"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Sunday, September 24, 2006

N.Y. Times today

In addition to the SHOCKING revelation from U.S. intelligence agencies that the war in Iraq is helping to create new terrorists faster than we can kill them, there was a piece on women soldiers in Iraq serving in combat support units. The article tells the story of 23-year-old West Point graduate Lt. Emily J.T. Perez who died two weeks ago when a bomb detonated near the Humvee she was driving south of Bagdad. From the N.Y. Times:

Despite longstanding predictions that America would shudder to see its women coming home in coffins, Lieutenant Perez’s death, and those of the other women, the majority of whom died from hostile fire (the 65th died in a Baghdad car bombing a day later), have stirred no less — and no more — reaction at home than the nearly 2,900 male dead. The same can be said of the hundreds of wounded women.

There is no shortage of guesses as to why: Americans are no longer especially shocked by the idea of a woman’s violent death. Most don’t know how many women have fallen, or under what circumstances. Photographs of body bags and coffins are rarely seen. And nobody wants to kick up a fuss and risk insulting grieving families. (H&C Sandwich Blog author's note: Nobody, that is, except for Fred Phelps & gang, who have been so busy insulting families of the fallen that Congress responded with a law just for them, but it's generally accepted that the cheese has slid off Phelps' cracker.--E.)

“The public doesn’t seem concerned they are dying,” said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University who has closely studied national service. “They would rather have someone’s else daughter die than their son.”

What’s more, no one in the strained military is eager to engage in a debate about women and the risks they are taking in Iraq because, quite simply, the women are sorely needed in this modern-day insurgent conflict. As has happened many times in war, circumstances have outpaced arguments. They are sure to be taken up again at some point, only this time, the military will have real-life data on the performance of women in the field to supplant the hypotheticals.

Like most soldiers on the job, Lieutenant Perez, who will be buried at West Point on Tuesday, was focused on her mission, not on her groundbreaking role in a war that seems to have dispelled a litany of notions about women warriors.

For the first time, women by the thousands are on the ground and engaging the enemy in a war that has no front line, and little in the way of safe havens. In this 360-degree war, they are in the thick of it, hauling heavy equipment and expected to shoot and defend themselves and others from an enemy that is all around them. They are driving huge rigs down treacherous roads, frisking Iraqi women at dangerous checkpoints, handling gun turrets personnel carriers and providing cover for other soldiers.

Along with the article are links to profiles of the 65 U.S. military women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. (This link may require a NY Times Online account...it's free though if you don't have one.)

I also found this website with profiles of all the U.S. military personnel who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. To date, 3009 names are listed here.

Then there are those civilians. Problem is that they are much harder to count and less interest in counting. Total is estimated somewhere between 43,000 and 48,000 according to the website "Iraq Body Count."

While I don't see anything inherently more tragic in the death of one gender over another, perhaps the American people aren't being given much of an opportunity to decide whether they are especially upset about women vs men casualties since dead soldiers aren't getting much TV time. If I'm wrong about this (since I rarely watch TV news), please correct me. I've been seeing just enough TV to catch a few of the Army recruiting ads. I think at least there should be a quick disclaimer at the end of the ads, like pharmaceutical ads are required to do: "May cause premature death, or injuries requiring lifetime medical care that may or may not be covered by the V.A."

One thing that occurs to me looking at the names and faces of so many of these soldiers is that a lot of kids are paying for college with life and limb, and ya know, college was helpful but not necessarily literally worth a life or an arm and a leg as far as I can tell. I'll never whine about my student loans again.

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