Thursday, December 23, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front vs War

Here I am reading something with cultural value again!  I feel relieved I can still appreciate a good novel, currently I'm almost done with All Quiet on the Western Front and feel like a very interesting literature analysis could be done with comparison to all the myths about women in the Infantry.  I recently scratched together some interesting theories, but had to take a break from the computer to cure some classic burn-out.  I will have to be very careful of that in my career, it is quite frequent I hear.  I came up with some interesting ideas though in conversation and while reading and I couldn't help but think of my recent reading of Sebastian Junger's book, War.

So on women in the Infantry.  And yes I mean combat units in general, but I prefer to focus on the Infantry because that's the classic case.  What are the differences between men and women?  We are built differently that is certainly true, down to our structural design there are huge differences.  A couples examples: men have quicker reflexes, and women have a keener sense of smell.  Culturally, there are different expectations of us.  I believe a big part of it is the natural role of motherhood, and I only mean in the scientific sense of furthering a species to avoid much larger arguments.  Women who are able, can get pregnant in a limited portion of their lives and when they are pregnant face at least a few months of vulnerability.  In the past there were less chances of a successful birth and there were higher birth rates in many modern developed countries.   Thus, a life devoted to bearing and raising children was noble and expected and in truth bettered society.  Protecting your women was protecting a valuable resource.  This extends to protecting women and children.

However, with modern medicine, more women choose to and can put off bearing children.  These women have proven in athletic and corporate fields that with more freedom they can prove prowess outside of the domestic realm.  When not vulnerable in pregnancy, women are just as competent in many fields once reserved to men.  In intellectual fields I don't see any impairment from any stage of pregnancy, in jobs that require physical work, it has been proven that maintaining physical fitness in the early stages of pregnancy is actually better than previously believed, but there comes a stage and time when one must decrease rough physical activity.  And having never had a child, I admit I am in no way qualified to speak for any of these statements, only what I gather from sweeping and light research.

However, how this all goes back to my argument for women in combat, is that old concerns with child-bearing age and child-birth limited women in some ways, and any inspection of just a half century ago reveals instructions regarding and directed to women that are in so many ways laughable today.  Women are fast increasing the athletic levels at which they perform just check this out --> and I think this only goes to further my point.  While I am a little skeptical of smaller-framed, generally having higher body fat percentage women outperforming men, I do believe the differences in our muscular build are insignificant in the field.  Perhaps this would only hold true for a lesser percentage of women, but some nonetheless.  So if we instituted appropriate physical requirements for branches and held both men and women to that standard, we could easily counter the ever-present concern that women are not physically as qualified for combat.

In regard to social and psychological the argument is thicker but it is here that I feel even more strongly.  This is where I think it would be useful for someone to run a literature analysis on All Quiet on the Western Front or another WWI or WWII novel.  Anything that describes harrowing war.  I have been thinking hard in each scene about whether a woman could handle this.  All this talk today about the "nature of war" being the same as it was in the past.  I read some gory lines about men running on the stumps of legs or the constant shelling and the trench warfare launching attacks and counterattacks.  I compare this to recently having read War by Sebastian Junger, and I feel like our war is much less intense and much less maddening than that war.  And this is a good thing, isn't it?  How can a man tell me the nature of war is still the same?  When I look at these two books I feel like that is impossible.  And how can a man tell me I could not handle this based merely on the fact that I am a woman?  There is many a man in All Quiet on the Western Front who fails mid-battle.  Many a recruit that freezes up and dies.  Who is to say that would be any worse for a woman if women weren't confined to the medical professions during that war?  And it is not as though those women didn't see their share of macabre and gruesome.  It is interesting in Chapter Ten the main character, Paul Bäumer, is embarrassed to ask a young nurse where to go to take a piss, because she is young and crisp and clean and „wonderful and sweet“.  But a little while later they all get over their embarrassment and are clear with both functions with this nurse.  Was there a catastrophe?  Was anyone raped?  No.  These professionals dealt with it accordingly and the woman was hardly flustered with these so called private and embarrassing functions.

A man once told me that it would be difficult for a man such as himself to be in what was described to me as a few day long observation patrol with a woman because the men must take all their waste with them and he insinuated that included crapping in a bag and having to hold the bag for a buddy.  I nodded but didn't really understand.  If a nurse might have to do that in a field hospital, or a mother has changed the diaper of a baby, what woman can't handle the sight or sound of shit?  And then this man went further to say that women sometimes had that - you know - problem?  He was referring to menstruation.  Oh dear, well I explained to him that was only a little extra trash... but he was highly uncomfortable with the idea.  Why should women be barred from positions because he has the opposite gender on a pedestal?  Just make some distinctions buddy.  There is your wife, and you can believe whatever you like about her that she doesn't so much as fart.  And there is the man or woman you work with.  In war there will be things that pass that would be shameful in peacetime society, but there remains professionalism and there remains the profession of Soldiers:  that is to win our nation's wars.

I have so much more to say on the subject, but this has been gnawing at me for some time and I needed to at least begin to try to explain myself.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Cadet Leadership Development System

So oddly enough when you google search "Cadet Leadership Development System joke" no huge flow of jokes, comments, or tirades ensues.  I wonder if this means that I will be in twenty years lauding the system I currently despise.  It's this idea that somehow you're cadet job does more leadership development than the mere interference it runs with your day to day life.  I mean I get it, this is life, right?  Finding inspiration in the mundane.  But this world of west point is like one of those ecoglobes with the shrimp in it, except it's gray, miserable, cold and doesn't need sunshine to survive.

Which is a bit of an overstatement I realize but here is my example.  My job is done, the grade is in.  And I could walk away and forget about it... but I feel like that's not good enough.  It's not that I'm a terrible person who doesn't care and thinks I'm better than everyone... it's that the system here... hell the system of the world can be more than a little frustrating.  I know it's not just this place it's the way of the modern world.  Everything is draped in layers and layers of red tape.

So we had to set up hot chocolate for this event, a bonfire.  And I was also in charge of procuring tools.  Well I found out "how" to get the tools.  I even went out to supervise the procurement of lumber.  I didn't do much when I actually went, I mean all I did was keep the truck running when they took the wood up to the barracks.  Anyway I told everyone who needed anything how to get it, and I suggested what times they should go.  I had already wasted many of my hours meeting up with the folks to arrange for all this stuff, and then the actual getting of the wood and then wasting time going to the motor pool (where we keep vehicles is about a 20 minute drive out) that took up a whole afternoon.  I was pulling quite a few late nights to finish some big writing assignments and doing sandhurst practices too.  So when people who are supposed to be equally responsible as I for their tasks failed, I was the one who caught flak (which means I was chewed out).  After all this my assistant and I took hot chocolate out to the bonfire.  There were no tables at the front office (called CGR - Central Guard Room at WP) and no tables at the bonfire so someone screwed up with the delivery of the tables.  So we were at a loss where to put the hot chocolate.  This person... someone higher than me, said we should put some hot chocolate in the beer tent... which may have worked out but it was after we'd set it up on these benches and bleachers behind the beer tent.  We were in a pretty bad position it's true... but I was trying to get the DJ to announce the hot chocolate but by the time I thought of it and tracked him down he said he'd disconnected everything.  Anyway this higher ranking guy thought we screwed up the hot chocolate operation and mentioned it in his After Action Review... well for one we had way too much hot chocolate, we had enough for 4,000 people to each probably double-fist hot chocolate and most of the campus who were forced to be there left immediately, those who stayed drank beer and mostly hot chocolate doesn't mix with beer now if we'd had mulled wine....  Second of all, by the time families started to wander over for hot chocolate, we had to take it back because the mess hall needed the containers for breakfast the next day.  Anyway, I replied to my cadet level boss if he could please forward my comments to this officer, but if he didn't I'd love to forward them myself.  He won't get it... and that's fine.  Like I said, I'm done with the job... but we get chewed out for not supporting "the Corps" and it's just that I wish we weren't doing something stupid or in a stupid manner, not that I don't want to support.  Well, that's all, I'll get off my soap box now.

Anyway, I guess this weekend during another Army-Navy football game, the 111th, and the like umpteenth loss to Navy... I had another dose of how grumpy and pessimistic yet secretly optimistic I am.  A guy I was setting up a date with for while I was home basically showed he was slutting around, and doesn't realize I find it quite distasteful.  It would be one thing if he was just everywhere, random and social and interesting like a different guy I sort of have a semi-crush on.  But the guy at home... he's a former grad of my fine institution and I already had my reservations but he started to blow me off a little in conjunction with going out and ending up making breakfast for someone else... and well I've been hit with that train before.  So I'm dropping him now.  I might ask him to meet me somewhere in my hometown and I won't show up because he'll deserve it and if he's not an ass he'll ask where I was.  If he is an ass, he'll probably text me a sorry about thirty minutes later than we were scheduled to meet and say he couldn't make it.  The good thing is I'll make sure I'm in a movie with my cousins or at home having tea with my mom or out somewhere quiet.  I would like to get some quiet time this break.  I am definitely guarded now though.  On the drive home from Philadelphia this morning I was in a bad mood.  I don't want to be close to a guy right now, but anyway... I'm digressing.  I've got a lot to do... and my roommate feels like it's necessary to sleep early and she can't stand my desk light anymore... I dunno how she developed a sensitivity to it this last month... but it's kinda annoying.  Whatever... I don't need it tonight at least.  Goodnight all, let me know if you think I'm bitchin' too much... but keep in mind this is sorta an outlet and I can't possibly keep it completely objective or neutral.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An Epiphamatic Day!

So I had a lot of input and an upswing of mood today... yesterday had I lifted my weary head from my pillow I would have written a terribly depressing blog... today I have recaptured motivation!  And I didn't even bring up women's rights.

Was reading a book on the Iran-Contra Affair... and yes that isn't exactly riveting... but I stumbled on this paragraph in the preface (which shows you also where I am so I need to wrap this up quickly):

"As a result, I have been forced to rethink my achievements and mistakes.  Did I try to accomplish too much?  Was I excessive?  Was I obsessive?  Were my objective frustrated by... my own errors?  Despite many defeats, did I ultimately win?  And if I won, was it the war I thought I was fighting or one quite different?  Will the effort, however evaluated, deter future comparable misconduct?"

Sure this was the investigator of something huge of which there are literally tomes... but these questions are the questions of anyone who takes on a humongous task.  One so large it literally has to be largely out of your hands for real change to be effected.

Today I had a good talk with my mentor.  So maybe gonna try to repair a burnt bridge... but I am not holding my breath for the best outcome.  It's just it's better to end things on better terms and walk away with a clean slate.

He also articulated some things that had been bothering me for a while... and some arguments that my rather dim-witted boss (one of them... and jeez if he recognizes himself --which I doubt he will-- will I get shit for this.  But just to save myself in case he does... if you think this is you, than you're much too clever to be the man I'm referring to.  Got it?) proffered.  But when my sorta boss gave me the argument for leadership at West Point, it was delivered so crudely I bristled at it.  I was cynical and critical in my opinion of "leadership positions" at the Academy.  I haven't entirely seen the light... nor do I think this new and more eloquent advice addresses all things I am disgruntled with... but here's the theory:

Leadership, especially in the Army but anywhere, is about helping others become who they wish they could be.  Obviously this means healthy wishes... and not everyone knows what is the best thing for them... but it's a free will for a reason.  I think humanity as a whole consistently having members perform in deplorable ways, is proof enough that free will has some nasty sides to it.  But that's besides the point.  Given the fact that most ordinary people don't want more than to improve their situation in life it makes sense that as a leader it would be beneficial to help that person find their niche and if you could help it would make you a good leader to help.

The second part of that was the subtlety of peer and leader leadership.  No that's not a typo, sometimes you have to lead your leader.  And he emphasized the difficulty of that and gave me some examples of achieving that as well.  Much better than a crude insulting comment that I received elsewhere that may have vaguely behind it held the same intent.  And even that I somewhat doubt.  It's times like this I appreciate the lessons I received from my father, who was an excellent leadership example.  Many of the lessons West Point has taught me had been gone over by my father in the formative years before I was at the academy.  And anyone can doubt this, but talking about subtle leadership, taking a stand, maintaining the important standards, and identifying the "informal vs formal" leaders are all things my dad talked to me about even when I was 13 or 14 years old.  And yes I suppose you could argue that's not too long ago, any sarcastic readers out there.

A 1500 word paper awaits, so that's all for now, but I am refreshed and rejuvenated and ready for battle!