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.

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