Jessica Lynch's story is about a girl, not a soldier

Posted: Nov 19, 2003 12:00 AM

The real story within the "real" story of Jessica Lynch seems yet untold despite a made-for-TV movie and a book by former New York Times golden yarn-spinner Rick Bragg.

Both the movie, "Saving Private Lynch," and the book, "I Am a Soldier, Too" have sparked discussions about the young Lynch's relative heroism and what really happened to the 507th Maintenance Company to which she belonged.

Family members who lost sons and daughters during the same skirmish that resulted in Lynch's being taken captive have protested her "hero" status. To her credit, Lynch has declined the title, saying she was only a survivor.

Other veterans have contested her being awarded a Bronze Star. Still others object to the enormous amount of attention being paid this single soldier when so many others have gone unnoticed.

The story as told through Bragg's inimitable I'm-just-a-country-boy-who-can-string-purdy-words-together is sweeter 'n Aunt Peaches' corn pone smothered 'n honey and goes down quicker 'n a bottle of Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink. It ain't, in other words, "War and Peace."

Rather Lynch's story reads like the puddle-deep reflections of a girlie-girl filtered through the literary voice of John Boy Walton moonlighting as a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Charles "Resurrect the Draft" Rangel. It covers her childhood, her decision to join the Army, her Iraq experience and her homecoming - all cast in the blue-collar light of Bragg's own famously humble origins.

We learn, for instance, that Jessica's bangs were always perfect and that she painted her toenails fuchsia with little sparkles. Hooah! We also learn that most kids in the Army are poor kids just like Jessi, sons and daughters of single moms, immigrants and blue-collar families who were trading "uncertain futures for dead-certain paychecks."

The book clears up a few of the myths of Lynch's ambush and capture that day last March when 11 others were killed, including her beloved "Roomy," PFC Lori Ann Piestewa, a single, 23-year-old mother of two. The young women were such close friends that Piestewa went to Iraq to keep Lynch company even though she was excused from duty because of an injury.

But make no mistake: The book is not the story of a soldier. It is the hijacked fairy tale of a scared, "prissy" little girl who wanted to be taken care of by loyal friend Piestewa, as well as by her soldier/boyfriend, and worried constantly about being left alone. Such that one is left numbed by the single question that needs asking:

What the hell was Jessica Lynch doing in the U.S. Army?

As most know by now, Lynch wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. Joining the Army was simply a way to see the world and secure her college tuition. As a supply clerk, she wasn't likely to see combat - or so she thought - but war is tricky. As Lynch and other members of her company learned, taking a wrong turn can have lethal consequences.

No one can read of Lynch's excruciating, disabling injuries and her terrifying ordeal without being moved. But it is also moving to consider that had she been a male soldier, she probably would have been shot rather than taken to a hospital. There would have been no dramatic rescue, no movie, no million-dollar book deal.

Regardless of what did or didn't happen over there, Lynch's book, movie and notoriety are not wasted, but offer a cautionary tale: A 5-foot-4-inch, 100-pound woman has no place in a war zone nor, arguably, in the military.

The feminist argument that women can do anything men can do is so absurd that it seems unworthy of debate. That some women are as able as some men in some circumstances hardly constitutes a defense for "girling" down our military - and putting men at greater risk - so that the Jessica Lynches can become kindergarten teachers.

Lynch is not so much "a symbol of Bush administration propaganda," as Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times, as she is a victim of the PC military career myth sold to young women through feminist propaganda.

And though not a hero as America once anticipated based on early reports of a fictitious Rambo-style defense, Lynch has done something heroic by making clear that the military is not just another career choice. As an Army officer put it to me, "Our job is to take human life on behalf of the nation."

Too bad it took a broken little girl from West Virginia to remind us what we dare not forget again.