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October 9, 2009

Four Soldiers


I’m not sure the photo fronting yesterday’s NYT was a milestone or not. I am curious to know, however, if the paper had ever offered an “all woman” war zone image on the front page before. (Doesn’t the soldier examining her foot subvert gender stereotypes even further?)

But then, maybe the milestone was the fact the caption simply identified the soldiers as “American Marines.”

…Finally, thank goodness they didn’t use this one.

(h/t: Chuck)

(image: David Furst/AFP-Getty Images)

  • nordmend

    gender equality in killing and empire building is not progress.
    Caption: … The Bhuji Bhast Pass is effectively a Taliban corridor, mined with improvised incendary devices (IED’s) from one end to the other, and lined with villages that are hostile to the Western troop presence.
    Aboard Marine CH-53 helicopters Fox Company inserted into the pass on the 8th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan in an effort to clear insurgent forces from local villages and improve security for the local Afghan population.
    improving security? right.
    so what else could the locals do to show us we’re not wanted? a registered letter?
    and given that the locals consider the sole of the foot the dirtiest part of the human body, airdropping troops to pick their toes on commandeered private property is insult to injury.
    how would you feel if that was a picture of the taliban, in YOUR front yard?
    sleeping on YOUR rug, by the looks of it (second photo).

  • g

    interesting take, Nordmen. Who’s the audience – it certainly matters.
    My first impression was of some of those historic photos of women working in factories during WWII, those gathered-round-the-break-room shots. Vega Aircraft Plant Burbank, CA 1943

  • Stella

    “Marines” today – “troops” when they die. I’m glad to see women acknowledged as the soldiers they really are, but maybe the jarring effect of seeing them in these photos will humanize our response and force us to contemplate the realties of war.

  • Marcia Murchio Hannigan

    This photo belies the statement that “American women don’t serve in combat”. What the caption doesn’t say speaks louder than what it says. I am sure that these women would not have wanted to be described as “women Marines” or “female Marines”. They are Marines fulfilling their mission-plan and simple.
    My daughter completed the first half of Officer Candidate School for the USMC last summer. People ask me where my son is serving whenever I wear a USMC shirt. When I tell them that it’s my daughter and that she is working to become an officer, I get one of two reactions: “I didn’t know that women could be Marines” or a stunned silence.

  • Karen H.

    I actually didn’t know they could serve in strictly combat roles….do you know the current policy?
    That aside, and taking Nordmen’s comment into consideration, I don’t think we can define equality by excluding positions and jobs women are physically capable of doing. That being said, if women are still not allowed in strictly combat roles yet, how can they be truly equal in an endeavor that promotes (to a degree) soldiers based on combat experience? I know there are other roles for women in the military, but it seems their criteria for most command positions requires combat experience.

  • thomas

    It really is an interesting and provocative photo. It crosses up two genres — the wartime women working in a factory & the fighting men at the front in a foreign land — and the effect is rather confusing. The theatre of war is a factory and these are its workers. In a weird way, it raises the question of where are the men and who is in the factories, and what is the propagandistic difference in selling a war wherein loving moms and idealistic daughters fight and die as opposed to loving fathers and idealistic sons? The photo is a bit of a glib snapshot, but it raises a whole bunch of marvelous questions.

  • DennisQ

    Was this picture cropped to suggest a degree of integration that doesn’t exist? Yes, these women have been issued weapons, and they are indeed dressed like combat Marines. But we’re not told the circumstances of the photograph other than it was taken at a “makeshift patrol base.”
    The Marine Corps is not at all progressive. What do these women actually do as part of the effort in Afghanistan? For all we know they could be cooks and typists . . . nothing untraditional about that.
    Until there’s other information, I’ll continue to believe that women in the Marine Corps are rear guard troops just as they are in every other branch of the military. This photograph is probably a gimmick.

  • DennisQ

    David Furst wins awards for dramatic photographs that don’t necessarily report the news. A photograph documents a fact, but that fact may be so out of the ordinary that it’s unrepresentative of what’s actually going on. Google his name and you see the sorts of things he photographs – things that actually happened but only once.
    Here’s the question: Is this actually a news photograph?

  • rokusan

    Agree strongly with Marcia. The matter-of-fact caption is the whole story for me, too, and whoever wrote it should be proud.

  • Morgan

    Oh yes, now I see the typewriters and aprons in the background. No, not a gimmick. I suspect these Marines possess MOS 5811 creditials, Military Police. The MOS is open to women in all branches of the military. The Military Police in all branches have the distinction of being imbedded in infantry units on the front lines for processing any detainees captured. You may not believe the USMC is progressive, but I have never seen them reject able body and mind soldiers in war. Evidently, these women qualify.

  • akinoluna – a female Marine

    The unit they are a part of (I believe it was 2nd Bn, 3rd Marines, it was listed on other sites) is a grunt unit, an INFANTRY unit. In normal circumstances, female Marines are NEVER assigned to grunt units, not in the United States and not even as “cooks or typists”. Most likely they are there to help with searching and talking to local women and are not permanently assigned to that unit.
    ALL female Marines are issued weapons and “dress like combat Marines”. The fact that they are at a “makeshift patrol base” is significant because women aren’t normally part of patrols that stay at temporary bases, nor are they normally part of an infantry unit.
    Female Marines are not allowed to be assigned infantry job fields like machinegunner and tanker, but they are most certainly NOT just “rear guard” troops. Have you not been paying attention for the last seven years? Women fly jets and helos, drive trucks all over Iraq, patrol as military police, and do all sorts of other jobs that put them out of the safety of the giant permanent bases. There’s no front lines and rear guard anymore. And even in “safe” areas, most of the Marines there are still male.
    P.S. Even Marines who cook and type are trained to function in combat and shoot guns.

  • akinoluna – a female Marine

    And yes, they are probably military police, but not necessarily. A lot of female Marines are pulled from their normal jobs and retrained to help infantry units search and talk to local women.

  • akinoluna – a female Marine

    And one more thing…
    I really liked how there was no “OMG GIRLS WITH GUNS!” caption.
    They called them what they are: Marines.

  • DennisQ

    The picture is still less than what it appears to be. Its emotional impact draws on what we usually associate with pictures of Marines in combat, including the recently discussed photo of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard. That photograph was controversial because of the taboo against releasing photographs of the American dead.
    Yes, it’s quite possible that the four women in the picture are serving in some sort of infantry-like position. But they are not combat Marines, which the photograph implies. They might be military police, a job that undeniably has hazards of its own. However, the Marine Corps is not progressive in any way. Marines come from the same sector of the population that gives us the Tea Party protests.
    This is a photograph of an anomaly, as are many other David Furst photographs. Just Google his name; you’ll see the sorts of man-bites-dog pictures he takes. They may be newsworthy, but they don’t tell the story.

  • akinoluna – a female Marine

    The photo does tell a story, not the whole story, but a story. It’s an anomaly only in a historical sense because this is the first war where women have served in combat in such a visible way. Plenty of Marines who are not “combat” Marines end up serving in combat positions. Just because you see a photo of a male Marine in a combat situation does not mean he is infantry either! (All male Marines who are not infantry received the SAME combat training as female Marines you know)
    The photo does not imply that they are “combat” Marines, you can’t imply something that everyone knows isn’t true in the first place. The photographer wasn’t trying to show that they are grunts, it’s just a photo of some Marines he was near.
    Marines are more progressive than you think and no, they don’t all come from the Teabaggers sector.
    I’ve been a female Marine for almost seven years and I went to Iraq. I’m not just pulling this stuff out of my butt.

  • g

    akinoluna – I appreciate your service, and the perspective you give on this photos. You, unlike me, are in a position to really know what the circumstances of these women are.

  • DennisQ

    The figures don’t support your argument. 85 Marines have died in combat in Afghanistan, none of them women. An additional 33 Marines died in non-combat incidents, including one woman who was killed in a plane crash. Source: “>
    I’ll take your word for it that there are some progressive Marines. They are generally an improvement over the Taliban, but not all of them. I certainly don’t see the American occupation of Afghanistan (“Operation Enduring Freedom”) as a progressive cause.

  • [email protected]

    Any soldier, marine, sailor, airman, and coastgardsman knows that attending to their feet is critical to maintaining operational status. Not doing so leads to trench foot, and possibly worse. It doesn’t matter if your male or female, maintaining healthy feet is critical to completing the mission. And I’m a proud female veteran who served my country to the best of abilities gender free of sterotypes and macho hinderences. I maintained my independence, and anyone who thought I was NOT a ‘lady’ was sorely mistaken. I maintained my military bearing, and fulfilled my mission!

  • nordmend

    i’m not against them picking their toes. i’m just against them picking their toes on commandeered private property in someone else’s country, while empire building at the point of a gun.
    your mission… something akin to “and improve security for the local Afghan population”, perhaps?
    i bet the people who once lived in this compound feel real secure, right about now, wherever they are huddled.
    beautiful mountains.

  • DennisQ

    The gender differences in the military are real and significant – women don’t face the level of danger that men do. Military bearing is important, and so is care of the feet, etc. But if you don’t face danger to the same extent as your fellows, you’re not carrying an equal burden. There’s a different gender stereotyping going on here, that is, that men’s lives are not as valuable as women’s lives.
    We’re told that the military has become a progressive force for change, but just look at the numbers. Even after making a percentage-wise adjustment, the casualty figures for women are almost non-existent compared to those of men.

  • jtfromBC

    Life of a Lioness
    The story of Cpl. Jennifer Marie Parcell
    The ratifications of the 19th Amendment and Title IX have given American women opportunites they never had before modern times. There is one policy, however, that keeps our women in uniform from holding jobs involving direct combat. It’s called the Combat Exclusion Law. Sgt. Todd Hunter shares an intimate story on how today’s battle field doesn’t always cater to the law.

  • Aurora

    I did not see this on the NYT; it caught my eye at the original post here and then I started coming back for the discussion.
    But what caught my eye the first time?
    Upon reflection and review, it is the second woman on the right: I see Catherine Zeta Jones in ‘Zorro’. Really wish I didn’t because it makes the whole theme of women in combat somehow ‘cinematic’, or ‘heroic’, or ‘mythic’.

  • DennisQ

    This film was produced by the Marine Corps itself as part of its legendary public relations effort. It’s prominently listed on the website,
    The Marines don’t do anything that other services don’t do as well. Truman wanted to get rid of them after World War II because he thought the legend of the Marine Corps was a lot of hype. A squad of Marines is said to contain more press agents than fighting men.
    The Marines get away with things that other branches of the military would not get away with. For example, nobody was charged with the use of white phosphorus on civilians at Fallujah. And nobody was convicted for the massacre at Haditha. Lt. Ilario Pantano, charged with murder for wantonly killing two Iraqi prisoners, was acquitted and is now a Marine Corps celebrity in his home outside a Marine base in North Carolina.
    The Marines have a PR problem with feminism. They want to sell themselves as a progressive organization, but at the same time they can’t afford to have women actually killed while fighting dubious wars. That’s how we get misleading photographs of women apparently resting from combat without actually having been in combat. It’s the best of both worlds for the Marines – they falsely suggest they’re committed to equal opportunity – and they don’t have to account for female casualties.
    Whether or not the Marines come from the teabagger sector of the population, these are the people responsible for Fallujah and Haditha. Their extraordinary public relations ability allowed them to get away with these atrocities. There’s no reason at all to assume that photographs of Marines can be taken at face value.

  • jtfromBC

    I have no disagreement with any of your comments. From Jessica Lynch to Pat Tillman and the staged dismantling of Saddam’s statue I observe and collect gems of military and political disinformation. This oldie is one of my favorites
    Bush the Elder no longer tells the incubator stories…but

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