Women Warriors in the War on Terror

As of June 25th, 80 U.S. servicewomen have died in the Iraq War.  While this is only about two percent of all American military fatalities in the war to date, this figure  exceeds the total number of U.S. servicewomen killed in Korea, Vietnam and the First Gulf War combined… this according to the Public Broadcasting System.  

       The number of women deployed by Uncle Sam in Afghanistan and Iraq to date approaches 200,000.  Tammy Duckworth, the well-known Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs in action nearly three years ago, was quoted by the AP saying, “The American public is beginning to realize that women are playing an equal part in this war and that they are facing the same risks.”

       An essential role played by our women-warriors is searching Muslim women at checkpoints.  Many of these latter ladies wear a head-to-toe garment called a burka.  Searching these women is a very dangerous job, and not merely because such a search, even by another woman, is an insult to Muslim modesty.

       More significant is the use of burkas by both female and even some male suicide-bombers.  While women in general are treated as second-class citizens in Muslim countries, a tradition of recruiting them for suicide missions is well-established.  For example, in July 2006 the website “Jihad Watch” reported, “The Aksa Martyrs Brigades… recently established a secret military unit for female suicide bombers from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. ‘We have so far recruited 100 women for the new unit,’ [a spokeswoman] said as she sat next to several masked women who identified themselves as members of Fatah.” [http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/012184.php]

       If you are wondering what’s in it for women who are treated so poorly by their fundamentalist men, you’re not alone.  Researching this topic, I came across a blogger who asked, “Hey, do the Muslim female suicide bombers get 72 virgin men as a reward in heaven?”   A great question… and one that won’t be answered here.  The best I can do is note a video I saw, while in Israel studying counter-terrorism back in early June.  A captured suicide-bomber wanna-be had been badly burned in an earlier incident.  Her prospects for attracting a husband and leading a normal life were just about nil.  But other women portrayed as would-be-martyrs in the movie were actually attractive.  So you go figure.     One other item I can add is that women in that part of the world have a history of fierceness.  For instance, way back in 1868 a traveler to Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia), Dr. Henry Blanc, wrote in his book about being held hostage by that country’s king, “Theodore used guerilla raiding parties during his march… and prominent among them were his ‘Amazons.’  He had formed the strongest and hardiest of the women of his camp into a plundering band; he was much pleased with their bravery, and when one of them killed a petty chief… he was so delighted that he gave her a title of rank and presented her with one of his own pistols.”      Dr. Blanc makes those chicks sound pretty tough.  All the same, American womanhood takes no backseat.  Women have participated in every American war going back to the Revolution.  But they have never been tougher than today.  According to a 2006 U.S. Justice Department report, “While criminal violence among teenage boys today still far exceeds criminal violence among teenage girls, the gap is narrowing.  Twenty-five years ago, for every ten boys arrested for assault, there was only one girl. Now there are only four boys arrested for each girl arrested. Put simply, the official arrest data indicate that girls today assault people and get arrested more often than did the girls of generations past.”

       As recently as the Vietnam War, and perhaps even today, young men in trouble with the local authorities often were given a choice between criminal prosecution and enlistment.  This month the Army began accepting male volunteers as old as 42.  It’s likely that the recruiters will be snapping up those female teenaged-troublemakers referenced in the DOJ report.

       A virtual certainty is that, thanks to the War on Terror, Betsy Ross sewing an American flag for George Washington is about to be displaced as the dominant image of American women at war.



One Response to “Women Warriors in the War on Terror”

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