15 April 2006

Military Service for Whom?

Rachel Papo, a young Israeli-American photographer, has produced a thought-provoking photo essay entitled Serial No. 3817 131 which focuses on young women doing their compulsory military service in the Israeli army. Many of the images present their military life as mundane and uninteresting. And you can imagine similar, more traditional shots of "solidiers" that would be themselves almost wholly uninteresting. Papo's pictures, however, attract our attention in part becuase these are girls posing nonchalantly in uniform with their automatic weapons. This raises questions of commitment (patriotism) and equality.

I have two teenage sons and I fear that the continuation of BushCo policies will land them directly in the line of fire in the name of yet another ill-conceived and/or duplicitous policy. On the other hand my sons and I and people like us are the beneficiaries of the poverty draft that populates the US armed services with kids who are overwhelmingly working class and poor and disproportionately minority. I regularly ask the often stridently pro-war students in my freshman classes why they are here taking courses at the University when their conviction ought to have them off fighting.

So, should we insititute a draft (without loopholes) or mandatory service? Most Americans, even the most bellicose I'd wager, would balk at the idea that they actually owe anything to their country, that they have an affirmative duty to perform national (not necessarily military) service. They surely don't think they should have to place their sons' lives on the line. And they would be positively aghast if you suggested that their daughters ought to take up arms in the name of homeland security. Perhaps that should be the measaure of our convictions?

Papo's images raise still another obvious perplexity. Is it any sign of progress toward gender equality that we might come to expect our daughters too to learn to shoot and kill? Just because men can (and, in fact, do) do something, no matter how morally questionable is hardly a sufficient reason to encourage women to do it too. Seems like an awfully odd notion of progress. I am not a pacifist. But I also think the more or less unquestioning glorification of the military among Americans is pretty much reprehensible.

By the way, I came across this work thanks to Ragna who keeps a quite interesting blog called Meet Me in Ataxia, Baby.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting images. We just had a discussion about this in my Constitutional Law II class and it seemed that none of the women in the class were very interested in that type of equality. I hope that Bush II does not bring us to the point where we need both men and women to be drafted. However, the fact that women cannot be drafted shows an unambigious attempt to keep women from obtaining the status of soldiers.

26 April, 2006 19:53  

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