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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Margaret Trawick > Women in Combat > Women, Nation & Struggle

Selected Writings by Margaret Trawick

Women in Combat
Posting in Women-Armdconf Forum, 3 November 1999


Hello everybody. I am an anthropologist of American descent. I am in this forum because I am interested in the war in Sri Lanka. I have just been listening in so far, waiting to see when someone would bring up the point that women sometimes participate in war.

In principle, I believe that peace is good and war is bad. But in real life, things are not that simple. People who wage war usually do it for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that they are subject to a government that both claims a monopoly on the "legitimate" use of violence, and employs violent means to control certain sectors of the population in its domain.

Sometimes the violent means can be very brutal indeed - and yet, there is no war. If the subject population engages in armed resistance, suddenly you have a war. Then things usually get much worse for everybody.

The problem is not only ending the war, but changing the conditions that led to the war, that are often exacerbated by the war itself. When civilians are brutalized by the war, when they have no place to run, then the conduct of the war gives them all the more cause to join in the fight, because they would rather die doing something, than die doing nothing. And knowledge that civilians are likely to become combatants leads the opposing force to target civilians even more fiercely than before, in an endlessly escalating cycle of attack and defensive counter-attack.

To constructively address such a situation, it does little good to moralize about the horrors of war. People involved in the war know very well the horrors. They may not want to fight, but they may have no choice, because if they give up they will be slaughtered en masse by the opposing side, which sees their destruction as the only means of ending the war and also ending its causes. If you want everyone to live in harmony, one way to achieve this goal is to kill all those who resist the particular kind of harmony you envision.

We all know that heads of government waging wars against their own people can be women as easily as they can be men.

But what about the combatants?

Traditionally, when there has been violent conflict, men have been the principal fighters, because men are bigger on the average and have stronger arms and shoulders on the average than women. Traditionally, large bodies and strong arms and shoulders have been necessary to wield weapons effectively.

But small arms technology has developed in such a way that one no longer needs great muscular power to handle a modern combat rifle, or a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or whatever else advanced stuff is out there. The playing field has been levelled. A troop of well trained and well armed teenaged girls can rout a battalion of big strong men who are not so very well trained. The more so as little girls can hide in treetops more easily than big men.

Little girls don't need testosterone injections to make them good soldiers. Extra hormones just cloud their victims' judgement. Discipline and clear-headedness are what count on the modern field of battle.

It could well be that in the coming century, the majority of combatants in whatever wars arise will be girls and women, especially if they are regarded as more dispensable to civilian society than boys and men. And people will be saying, as some of them already are, that women are after all "natural" soldiers because they are more "naturally" prone to self-sacrifice, teamwork, and following orders than men.  

 

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