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Colonel fires back.

In her column "We're in the Army Now" (Summer 2007, Vol 21, No. 1), Susan G. Cole demonstrates her ignorance and misunderstanding of her country's armed forces when she writes that: "Cheering women in the army is kind of like cheering when a woman becomes chief executive officer of a tobacco company." Those who mock the Canadian Forces would do well to read history and talk to those of us who are military historians to know the truth.


It is possible to be a feminist and a member of the armed forces. In fact, most of the Canadian Forces women are feminists. We have to be. My own personal philosophy is: think independently; never let yourself be unduly influenced by society, your peers, your religion, your ethnicity, your culture or your family. Be a rebel if necessary, but be a productive rebel.

Having women in combat is not that new. Ancient records tell of women warriors as far back as the fifth century BCE. Women all over the world have been involved in combat ever since. Chinese women took part in 19th-century rebellions and in the early struggles of the People's Liberation Army. Twelve Canadian nursing sisters served with field hospitals in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 and were recognized as members of a military force engaged in a theatre of active operations. During the First World War, 46 nursing sisters gave their lives while serving. Six were killed on land, 15 met death from enemy action at sea. Eighteen died of disease while serving overseas, and seven more in Canada. In the Second World War, one Canadian servicewoman was killed as a result of enemy action and 12 were wounded in Sicily.

The American War of Independence saw tens of thousands of women involved in active combat; the Second World War saw 800,000 Russian women take part in direct combat. In that war, hundreds of Allied women, including members of the military, civilians and those involved with the resistance movements, fought and died in action. In the Vietnam War, thousands of women fought with the Viet Cong, many in command positions.

So women did a good deal more than knit socks, roll bandages and work in factories. However, when the wars were over, women were demobilized and expected to return to their traditional roles. And who made those arbitrary decisions on behalf of women? Well, certainly not the women. Governments and armed forces run by men made those decisions.

It has been said of Canada's nursing sisters that they served equally, but we must not confuse that with equality. That was still to come for military women. It was the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1970 that brought pressure to bear on the Department of National Defence to improve conditions of service for military women. It brought forth six recommendations concerning servicewomen.

An all-party parliamentary committee held hearings on the role of women in the Canadian Forces. It recommended that all roles be opened, and in 1987 the federal government announced that all air force combat roles were to be opened to women. In 1989, a federal human rights tribunal determined that the armed forces policy of excluding women from combat duty was discriminatory on the grounds of sex under the act. The Canadian Forces was given 10 years to open all jobs to women, including combat. That has been achieved and we have women fighting, dying and being wounded in Afghanistan now.


Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired)

Ottawa, ON
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Title Annotation:letters
Author:Robinson, Shirley M.
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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