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 It no longer represents the military we know, where women hold combat arms roles.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.
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.
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.