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G.I. Jessica: Shouting Down Lesser Heroes?Gerald L. Rowles, Ph.D.
June 17, 2003
What follows was originally written on April 6, 2003 - three days after the Washington Post published its wildly speculative and exploitive tabloid report on an incident involving Pfc. Jessica Lynch. I called into question the veracity of the Post story, which to this author appeared to be contrived by 'women-in-combat' activists. Now, some two months later, the Post has posted a lengthy retraction of sorts, but still clings to its original premise that Lynch was a heroic figure, leading the story with this: "Jessica Lynch, the most famous soldier of the Iraq war ..." (made so by the Post's contrived reporting), and in so doing diminishing the real combatant heroes while exploiting Pfc. Lynch. In fact, if anything can be believed of the Post's latest account, it appears that Pfc. Lynch was virtually the victim of a severe traffic accident, when Pfc. Lori Piestewa (another made-larger-than-life non-combatant heroine), the driver of their vehicle, lost control and slammed into an overturned trailer at possibly 50 mph. The column that follows was rejected for publication, most notably by a popular men's advocacy site and others saying "Now is not the time." It seems that truth and mythology were also on a collision course with 'timeliness'. (The column was not submitted to Toogood Reports at that time, regrettably so.)We can tell when a headline is shouting at us. It exploits words that have palpable impact. When used in headlines, words like 'torture', 'death', 'fierce', 'bloody', 'stabbed' literally grab us by the lump in our throat. So it was when the story broke that a female 19 y.o. petite blonde PFC had been captured and later rescued following an Iraqi ambush on the 507th supply company.
On Thursday, April 3rd the Washington Post primed the media onslaught with the grabber, "She was fighting to the death." Most all of the initial me-too stories were iterations of the Post story, leading with headlines that were invariably excerpts from that initial report.
"'Fighting to the death,' Lynch was shot, stabbed, 3 limbs broken," shouted the Tucson Citizen.
"Lynch kept firing until she ran out of ammo," yelled the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
"Rescued POW waged fierce gun battle to keep from being taken alive," cried the Minneapolis Star-Gazette.
"Jessica's bloody firefight," screamed The Australian.
"Shot and stabbed: how Jess kept fighting," roared the Daily Telegraph.
Later headlines attempted to raise the bar. "Jessica took awful beating," bellowed the New York Daily News. In a Hawkes Bay New Zealand news headline, they quizzically noted her military affiliation, "PFC Jessica Lynch fought like a trooper!" Agence France-Presse seemed to focus on her youth, "US teen soldier shot enemy."
|Announced 507th KIA:|
As the story has unfolded, it has become clear that almost all of the initial reports have been highly speculative, even though they may have appeared factual as a function of decibel levels alone. PFC Lynch probably wasn't stabbed by the enemy. An eyewitness says that she was slapped, back and forehand, at the hospital where she was held captive. She is most likely one of the few that survived the ambush; why, we don't know. She was probably shot at least once in the leg and once in the arm, which may account for two of the reported fractures. (We have subsequently learned that she was neither shot nor stabbed.) She may have shot at the enemy. She may have killed some of her attackers. She may have run out of ammunition. (Nor did she likely shoot at or kill anybody.)
Drowned out by all of the hyperbolic shouting was the fact that PFC Jessica Lynch was part of a supply convoy. Technically, Lynch and her cohort were non-combatants. Because of a wrong turn near the southern city of Nasiriyah, this support group wandered into an ambush. They shouldn't have been there.
But the real reason for all the shouting may have less to do with this young female enlistee's conflated heroism, and more to do with the agenda of the 'women-in-combat' advocates. Based on this singular incident, Anne Applebaum rather grandly "declared in The Washington Post that the argument over women in combat is over."
Mona Charon argues otherwise:
Pentagon studies have consistently found that only about 10 percent of the women in the military services would choose combat if they could. Studies at the military academies have found that women are far less likely to be interested in war fighting courses like strategy and tactics than their male counterparts. And more surveys than you can name have shown that women lag behind men in upper body strength, size and weight. Many women are not strong enough to carry a fallen comrade over her shoulder. Some cannot throw a grenade far enough to be safe from its explosion. Many become pregnant while in the service, eroding readiness.And there are other findings that argue definitively against women in combat, which seem aptly validated by the Jessica Lynch drama. Writing in this regard, Jon Dougherty gave the following illustration:
"For example, it is a common misperception that Israel allows women in combat units. In fact, women have been barred from combat in Israel since 1950, when a review of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War showed how harmful their presence could be. The study revealed that men tried to protect and assist women rather than continue their attack. As a result, they not only put their own lives in greater danger, but also jeopardized the survival of the entire unit. The study further revealed that unit morale was damaged when men saw women killed and maimed on the battlefield."Now that the initial orgiastic titillation of the Lynch incident is beginning to wane, perhaps we can look at its other aspects from the right end of the telescope; at its 'lesser' heroes.
Rescuing Private Lynch, as one headline profoundly phrased it, was a massive exercise. U.S. News reported that just in order that her rescuers might approach the location at which she was held, a contingent of marine combatants (whom we know were all male) were advanced in Nasiriyah as a diversionary tactic to preoccupy nearby Iraqi forces. Then "U.S. commandos (more males) in Blackhawk helicopters engag(ed) Iraqi forces on their way in and out of the medical compound." As the operation unfolded, "a Special Operations force (still more males) of Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and Air Force combat controllers touched down in blacked-out conditions. An AC-130 gunship, able to fire 1,800 rounds a minute from its 25mm cannon, circled overhead, as did a reconnaissance aircraft providing real-time overhead video imagery."
But before any of this climactic rescue episode could took place, there was yet another component. An Iraqi lawyer, known only as Mohammad, was visiting his wife whom was a nurse at the medical facility holding private Lynch. He became alarmed at the plight of the female soldier. He walked six miles to the nearest Marine checkpoint and alerted them to her presence, despite (or maybe because of) having witnessed a woman's body dragged through his neighborhood as her punishment merely for waving at a coalition helicopter. More incredibly, he complied with the Marines' request to return to the hospital to obtain critical information on the captors, their behavior and their surroundings. Mohammad walked through battles in the city streets for two straight days to get to back to the hospital. After the rescue was effected, he and his family were compelled to flee to the safety of a secure refugee location. Their home, car and all their remaining possessions were seized by Saddam's death squad.
It's safe to say that at least dozens, if not hundreds, of men put their lives on the line to rescue a female non-combatant soldier because she had been somewhere she wasn't supposed to be. The last time a (successful) prisoner of war rescue mission such as this occurred was when "Army Rangers freed more than 500 POWs from a Japanese prison camp (not hospital) near Cabanatuan in the Philippines in 1945."
So what was this all about? Has the military and the media made a knee-jerk attempt to put the cart before the horse? Will we discover that the military brass were covering their derrieres lest a female soldier be brutally tortured as countless males have been, or worse, sexually abused? Were the headline-making quotes attributed to unnamed 'U.S. officials' that sprang to international renown from the Washington Post, a diversionary tactic?
Well, we do know that dozens of male military careers have been unjustly and disproportionately extinguished by at least two decades of only fractionally-valid female allegations of abuse or harassment. And we know that contemporaneously, the Air Force Academy has had its male command staff decimated on the basis of less-than-founded female allegations of sexual abuse. From that and the G.I. Jessica legend, we are to conclude what? That female officer candidates can't fend off male sexual advances or 'remarks'; but a female PFC supply clerk can - at least briefly and ramboesquely - single-handedly outgun an advancing enemy, while suffering multiple wounds, even as her fellow soldiers were all mortally dispatched?
Let there be no doubt, PFC Jessica Lynch probably rose to the occassion, and likely performed beyond expectations, especially as a non-combatant. She undoubtedly suffered the painful consequences of human error in a terrible arena that yields little or no forgiveness for such misjudgments.
But don't forget, large numbers of her combat breathren, and at least one sister soldier (Pfc. Piestewa), paid the ultimate price.
The war in Iraq, a war against terror and of freedom for an oppressed nation, is an epic event in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Is it to be reduced to a mere recapitulation of the gender wars of the latter half of the twentieth century? Or is it an opportunity to rise above that destructive and divisive interlude?
Hopefully, given her experience both before and during her rescue, PFC Lynch will be the last person to want the voluntary and extraordinary heroic exploits of her combatant brethren to be diminished by an opportunistic agenda. Hopefully her first words will be, "Thanks guys." HUA?
Postscript: It has been reported that Pfc. Lynch is suffering from amnesia - a credible notion given the extent of her injuries - but also a convenient opportunity for the real story to remain untold. As one officer put it, "It took on a life of its own," ... "Reporters seem to be reporting on each other's information. The rescue turned into a Hollywood concept." Jessica Lynch is not a culprit, she truly is a victim - not as the result of the war time accident, she volunteered to go near harm's way - but because her persona was violated and exploited by the incredible greed and hubris of the gen-feminist Wehrmacht. And that truly is a hateful crime against her humanity, and that of the combatant male heroes whose names will go virtually unknown - Dowdy, Estrella-Soto, Kiehl, Mata, Sloan, and Walters - to all but their families, and God.
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