Women, Feminism and Fear Part 4

Dear Nancy:

One of the things I learned when researching this book was that the number of women who served in uniform in Vietnam was twice the number of the guys who went to jail for draft resistance (by which I don’t mean a couple of hours or overnight in a cell). Add in the thousands of women who went as Red Cross or contractors, and there’s no comparison. I think a lot of people have a lot of regrets about what they did in that war; the people I’ve met who were most at peace were those who served honorably and those who paid a serious price, rather than serve in a war they believed was wrong. (Regardless of what they thought about the war or the protest movement.)

I think the baby boom generation will go to its grave arguing about Vietnam, and I think part of that argument is that a lot of people regret they did not serve, even though they knew it was a bad war. You would know more about this than I, but I signed a book for a woman who’d been a Red Cross volunteer for two years, up with the infantry, as close to the front as she could get. She said that if it hadn’t been for the imputations of lesbianism, she would have volunteered, and greatly regretted that she had allowed herself to be put off by the lesbian-baiting, even though she thought, and still thought, the war was wrong.

To a significant extent, I think this issue haunted the whole issue of women in the military: it wasn’t lost on the leadership of the organized feminist movement that many servicewomen would have been more likely to volunteer for Vietnam than protest it. Probably many of those men on the right who never lost a chance to bash servicewomen understood the same.

More largely, I think you are right. Somehow, feminism evolved from seeking to share in the world, where responsibility for it was understood—the only issue was a fair distribution of rights as well as responsibilities, benefits as well as risks—to what it became at the end. Gimme-gimme-gimme and manhating and hissy-fitting. (I spent a lot of time at the end being called a lot of very nasty names for saying the military and defense and foreign policy are important to women as citizens, and if good people, including feminist women, aren’t part of these processes and institutions—they won’t be there, and that is a bad thing for the good people, including women, who have to live with those policies.)

And I think a large part of it was an attempt by the political, organized feminist movement to escape the responsibility of guaranteeing the survival of the Republic they wanted to uphold women’s rights. I understand how this happened, and why. I’m not sure, given the corrosive effect Vietnam, the Protest Movement, and all those who ended up supporting a very bad war as a way of being against many of the protestors, had on our political climate, it could have been otherwise. But it made things much more difficult than they had to be. It made it more difficult for serious women to be taken seriously, on any issue.

Forgive me, please, if I am treading on corns: it wasn’t my war, so this is not raw to me. I know many people to whom it is, but that was 35 years ago and whatever my personal beliefs, we cannot simply cannot allow our nation to be held hostage to that past any longer. We desperately need a revitalized “left” or “liberal” or “progressive” movement, although none of these words mean much any more. We desperately need a revived concept of citizenship, led, because I believe it cannot be otherwise, by a revived feminism that embraces our responsibility for creation, protection, and defense of the Republic.

Best,
Erin

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