G.I. Jane in Iraq

Somewhere there’s a doctoral thesis waiting to be written on Hollywoodand the rehabilitation of war in the post-Vietnam era. I’d suggest thatG.I. Jane represents the culmination of a trend that began with Officer and a Gentleman and Taps,fully integrating the third wave feminist movement into the militarycode of honor and combat. I mention it only because by some oddcoincidence, I watched G.I. Jane (overdubbed into French) on the télélast night, only to stumble across this Army Times reviewof a new PBS documentary, “Lioness” (on women who have served in combatroles in Iraq) this morning.

As the review and documentary make clear,despite regulatory codes to the contrary, G.I. Jane’s central conceitabout the exclusion of women from career-enhancing combat roles isincreasingly anachronistic just ten years after the film’s release. It’s also a typically glamorized vision (if mud and blood can be glamorous) of war and combat, as this quote from “Lioness” about killing someone on the battlefield illustrates:

“You never get over it . . . you just get on with it,” the soldier says. “I’m glad to be home, glad to be alive . . . but I lost part of myselfover there. The experience of war stays embedded in your memory everysingle day.”

It’s a transformation of the role of women in the militarythat’s being determined by facts on the ground and the particularitiesof a counterinsurgency with no front lines, a form of “Don’t look,don’t tell” in the place of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The danger hereisn’t that women will degrade operational capabilities, because by allaccounts there’s no evidence that they do.It’s that because this issue is flying under the radar with no nationaldiscussion, problems of sexual harassment and violence directed atwomen soldiers in the combat zone aren’t being systematicallyaddressed.

There’s also the fact that in the absence of any systematic policy, orrather in the systematic disregard for stated policy, the ad hocsolutions for women in combat will not address the imbalancesin terms of career advancement, nor guarantee that the most qualifiedsoldiers find their rightful role. Of course, that’s always a problemin the military, but it helps when there’s a solid code on which tobase any claims, as opposed to statutory restrictions that underminethem.