Good morning, folks! Autumn is here on the high plains desert. The light even in late afternoon is looking paler and whiter, and a cold front blew in last night that demanded window-shutting and sweater-putting-on. Amazing! Well, at least some members of famille Historiann get some use out of winter through skiing. We still have a lot of warm, sunny afternoons to look forward to in September and October (and sometimes into November!)
The seasons change, but some things don’t apparently, so today I award a Whig of Illusory Progress to the New York Times for its proclamation that because of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, “G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier as War Evolves!” It’s a decent article, summarizing what people who study women in the military have been saying for at least the past thirty years: warfare has changed, and military technology demands a wider skill set than pure brawn, with evidence and interviews with people who have served in our current wars for the empire. Since the majority of today’s military is no longer a majority of infantry or combat positions, women are everywhere:
From Necessity, Opportunity [ed. note: this sub-head is worth a Whiggy of its own! Where have we heard this before?]
No one envisioned that Afghanistan and Iraq would elevate the status of women in the armed forces.
But the Iraq insurgency obliterated conventional battle lines. The fight was on every base and street corner, and as the conflict grew longer and more complicated, the all-volunteer military required more soldiers and a different approach to fighting. Commanders were forced to stretch gender boundaries, or in a few cases, erase them altogether.
. . . . . . . . .
War is different today, they say. Technology has changed the way some of these jobs are done, making them more mechanized and less strength-dependent. Warfare in Iraq involves a lot more driving than walking.
What is more, not all combat jobs are the same. Handling field artillery or working in Bradleys, for example, are jobs more suited to some women than light infantry duties, which can require carrying heavy packs for miles.
Yadda yadda yadda. Someone with more time than I have this morning can go find the same story written after the Gulf War in 1991, I am sure, not to mention the same narratives of women’s “empowerment” and “progress” through warfare that go all the way back to the Revolutionary War. I suppose this Whiggy has to be provisional, until we have evidence of the erasure of this kind of “progress” for women in the military when (or if?) the U.S. ever withdraws finally and completely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the postwar era (like all postwar eras) permits us all to forget the importance of women in this war, and to reimpose sex-segregation in the military.
Mark my words: the U.S. won’t give up on sex segregation in the military so easily and quietly as the officers quoted in the New York Times say they have, because military service, and in particular combat service, is the one thing that differentiates men from women citizens. Of course, this difference is for the most part theoretical, since the vast majority of Americans don’t in fact serve in the military, but a whole aircraft carrier’s worth of assumptions and privileges rests on this slender thread. There are very real and powerful reasons why Gore Vidal calls us “the United States of Amnesia.”