A recent MSNBC.com article about the expanded role of women near the front lines of war drew a strong, spirited e-mail response. Many of the writers were members of the military — men and women who are serving or have served, some of them veterans of wars as far back as the 1950-53 Korean War. Many were pleased and proud to see military women getting some digital “ink,” though some expressed anger that the article gave space to a debate that, as one reader put it, was “archaic.” But the flood of emotion-laden mail suggested that indeed, the debate is very much alive. A sampling follows.
The March 25 story by MSNBC.com international reporter Kari Huus was spurred by video of POWs aired by Iraq television, including U.S. Army Spc. Shoshawna Johnson, the first woman listed as a POW in this conflict.
The article highlighted the fact that the public is seeing women in military roles closer to the front lines than ever before because of a 1994 legal change that opened up many military positions and units to them.
Since the posting of the story online, the dramatic rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, a colleague of Johnson and others ambushed when their convoy from the 507th Maintenance Company made a wrong turn in south-central Iraq, has been in the headlines. The fate of the others missing from the company is not yet certain.
Lynch’s story sparked another wave of e-mail — further testimony to the gut-level emotions the topic elicits.
Practical merits of women in war
I served with many women in the USAF from 1992 to 1996 and I would have no problem fighting side by side with them. The old school may say it hurts morale. On the contrary, what hurts morale is living in the past and propagating old stereotypes. Women can fight and women have a “sense” that many men do not have that would be useful in combat situations. — Robert F. Davis
(W)omen have fought for our country from its inception and continue to distinguish themselves in every role open to them in the military. Do women have a role in the military? Ask General Meyers. He will tell you we cannot fight a war without women. It cannot be done. — Mary Wamsley, Denver
I believe the best thing to do is not have women deployed to Iraq in the first place. The problem that is going on now is we downsized our military and brought in more women. That to me shows we have weakened it with all these liberal policies the left wing has imposed on us. — John Walsh, SFC U.S. Army, Retired.
I find it quite sad and hypocritical that so many want to protect women from the dangers of combat, but at the same time consider it the “duty” of men. It’s all or nothing: Either we should oppose sending troops to Iraq or we should support it. But a double standard, like most double standards, just winds up hurting members of both genders. — Brian Gillin
Both men and women are God’s creations, equal in creative worth, different in every other way. This is an example of what happens when the lines of irrefutable distinction are crossed and it is a sickening catastrophe. — Michael Hawley, school teacher
Women have fought hard for equality. They want the same pay for the same job. That means across the board they must be treated exactly as men in matters of work. Military work is not an exception. There can be no exceptions...
We cannot let the few whiners ruin the opportunities that the women who are on the front line have procured. — Jarod Hawks
Bravery and courage comes in many sizes, shapes and colors. Those who want to serve should be able to ... and those who do not want to serve but still support America and its people can always stay home and show their support in many other ways. — Richard W. Hobbs, Vietnam veteran
On POW torture/sexual assault
If the argument is that women would suffer more as POWs, I think the opposite is really true. Women can endure childbirth, supposedly the most painful human experience, and men can’t, so I’d think they could handle whatever the enemy has to dish out. — Katrina Weibel, Austin, Texas
The attitudes that some hold against women in combat infuriate me. As rightly pointed out, women and men are equally vulnerable to the dangers of war, e.g. mistreatment, both sexual and physical, by captors, but women obviously have the same mental capacities to withstand war, hardship, combat and even torture. In some cases, they may even be better equipped to withstand hardship due to the inferior position women hold in society and especially in the military. — Kara Keenan
I do agree with the fact that women should be able to be in the military in almost any job. But I also think that we as women should not be on the front lines in combat just for the simple fact that if we are taken prisoners of war, we are at far more risk because of the fact that we are women. — Rebecca Bloomfield
It is remarkable that a society that is rightfully concerned about domestic violence against women seems determined to place those same women in a hellish environment like warfare. — Gary Larimer, Atlanta
One thing you failed to mention is the fact that only men are required to register with Selective Service. If women are going to have the privilege of serving in practically any position they want in the armed forces, then shouldn’t they also be required to register with Selective Service? ... If women are going to have the privilege of having every door open for them in the military, including combat roles, then shouldn’t they also have same responsibilities as men? That is, registering with Selective Service. — Vincent Bost
The current rape scandal at the Air Force Academy leads me to wonder how, if none of 56 alleged victims could even fight off their fellow cadets (and these women are top athletes), how they would resist against enemy troops. We cannot stay in denial regarding the physical differences, nor can we ignore the fact that Mother Nature does not take orders very well when we place men and women together in close quarters. There should be no debate — we need to restore physical standards and go back to single gender combat units — period. — Mike Cohen, Vietnam veteran
Training in question
My contention is that a woman or any other soldier, male or female, that is in a “support” role, such as Pfc. Johnson and the others with the Maintenance Company who were captured, has not received the proper and intensive combat training that they should have received prior to being put in harm’s way. — Jimmy Lemon, former Marine infantryman and Army special operations forces soldier
The true issue is not that there are and have been women serving proudly and well for years. The true issue is that we are sending inexperienced kids off to war — an average age was reported at 21.
I enlisted at 23 — at that age, at least I knew I didn’t know everything and had developed a sense of respect for experience. Back then, we still had crusty old Vietnam sergeants to teach us if we were willing to learn. Who is training today’s troops? — Gretchen Youngdahl, Captain, U.S. Army
For some of these men and women captured in Iraq, they were never trained on how to handle being a POW. There are some schools that are offered to the elite groups ... where they specifically train you to handle most of the POW situations. — Unsigned, former infantryman, airborne division
Why discuss this?
I’m sorry that your story merely rakes up old issues and deprives Spc. Johnson of her earned status as a soldier. No, now she’s a female, who happens to be in the Army. — Jeanie Decker MSgt, U.S. Air Force, Retired.
I was incensed that women have come so far only to be take a step backward as those who sit in chairs make decisions to again take women out of combat roles. I am an Army reservist who served on active duty and find these opinions about women and their ability to handle combat or captivity as a POW any better or worse than a man archaic. — Cathy Carman, Orlando, Fla.