our incurious pork-barreling Congress and a populace pre-occupied with a 1970s "Deep Throat" and a 1980s Michael Jackson.

However, we would do well to pay attention to Washington's global defensive/offensive program and its reliance on women – both as soldiers in our own military and as easy excuses to "spread democracy" abroad.

Time Magazine's 2002 "man" of the year award went to three female whistleblowers, who each faced retaliation at the hands of large government-linked companies or the government itself. Females like government-gagged Sibel Edmonds, and yours truly, among others, also fall into the category of women who have served, spoken out and who are then systematically denigrated by government spokespersons and government-allied media.

This exposure of women – at war, under occupation, and in the loyal opposition – says something important about the state of American government, and perhaps our society.

I'm no feminist, and never have been. But if I see a pedestal, I'd rather a live woman be standing on it instead of a marble government monument to her survivors – a footnote to some costly but forgotten political misadventure.

Washington, that strange collusion of liberals, neo-conservatives and the Christian right, seems to believe that women at home and abroad are simply expendable. For some politicians, this may be feminism in action; for others, it is payback for the feminist movement.

We are still a few dead mothers and sisters short of a political day of reckoning, whether in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or here in the United States. But that day is coming.


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