The captured American Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson, by all accounts, had no intention of becoming a feminist icon.
A note of unseemly glee has greeted the tragedy of her falling into the hands of the Iraqis, as if to say, "Look, women can be prisoners of war, too!" The New York Times ran an editorial titled "The Pinking of the Armed Forces," hailing Johnson's capture a reminder of how the American military has evolved, slowly and sometimes reluctantly, into an organization where the dangerous jobs of war are performed by both sexes."
One can only wait for other leaps ahead in social mores, like seeing American women gassed, pulverized by tank rounds and sniped at in block-to-block urban warfare.
Johnson is the victim of a feminist revolution that swept the military in the mid-1990s. As part of the backlash against the frat-boy excesses of the Tailhook Convention of 1991, critics of the male-dominated military pried open direct-combat positions, in aviation and the Navy, for women.
Ground combat was still taboo -- but barely. In 1994, President Clinton's Secretary of Defense Les Aspin relaxed the definition of "direct-ground combat," removing "inherent risk of capture" as one of the considerations. And he axed the Risk Rule that barred women from combat-support units that would encounter some of the same threats as direct-combat units.
"The new policy," crowed a Defense Department press release at the time, "means that women will no longer be excluded from military specialties simply because the jobs are dangerous." Feminists hailed the change for opening tens of thousands of new positions to women.
One of the major potential problems with the 1994 definition was obvious, and identified in a 1998 General Accounting Office report: The "definition of direct combat links these [combat] tasks to a particular location on the battlefield -- 'well forward.' In making this link, the definition excludes battlefields that may lack a clearly defined forward area."
Precisely like the battlefield in Iraq. Johnson, a single mom, joined the military with no thought of encountering the enemy. She signed up to get cooking experience. Unfortunately, women like her were now to be afforded "an equal opportunity" to get captured on the battlefield.
"Since soldiers must do what they are told," Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness writes, "the young mother was 'cross-trained' for a maintenance unit in support of the infantry." Two women were captured with the 507th Maintenance Company: Johnson, and 19-year-old supply clerk Jessica Lynch, fate unknown.
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