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The Wrong Argument

At times, in matters of war and peace, living in the United States seems like a trip through Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Events are often not what they seem. The New York Times, in its “At War” column, presented such a discussion on the topic of women in the U.S. Marines.

The article, “Lt. Col. Kate Germano on Marines and Women,” (July 28, 2015) dealt with the lieutenant colonel’s removal from duty as the head of the women’s training battalion at Parris Island in South Carolina. Lt. Col. Germano had been relieved of duty after the Marine Gazette declined to publish an article by her about the inequality of Marine training that required less strenuous and rigorous training of women compared to male recruits. (There is no evidence that the article in the Gazette was directly linked to Germano’s removal from her command post.)  The article, “When Did It Become an Insult to Train Like a Girl?” was censored from the Gazette. Germano presented well-reasoned arguments showing that women could train as hard as men and needed to be held to the same standards of training and expectations, both prior to, and during basic training.

This is the wrong argument. Common sense dictates that all military recruits need to be treated the same way. But, the argument needs to be made that the nation is long overdue for a necessary discussion about the endless nature of the wars it now fights, many of these wars being wars of choice and not necessity. A necessary war has not been fought since World War II, and that so-called “Good War” was replete with crimes against humanity and against the collective wisdom enshrined in the laws of war.

War in the 20th and 21st centuries has seldom been about noble intentions. Instead, the extension of military might and empire and the control of natural resources by the U.S. and much of Western Europe have been the drummer to which we march.

The response to the horror of the attacks of September 2001 could have been dealt with by a police action. The intelligence apparatus of the government failed to prevent them, but could have prevented them. The administration of George W. Bush made little of the reports of an imminent attack against the U.S. and dismissed available intelligence that was literally right under their noses. A police action would have necessitated an elite unit, or elite units, and then the issue of gender bias in military training would have made sense. As a society, however, we are far, far away from that kind of rational debate. Our irrational foreign, military, and economic policies got the nation into the horrible mess it found itself in in 2001. We needed to have kept our friends close, but our enemies closer (to paraphrase a popular quote from the movie The Godfather), and we did not.

U.S. foreign policy allowed religious fundamentalist hatred to fester following the Soviet military defeat in 1989 in Afghanistan, which was the Soviets own Vietnam quagmire. Following the Soviet defeat, the U.S. cut those fundamentalists loose, not worrying what their response would be when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 1991.

U.S. policy was so fragmented following the initial attack in Afghanistan in 2001 that Osama bin Laden was allowed to escape while he could have been captured in December at the Battle of Tora Bora.

Relieving Lt. Col. Kate Germano was an act of cowardice and it needs to be reversed based on the facts presented in The New York Times. Accepting her arguments for a more egalitarian Marine Corps, however, will do nothing to change the face of U.S. militarism.

The comments section that accompanied the Times article about Lt. Col. Germano did not contain any highly rated reader comments that made any protest against the underlying reality of the constant war footing of the U.S., or the conduct of endless wars in which the U.S. is now involved. For 35 years all of the questions about war have steadily moved to the right, leaving a gaping hole where debate and protest once existed. An Orwellian argument for endless wars and constantly changing enemies could not have been better scripted.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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