Slate has an excellent dialogue on Women in Combat. Stephanie Gutmann begins by making a point that I have been meaning to:

With their indiscriminate use of phrases like “died in combat” (when they really mean “died in a combat zone”) or “fighting for their country” (when they actually mean something like “supporting the war effort”), the news media have done an excellent job confusing the public about what exactly women do in the military these days. So, I hope you don’t mind, Debra, if I try to make clear what we’re going to be talking about.

Now, everybody but Debra, listen up! Women in the Air Force and Navy are currently allowed to pilot planes that engage in combat—by dropping bombs or by shooting at an enemy plane. They are allowed to serve on combat ships—which are used to launch cruise missiles and the aforementioned fighter planes. But in the Army and Marines, the services that supply the people who toil on the ground, women do not take combat jobs. In a combat position, as the Department of Defense puts it, a GI’s “primary goal is to engage, close with and [neutralize] … the enemy.” Pvt. Jessica Lynch, for instance, an Army supply clerk, had been trained to use a gun to defend herself and her unit if need be, but she wasn’t supposed to go around proactively “engaging” the enemy (and, of course, she didn’t).

This is an uncomfortable thing, given the harrowing circumstances that PFC Jessica Lynch endured. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to say, with no evidence whatever other than my experience, that I do not believe that she engaged in a firefight with Iraqi soldiers in some sort of Shootout at the OK Corale. Not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a supply clerk.

The rest of the piece is interesting and, presumably, will expand for a couple of days as the authors write back and forth.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Arnie says:

    I’m willing to place bets that there will eventually be a movie based on Jessica Lynch, where Lynch will be portrayed as a gung ho female commando (a la Sigourney Weaver’s Alien) who blows half of Iraq off the map using nothing more than a Beretta, while she Jijitsu’s the other half of Iraq (a la Matrix) before finally being captured as a result of being betrayed by her lover, an evil U.S. Marine who sold out to our dear friend Saddam for a pack of cigarettes.

    But I could be wrong, and Hollywood might make an honest movie on the life of a female soldier.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Indeed! Hell, that actually sounds like a pretty good movie. If they get Jennifer Garner to play Lynch, I might even go see it. . .

  3. Kathy K says:

    I’d go see it too.

    But I’m willing to bet that she did engage in a firefight (assuming she wasn’t unconscious or something). Not because she’s a supply clerk but because she was a woman with a gun facing possible capture by the Iraqi regime.

  4. Pam B. says:

    The real issue is that Private Lynch has been exploited, regardless of the actual events of her “rescue”. A young 19-year-old girl with her entire life in front of her has, and continues to be exploited globally. Yes, the issue of this administration “making something up” is troubling; however, it should not surpise anyone. George W. Bush has used any opportunity possible to enhance his personal image and agenda. His ridiculous “landing stunt”, which cost the tax payers millions, is indicative of what type of person he truly is. I feel for Jessica Lynch; I feel for the innocent Iraqi people who lost their lived, and for their loved ones who lost those so dear to them; I feel for Americans who lost their lives, and their loved ones that must cope with their losses. The real sorrow in this story is that someone could go to such lengths to exploit an individual, or the entire tradgedy in Iraq,with the sole goal being to enhance one’s image and feed one’s ego. George W. Bush should be ashamed. For whether the rescue the world saw is factual or not does not matter in comparison to the the life of Jessica Lynch. This young life has been exploited, regardless of “the truth”. Yes, I, as an American, want to know the truth; however, I care much more for the future life of this young woman. George W. Bush has lied to Americans, the UN, and the entire world regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. He sold the entire war to our Congress based on “concrete evidence”, which anyone with common sense now knows was a lie. Therefore, if this tradgedy is a lie, it would not surprise me, nor should it surprise anyone. It only furthers my disgust of a man who has no conscience, and one who runs his entire life based on pure “SELF=WILL” – at the expense of anyone and everyone.

  5. Ken says:

    Well it’s interesting to note that by exercising “common sense” one can determine the truth without any actual first hand knowledge. So I guess if we’d all just continually engross ourselves in liberal political views we’d all have a much better handle on the “truth” as you apparently have. Apparently you have now, with great certainty, ascertained that those in top positions in our government are conspiring to fool lil ole you, just so you’ll cast your one lil old vote for them next election. Wow, what insight! Funny how none of the rest of us who, by the way, are the majority of Americans, and don’t engross ourselves in liberal garbage press, can see and recognize this fantastic conspiracy. Of course, there is a possibility that it doesn’t exist, but then, you’d know, since you have such a large handle on the “truth”.

    I would submit to you that you actually have absolutely NO first hand knowledge of the things you write about, and therefore you wouldn’t know if they were true or not! What you obviously do is spend a lot of time reading liberal press articles that blast the current administration- for obvious good reasons- namely to unseat them in the next election- that’s what politicians do! (How’s that for common sense?) And you believe every negative thing you read about the President or staff must be “true” because it’s of your political flavor! If people are telling lies, it’s because they’re people, and people have been bending the truth in every conceivable way, for every conceivable reason since the beginning of time. And not because they’re associated with a particular political party. Now there’s a truth you can hang your hat on!!!