by iampunha | 6/11/2008 08:00:00 AM
When I wrote my Memorial Day letter, I wrote it so I wouldn't have to bother using gendered pronouns.

Women have been serving in combat roles and in support roles since we've had those roles. And before we had them, other countries had them. And before countries had them, tribes had them.

So it was only a matter of time before women were officially allowed increased function in the military. A matter of time before this country realized it could get women to serve in support roles and thus put more men on the front line. Only a matter of time before the leadership exercised in those support roles, where women came under fire and had the their fellow veterans' lives in their hands, was recognized.

So when I saw that June 11, 1970, was the date on which the first two American women officially became generals, that just told me I shouldn't look for any from any other day, because it wouldn't then be news. It would be "Oh, yes, she was promoted to general." Just like that.

And just like that, on June 11, 1970, Col. (Anna Mae) Hays became Gen. Hays, and Col. (Elizabeth P.) Hoisington became Gen. Hoisington.

For Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, drafted on this date in 1776 to write one of this nation's first "Yes, we can!" documents: the Declaration of Independence.

And for Lev Vygotsky, who could have been the 20th century's greatest psychologist but for a few bad breaks.

"I'm just as much a major as any other major. You'll notice these leaves come in gold, not pink for girls and blue for boys."

-Major Margaret Houlihan, M*A*S*H

There is today nothing remarkable about a woman enlisting in the military. Or, rather, there is nothing remarkable about such an act that is not also remarkable when a man does it. And I'd really like to know why I should care about — why I should oppose — the idea of a woman taking a bullet for me.

I'm pretty confident that I will find on this site no serious takers on that issue, because you and I care about the service itself, not the shape of the uniform or the pitch of the voice of the soldier.

But there are many people who are opposed to the idea of a woman serving, whether in a combat role or any other role. The reasons are many and various, and some of them even have some hint of legitimacy when tied to the eras that produced them. But in this era? Give me a fucking break. There are millions of women in this country who would make much better soldiers, snipers, pilots, linguists, doctors, spies and strategists than I would, and like hell I'm going to punish them just because they can (in theory) make babies and I can't. Like hell I'm going to compromise national security, my security, their security, someone else's security because — oh, no, then they won't be able to have 15 babies and send the male ones off to war.

In my argument for equality and military strength, I go so far as to say that not only should women be allowed in combat, they should have to do everything a man has to do in such a role. I have never understood the argument that if you're going to put a woman in a combat role, she's allowed to be weaker than the men. Screw that. Make the requirements blind to gender. That'll shut up the critics who say women can't do as much, aren't asked to do as much. And yes, it'll mean fewer women qualify, but it'll mean every soldier who qualifies for combat duty can perform at the same baseline.

Some of this combat-related talk does not apply so much to Hays and Hoisington, who were officers in the Army Nurse Corps. And the first female general in the U.S. Army Reserve was promoted just 12 years ago.

But every bit of it — every word I have writ, and many I have not — speaks to what women had to do before they were allowed to serve openly. So when I see people argue that women shouldn't be in combat roles because they can't do the job, I think, "Yes, they can":

Civil War graves hold a lot of secrets, among them (as has been demonstrated) occasional forensic evidence that women served in the ranks disguised as men. Considering that the armies on both sides totaled about 1.5 million soldiers, it would not be surprising at all to learn that several thousand of them, at least, were women.

When some intellectual troglodyte goes on about how women aren't strong enough, how they aren't tough enough, I say, "Yes, they are":

Besides those who fought in male disguise, hundreds of other women "soldiered" with a specific regiment as nurses and all-purpose helpers. Some drilled along with the soldiers and trained with weapons. All found themselves marching for days on end, camping in the field, subsisting on meager army chow, and enduring the vagaries of weather from extreme heat, drenching rain, and mud to sleet, frost, and snow, usually with inadequate clothing and shelter.

When curmudgeons talk about women like they are wilting flowers who can't handle rejection, I think, "Yes, they can":

Despite the physical strain involved, a large number of women are known to have served in the cavalry branches of the Union and the Confederate armies. Lizzie Compton reportedly served in the 11th Kentucky Cavalry in 1863, and later in the 125th Michigan Cavalry and a number of other regiments. A contemporary report stated that, "Seven or eight times she was discovered and mustered out of service, but immediately re-enlisted in another regiment."

And do we ever have stories of patriotism and gallant action born of this discrimination:

Malinda Blalock (a.k.a. Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock) enlisted in Co. F of the 26th North Carolina Infantry, posing as her husband's brother "Samuel." Her husband was William McKesson ("Keith") Blalock. Residents of a western North Carolina mountain region with strongly divided sentiments about secession and the Confederate cause. As a professed "Lincolnite," Keith often was pitted against friends and relatives.

Although a professed "Lincolnite," Keith was forced by community pressures into enlisting for the Confederacy. Malinda's sentiments originally were pro-South, but out of loyalty to her husband she planned to desert with him at the first opportunity, Somehow the circumstances never quite developed that would allow them to carry out their plan.

Keith and "Sam" fought together in three battles garbed in Confederate gray, until in March 1862 Malinda was wounded in the shoulder. Keith carried her to the surgeon's tent, and in process of removing the bullet the surgeon discovered that "Sam" was a woman. Keith pleaded with the surgeon not to expose her, but the surgeon agreed only to give Keith a short time to work out his next course of action.

Distraught about the probability of being separated from Malinda, Keith deliberately rubbed poison oak all over himself. By next morning his skin was blistered and swollen, and he had a high fever. Fearing that he had small pox, the physician confined him to his tent under guard to avoid a contagion. It was decided to give him an immediate medical discharge on April 20, 1862.

Malinda quickly informed the incredulous Colonel Zebulon Vance (later Governor of North Carolina and a U.S. Senator) that she was a woman. After a surgeon verified her claim, she was discharged on the same day. Keith and Malinda then slowly found their way home to the mountains of western North Carolina to recuperate.

Under constant threat of recall to Confederate service, Keith and Malinda became outlaws and embarked on a campaign as Federal partisans and guerrillas in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina and East Tennessee. They guided Union sympathizers and escaped Union prisoners through the mountains to safety in the North. Toward the end of the war they served as scouts and raiders with the 10th Michigan Cavalry.

Don't tell me women don't globally recognize the call to serve. Don't tell me they stayed away from the action.

Don't give me any of that malarkey. You know better. Don't tell me otherwise. You read those articles, you see those women who served.

And don't you come calling for a compromise. "OK," you say, "so maybe women served. But—"

But nothing. There is no compromise here. Women served. This is no middle ground. This is the ground we walk on. This is the ground they fought for. This is no middle ground. This is their service.

So let's take their service and remove that middle ground: the V for valiant, the R for respect and the C for courage. Put the I out in front and you get what should be the reaction of any former detractor to the news that women have just as much of a right to combat roles, just as much a stake in this American dream of ours.

What you get when the middle ground is removed, when the compromise yields to realize, is this:

I see.

(Crossposted at, and