Have you heard of Army Sgt. Casaundra Grant? Probably not, because her story has been largely ignored by the press. She's a 25-year-old single mother who lost both of her legs during the Iraq War when she was accidentally pinned under a tank. Her 2-year-old son "prayed for her legs" the first time he saw her stumps. Sgt. Grant is upbeat and grateful to be alive, reports the San Antonio Express-News, but is this really the way we want to fight our wars, with young mothers coming home in wheelchairs? (By the way, has anyone noticed how many of our women warriors seem to be single mothers?)
In the Middle East, cultural attitudes have remained unchanged for millennia. In the United States, they change dramatically in a decade. Whereas 17 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that it was fine for Georgia to outlaw sodomy, today, the Court practically throws open the door to gay marriage. So, too, with women in combat. Democrats swim out past the buoys, but Republicans, too, are pulled by the cultural undertow. Notice how we're all so careful to refer to the "men and women" in the armed forces (and we can hardly not, since they represent a big percentage) and the "men and women" who give their lives. Yet when we mention the women who give their lives, there is, for some of us, protest lodged with the gratitude. You want to add "But women ought not be asked to give their lives." And, in fact, it is not official U.S. policy to put women in combat.
Still, there is a vocal constituency of feminists (both male and female) who do want to end the military's prohibition on women in combat, and they've been making steady progress. "Reforms" instituted during the Clinton Administration permitted women to serve closer to the front lines with the altogether predictable result that more women were injured and killed in Iraq than in the previous Gulf War.
One of those was Jessica Lynch, whose story has become more opaque with every passing day. We first learned of her when the U.S. military announced that she had been rescued from an Iraqi hospital. The Washington Post ran a gripping front-page story, citing unnamed Pentagon sources, who described Lynch as the Sergeant York of 2003. The plucky gal had emptied her rifle into the enemy, we were told. She'd been stabbed and shot, and had other injuries but kept on fighting. "She didn't want to be taken alive."
It wasn't true. The story began to unravel as soon as Lynch was taken to West Germany for medical treatment. Doctors said there were no signs of gunshots or stab wounds, but she did have injuries consistent with a truck accident, and a terrible one at that. Everyone else in her vehicle was killed.
Meaning no disrespect to Private Lynch, who deserves every care her country can offer, why was the Post so eager to paint her as a Rambo-style hero? And why did it take weeks for the Post to acknowledge that the original story was false? Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness (http://www.cmrlink.org) says she's seen it all before. "Remember Captain Linda Bray? She was the military police officer in Panama who took enemy fire and handled herself with coolness under fire. Later we found out that she had been sent to secure a Panamanian dog kennel. Still, that was enough for the feminists to declare that the argument over women in combat should be over." Then there was Kara Hultgren, the Navy pilot who was killed trying to land on an aircraft carrier. Donnelly recalls how the Navy spun the story to suggest that it was mechanical error in order to conceal its double standard on male versus female aviators. But the Navy's own internal investigation revealed that Hultgren had been responsible for the accident, and more damning for the Navy, that she had been certified to fly, though she'd twice before made the same mistake that ultimately killed her.
The Post's own ombudsman, Michael Getler (and the Post deserves praise for maintaining an ombudsman; the New York Times doesn't deign to) asked: "What were the motivations (and even the identities) of the leakers and sustainers of this myth, and why didn't reporters dig deeper into it more quickly?" Yet he answered his own question, "This was the single most memorable story of the war, and it had a unique propaganda value. It was false, but it didn't get knocked down until it didn't matter quite so much."
Just so. Every American knows the name of Jessica Lynch, which suits those who like the image of the fighting Amazon. Very few know that Lynch's story is mostly myth, and that suits them, too.