Here you will find some of the pieces that I either like or consider important. For example, three articles, “The Lionesses of Iraq,” (The Seattle Weekly), “All the Sisters and All the Brothers…” (Proceedings of the US Naval Institute) and “Might Does Not Make Right” (The Marine Corps Gazette) were folded into Women in the Line of Fire. To my knoweldge, “The Lionesses of Iraq” was the first in-depth piece to cover the changing roles of servicewomen in Iraq, while “All the Sisters and All the Brothers…” and “Might Does Not Make Right” are the first articles dealing with the “lessons learned” in professional military journals. When a feminist press publishes a book that draws upon articles printed in a liberal city paper and two very good professional military journals; when Army ROTC and Women’s Studies jointly sponsor the author to speak about women in the military at a liberal university; and arrange sponsorship for her partner to speak on military service as an inherent part of citizenship at that same university: you know something is changing, for the better.
As for reporting two wars, after an initial flush of rage after 9/11, I never thought the Iraq war was a good idea for two reasons. The first is that I can count brigades and read a budget, and know the difference between what’s there and what isn’t. The second is that you can’t force people to be free. But, despite an early association with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a Beltway/academic group, I didn’t join the anti-war movement, for the simple reason that there was no movement to join. Too much of what passed for anti-war sentiment in those early years was frankly unpatriotic and deeply unserious. I think a lot of Americans shared, and share, these sentiments.
However, I do know what I saw. The vast majority of American servicemen and women treated the Iraqis and Afghans with respect, compassion and restraint. The vast majority hoped, perhaps still hope, to find a way to leave those countries better than they found them. “It breaks your heart,” was the phrase I heard most often when American men discussed how Iraqis and Afghans treated each other, and especially how the men treated the women. Want to turn an American GI into a feminist? Let him watch the brutalities for a while. Then let him look at his sisters in arms.
At the moment, Iraq is disintegrating. The violence in Afghanistan has been upgraded from a few criminals, dead-enders and extremists to “insurgency.” We’ve been down this road before. What next?
It is not the responsibility of those of us who thought the administration’s agenda unworkable, to find ways of making it work now. Nor can we just wait and hope that the courage and skill and dedication of the Americans over there will somehow redeem a fatally flawed strategy. What matters now is to reaffirm that, despite (mercifully rare atrocities like Haditha), that courage and skill and dedication—and humanity—were real.
For we live in times that will only be increasingly dangerous.
I have always considered myself a radical feminist, in the literal sense of the word “radical”—going to the root, and for that reason, I’ve become radically discontented with what organized feminism is now: self-obsessed, hissy, huffy, and ever more removed from the real lives of women, and of nations. Especially regarding the usual-suspect-feminist attitude toward the military. Women should have the right to serve, feminists avowed. When I said women (and men) should serve because freedom and equality must be defended, I was called, loudly, ethusiastically, and often, a variety of names that I don’t feel the need to repeat. (I didn’t take a fraction of the abuse from military men.) So I’ve decided that it’s time for a new civic feminism, which is really a return of feminism to its roots as the quest for the equal human and civic worth of women. This is not only about the right to enjoy civilization, but the right and responsibility to create it, preserve it, and defend it together with men, as public and private equals. And it is this civic feminism that American women, once they embrace it and live it, can offer to the women of the world.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, I discovered—something else the media have totally missed—that the sight of GI Jane, armed, modest, competent, and accepted by her male comrades, could have a profound effect on Islamic women. For some, it was their first glimpse of women’s freedom. I do not mean that they wanted to be soldiers, or wanted that for their daughters, or even that they welcomed Americans. I mean that, perhaps for the first time, they saw that it was possible to live differently. And so many of the world’s women need to live differently.
But women’s equality requires what I’ve come to think of as an enabling “civic triad.” Women need to be educated. Women need to have remunerative, respected work. And women need to be able to defend themselves, their families, their communities, and their polities. Only then will they be able to participate as full citizens in the governance of their worlds.
Usual-suspect feminism accepts the first two legs of the triad. But…guns? Military service? Violence? Haven’t women always been the victims of these things? Yes. But if there’s one thing the women of this planet don’t need any more of, it’s victim status. If there’s one thing women don’t need to be and shouldn’t be, it’s victims.