They Didn't Have to Earn It

Editor’s Note: Myke Cole submitted this essay on November 21st, 2013, parallel to the historic graduation of three women from the Marine Corps’ Infantry Training Battalion course It was the first time in the 238-year history of the Marine Corps that this happened. As we know, however, it is far from setting precedent for the rest of human history.

Today, the first three women graduated infantry school for the US Marine Corps. I don’t have to tell you how big a deal this is. It marks the start of an era where our military steps out of a dark age that has limited not only our esteem, but our combat effectiveness, permitting us to tap a resource we have ignored for years for a host of non-reasons too numerous and too farcical to review here.

Life imitates art, folks say. The inverse is also true, so it’s not surprising to see military fiction taking females more seriously, especially in combat roles. The Oh-John-Ringo-No set is seeing its twilight. It no longer represents the military we know, where women hold combat arms roles. It lacks the authenticity that readers of military fiction crave.

People are saying that this is a victory for women, that they have struggled and fought and finally earned the right to be held as equals behind the gun.

I call BS.

 Weapons Specialist by Michael Komarck

Weapons Specialist by Michael Komarck

Women didn’t need to earn anything. They always had the right and the ability to serve in combat roles. They always deserved an equal footing in military fiction. They didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The only thing these three graduates represent is a male dominated culture that has finally been bludgeoned into accepting the facts before it’s face. Nobody is looking away from the pink elephant in room anymore. We’re crying bullshit.

We’re joining the modern world, and we’re doing it years behind our peers. I’ve been shown a lot of respect for being both a service member and an author. Google Shani Boianjiu. Not only did she serve, she served in the IDF, where my brief experience in Iraq is a daily constant. She was a Firearms Instructor (FAI), ensuring that companies of Israeli soldiers could put rounds on target. She handled guns all day, every day. She manned checkpoints where any passing vehicle could contain a committed enemy, or an IED. She did these things while the American military continued to hold the line that women weren’t “suitable” for that kind of work.

They were suitable enough to die.

The line between law-enforcer and war-fighter is hopelessly blurred. The enemy is polyglot, invisible, spectral. They are everywhere and nowhere.

As of April of this year, 143 women have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in our ongoing counterinsurgency actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. All of them did so even though they were denied combat roles like the ones these three brave Marines are taking on today. Apparently, nobody told the enemy they weren’t infantry.

Women haven’t changed. I’d even argue that our military hasn’t changed. War has changed. The rise of the insurgent, the dreaded “fifth generation warfare” envisioned by COL Thomas Hammes has at last come to be. The line between law-enforcer and war-fighter is hopelessly blurred. The enemy is polyglot, invisible, spectral. They are everywhere and nowhere. Illiterate street kids can suddenly taking down multi-million dollar helicopter gunships piloted by America’s knightly class – post graduate educated, well fed and well groomed, destined for greatness before a Somali punched their ticket with nothing more than a cell phone and aftermarket Romanian AK-47 knockoff.

There is no frontline any more. There hasn’t been for over a decade now. The logs officer keeps his sidearm rigged and ready. The human terrain analyst makes sure she gets to the range to keep her chops up. The mess cook is ready to cut more than celery with that cleaver. Because the enemy can be anywhere at any time. Because not being officially designated infantry didn’t protect those 143 women one bit.

Death has a funny way of cutting through bullshit.

Death has a funny way of cutting through bullshit. Those 143 graves give the lie to the notion that women can’t fight and die for their country. They state louder than any words that while we were busy telling them they couldn’t fight, they were too busy actually doing it to pay much attention.

I’ve done pretty well in the military fiction market. When I try to figure out why, I keep coming back to one key element: authenticity. I am currently serving in the military. I am hip deep in the jargon, politics and operational niceties of this culture. It comes out in my writing. And that gives me a leg up.

Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Buy Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole: Book/eBook

Because readers of military fiction want to feel transported. They want to believe in the stories they’re being told. Authenticity is critical for that.

To maintain this authenticity, military fiction must follow the actual military, who must follow the very real changes in how wars are fought.

Many, many years overdue, women are finally taking their place at the tip of the spear. They will face cold shoulders, curses, petty political backstabbing from those benighted savages who cannot embrace the new order that is really as old as mankind.

I love our military, I want it to succeed. And so I embrace this change.

But I don’t say they earned it.

Because you can’t earn what you already had all along.

Written by Myke Cole

Myke Cole

Myke Cole is the author of Shadow Ops: Control Point. As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

  • BDG January 27, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    While I certainly applaud women making headway in such a traditionally (depending how far and where you look I suppose) masculine profession because I think that’ll reflect back on the culture as a whole I can’t applaud the military of the USA (as well as those in Canada, France, UK, Germany, China, Russia…you get the picture). So I really don’t know if this a victory? On a whole I think the USA military is at best a well meaning, but horribly executing machine while at worst imperialistic opportunist with blacker than black motivations (this goes for other industrialized powers as well)…and well I think history shows them to be far to the ‘at worst’ than the ‘at best’ most of the time.

    So sure great women can now go bomb developing nations back to the stone age and shoot some illiterate kid full of holes who didn’t probably deserve it in the name of freedom or whatever the fuck propaganda they’re using nowadays only to come back to subpar assistance if needed. That we see this as a kind of victory (yay, more people sacrificed on the altar of ‘national duty’ because if the 19th and 20th century taught us anything nationalism only leads to happy endings) , I think, reflects poorly upon the USA and every industrial power that is the similar (look at how progressive we are, we send both women and men to soul-tearing, body-destroying fates ).

    And just for the record I’ve never served and I will never serve. Not because I’m a coward but because of my country’s (Canada) record of using the military for imperialistic purposes both aboard and at home (Afghanistan and the Oka Crisis are prime examples). So yeah. I’m sure I just pissed a bunch of people off and I’m sorry about that. But if the man can say ‘I love our military, I want it to succeed’ I can at least say the opposite right?

  • Justin Landon January 28, 2014 at 3:55 am

    Wow, so that comment went a direction I wasn’t expecting.

  • Dave Thompson January 28, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Yeah, I really need to check out Myke’s books…

  • theotherwill January 29, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Things may not be quite as simple as MC wrote here, but it definitely needed to be said.
    Also, knowledgeable Americans are grateful for how the Canadian Forces fought, and 158 died, holding the line in Afghanistan during our misadventure in Iraq despite domestic opposition as represented by BDG. Sometimes your next door neighbor is your best friend too.

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