It’s ten years Since the United States invaded Iraq on the pretext they were building up weapons of mass destruction (I always wonder how we can tell other countries they can’t have what we already have—but that’s another story). The media’s making a big hullabaloo about this dubious anniversary; every day brings more news about terrible deeds committed in our name that most of us knew nothing about, as well as various “human interest stories” about the troops and their activities. I’ve had to turn off the media—if it isn’t Democracy Now with its grisly photos of children born with previously unseen, unnamed anomalies from the toxic chemicals left behind, it’s NPR’s tales of veterans shooting up the neighborhood due to Post Traumatic Stress that the military health care system refuses to treat. I don’t feel good “burying my head in the sand” but hey, I have enough tragedy in my life, and adding global tragedy just plunges me deeper into helpless depression. Which does nobody any good.
Of course I also get enraged, and as Marge Piercy noted in her poem “A Just Anger”: “A good anger acted upon/is beautiful as lightning/and swift with power.” (From her collection Circles on the Water.) Mostly all I do with my just anger is yell back at the radio to the stories of military women being raped by their own comrades, or even, sometimes, having their kids taken away by hubbies who accuse them of child neglect for marching into the desert instead of staying home like a good mother. That last is a real bitch, isn’t it? Of course, anyone who’d paid attention could have seen it coming. Guess we weren’t paying attention.
The rapes seem to have multiplied since female soldiers were permitted to go into combat. I don’t follow the goings-on of the army and navy et al, so I’d never known or even wondered what women were doing there in the first place, but I’m sure it was more than just paperwork. In any case, rape certainly could have been predicted; it’s bound to increase every time women are granted some new “right” or “privilege.” Why do I use quotation marks here? Because, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a snotty sarcastic critic who, if given the choice, wouldn’t put women or men into the military at all. Yeah yeah, we need some level of defense so we’d have to have some kind of organization, but nothing like the behemoth in existence today. I was one of the 1970’s consciousness-raising, Fifth-Avenue-marching, hootin’ and hollerin’ Liberation Women. Two of the many assumptions we made were (1) the structure of the nuclear family was unhealthy and should be changed; and (2) the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned against had become too powerful and had to be minimized. Thus, when the gay movement’s platform became focused on the “right” to enter these institutions, and feminists who don’t call themselves feminists (and come to think of it, they probably shouldn’t!) followed suit, I was appalled. As the years went by, my reaction shifted to bitterly amused. Please understand: I am not one of these anti-war-but- support-the-troops liberals. Much as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to figure out how that works. I still stand by Buffy St.-Marie’s portrait of the “Universal Soldier.”
But back to another universal—rape; in this case, rape within a hyper masculine culture. Is it accepted yet that rape is not a sexual act but an act of control, of exerting power over someone? I and those hootin’ ladies of liberation abovementioned posited and accepted this theory. Thus, men who are offended and insulted that women think they have the balls to do the ultimate man’s job of protecting the country—protecting, in fact, women and children—use rape as a tool to “prove” to these women just how wrong they are. With every thrust they are saying, “Back to the kitchen, bitch!” And, further, “You don’t belong here; I can easily control you; other men—the enemy—can control you exactly the same way, so go home to your husband and kids.” If this is the story, and I believe it is, then we have to ask ourselves, “What did we expect?” What did women, when they signed up for military duty, expect? Oh yeah—they were going to get some kind of vocational training. Learn self-discipline. Wear a cool uniform. Make money. Whatever. Any soldier, male or female, who is shocked that he or she ended up on a battlefield (and many are shocked) is seriously out of touch with reality.
NPR interviewed a woman who was devastated when she ended her tour of duty, went home, and realized she’d become “masculinized,” that the intense masculine aura of the military had strongly affected her personality. Again—WTF did she expect? Fathers want their sons to join the army to “make a man” out of them!
I don’t understand these women. I guess I just don’t understand the military state of mind at all, beginning with someone’s motives when joining, and ending with PTSS or masculinization or rape—all terrible, but still better than one of the alternatives. In that sense I guess I support the troops, in that I hope every soldier, sailor, marine, coast guard and air force member (did I get them all?) survives—but of course they don’t. Since time immemorial old men have been sending young men off to fight in wars that are usually about some kind of material gain disguised as honor and/or self-protection. (See, for instance, “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan.) (See also the article below, “Separating the War from the Warrior”–if feeling for this guy is what it means to support the troops, sign me up. It’s a heartfelt, honest, intense expression from a dying Iraq War veteran.)
Happy Tenth Anniversary, people. Hah!
- Iraq War: Ten years, ten questions (dailymaverick.co.za)
- Separating the “War” from the “Warrior” – A Dying Soldier’s Open Letter to former President Bush. (elephantjournal.com)