War Doesn’t Work Without Women

My buddy Jenn forwarded me a reading list for Duke University’s military history majors and minors. To be fair, this was a reading list compiled in 1995, and the note at the top says the instructor was compiling a 1999 list, but I can’t find it, and h-net (a big history geeks list) is still toting this a great recommended reading list for military history (ie History of War and Warfare).

What bugs me about such a great, comprehensive list?

Oh. The “comprehensive” part.

There are 100 books on this list. Their topics cover a time period of about 5,000 years or so.

1) Not one book’s major topic is the gendered nature of war/masculinity building/rite of passage of war (Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites, would be a great pick for this, though other do very well).

2) Not one book’s major topic is women’s roles in warfare (supporting/promotion of – there are about a bazillion of these books, particularly covering WWI and WWII). Think supporting roles aren’t a viable part of “military history”? Bullshit. Every heard of “logistics”?

3) Not one book covers women’s participation in violent combat as guerilla fighters, in, say, Vietnam, and my area of interest – Southern Africa (Cock, Jacklyn. Colonels and Cadres: War and Gender in South Africa. New York, Oxford University Press, 1991 – among many others. Unfortunately, my biblio isn’t online). In fact, not much is said about the military history of Africa at all.

4) Unless initials are hiding gender, not one book of the 100 is written by a woman. I’d bet not one is written by anybody whose skin darkens much past tawny, either.

This shit really bugs me. Why does it really bug me? Because once I got into my women-and-war Master’s thesis and subsequent book research for future projects and personal interest, I felt really ripped off. I honestly thought there weren’t many women warriors at all, that women had always been kinda suckered into being couriers and damsels-in-distress. Seriously, I really thought this. Sure, you had all those Mythical women from Ancient Times, but what did we know about them, really?

Then I started reading all these books. I started reading about all these women who not only defended hearth and home during those times when men went out to kill each other and other women, but women who crossdressed and joined up – or didn’t hide their sex at all, but were so damn good nobody cared what sex they were. I read about women passing out white feathers to men who didn’t enlist in WWI – shaming men into heading off to war. Women who did all the laundry, cooked all the meals, cleaned the guns, brought ammo to the front, nursed the wounded, and yes, even picked up guns and fought for their damn lives, because that’s what people do when they’re at war. WAR DOES NOT WORK WITHOUT WOMEN. Women must support the war and soldiers. They have to maintain homes. They have to take up arms. They have to burn fields and farms when the enemy gets in. If women don’t support war, wars don’t happen. They can physically pick up a gun or not, and sure, war will march on, but UNLESS WOMEN ARE SUPPORTING WAR, IT CAN’T HAPPEN.

In our country, WOMEN HAVE TO VOTE for war. We make up 51% of the population. Yea, yea, patriarchal society and all that. Maybe if we weren’t so concerned with how skinny we could be today, we’d be more interested in politics. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Hence, the popularity of Lysistrata. Still. Thousands of years later. It’s a comedy, sure – but I think it’s using the sex so it doesn’t have to say just *how* important women’s continued involvment in and support of war keeps the machine running. Women in some societies have kicked men out of the house for not fighting, for being cowards. Women have killed and butchered bodies. Women have always fought, and have always supported men fighting. They had to. Because if they hadn’t, there wouldn’t be wars. They would have stopped. 49% of the population CANNOT continue to fight without the support of the other 51%. That’s just simple numbers.

Is war primarily a male sport? You betcha. That’s why there’s so many books on it. Yet here we’ve got a list of 100 books about men carving people up, and not one of them explores *why*. Why primarily men? And if it’s so inherently male, why do women fight? Why can they be just as brutal – or more so? Because women are people too? And why are some men so terribly bad at fighting? Why is there an entire coercive system in place socializing men to fight? Not one book addresses that. The list makes assumptions. The list is “specialized” enough to add a book about the history of the US Marines, but one book about female guerilla fighters is just too much. Apparently.

I feel ripped off. And I have a feeling a lot of other women who start in on all this “alternate” or “specialized” reading about what the hell the other half of the world does during a war (when they’re not getting raped and killed – our assumed default role) are gonna be pretty pissed off, too.

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