A Little Feminist Reminder for Memorial Day

It took me a while to think of a Memorial Day post for this blog, for the simple reason that women are not allowed to take on combatant roles in the US military.

But that does not mean that women do not die in wars.  It does not mean that women have not fought for this country and sacrificed for this country.  It does not mean that women do not deserve to be honored and remembered this memorial day.

Tomorrow, there will be parades and speeches.  People will gather to remember the men who died in combat.  Veterans (also men) will make an appearance, and they will remember the men who fought alongside them.  People will cry, and people will applaud these men, and they absolutely deserve it.  The men who fight in our wars deserve our deepest gratitude, and the families who have lost sons deserve our deepest sympathies.

Obviously, men account for more of the fatalities and casualties in any given war.  There are simply more men in the armed forces, and since women are not allowed on the front lines, men are at a greater risk.  This post is in NO WAY meant to dishonor their sacrifice or their bravery, or to downplay the incredible price in human lives that America has paid.

But this post IS intended to honor the women who ARE or HAVE BEEN involved in the wars that America has fought.  They deserve to be remembered.  Their deaths should mean something to us.  To forget their sacrifice is a disservice to them, to their families, and to the values that they stood for.

In a previous post about women and the war memorials in Washington DC, I shared my research about the way that we codify gender values in our memorialization of war by differentiating between men and women and by largely leaving women out of the war memorials.  It is almost as if women’s sacrifices during wartime do not matter at all in the United States; their deaths do not mean as much as those of our men in uniform.

If one were to do a little research, one might discover that women do pay part of the price in wartime.  During the Vietnam war, there were 8 women who were recorded as casualties, but this does not account for any of the women nurses who might have died for one reason or another during the war (and there were many, many female nurses serving in Vietnam).  This is not really the place where I really want to get into how we value the use of force and military service over nursing, but this is something to keep in mind.  The Vietnam War Memorial in DC only lists 7 women’s names, and ignores the sacrifice of any other women who we lost over the course of that campaign.

Of course, it does not stop there. Women may make up a statistically less significant proportion of the military forces we have on the ground, but the women who are there today are at risk and sometimes do pay a price.  Over 300 servicewomen died in WWI; over 500 perished during WWII.   17 women died in Korea and 16 during the first Gulf War. (Source available here)  The numbers may not be as significant as those assigned to men, but their lives were no less important.  Women make up about 16% of the forces on the ground in Iraq/Afghanistan, but account for 2.4% of all fatalities between the two theaters.  The Iraq War had the HIGHEST female fatality rate of any war in US history (Source:CNN).

And don’t think that death alone is the only price that people pay in wartime.  As of 2008 (I had trouble finding more recent statistics, but assume the numbers have risen), the Army had at least 533 women wounded in action (WIA) in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Marines had 41 WIA and the Air Force had 47 WIA (Source available here).  We have had women go missing in action, women who needed amputations, women who got sick and needed to be hospitalized…the list goes on.  Just because women have not been allowed on the front lines does not mean that women have not sacrificed for the USA.

On top of that (sorry, I’m going to bring this up here), remember that during any war, there is a battle being fought on the home front-~-a battle to maintain some normalcy, to keep jobs filled and bills paid and children doing homework, a battle to make America a place worth coming back to when the fighting is done.  And we all know who is predominantly responsible for that.  And they aren’t getting any credit, either.

So tomorrow, when you’re eating hamburgers or watching parades, honor the men who fought on the front lines.  But honor the women who nursed them, the women who flew the helicopters, the women who were caught in car bombings; honor the hundreds of women who have been wounded or killed in America’s wars, who gave their time, separated themselves from their families and friends, and in some cases, paid the ultimate price.  And remember that it is not just our boys in uniform over there-~-it’s our girls in uniform, and our folks back home who make it all possible.

Thank you, both to our veterans and to those who never made it home.  Your sacrifice is not forgotten.

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~ by Randi Saunders on May 27, 2012.

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