Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Amazon's Right Breast, by Tom Kratman

Tom Kratman is on the 2015 Hugo list for Best Novella with his BOLO story, Big Boys Don't Cry. When I contacted him, and asked if he had a preference for a work to be included in my Hugo run-up, I was expecting him to suggest one of his books in either the Carrera or the Countdown series, both of which I have enjoyed enormously. And, well, they are ...BOOKS. And one of the assumptions in the case of book reviews is that reviews MIGHT enhance sales. And everybody likes sales, right? NOTHING wrong with that, in fact, that is one of the primary reasons I write book reviews. I want some of the incredible authors, most of whom do not have as much exposure as they deserve, to get noticed.
So what does Kratman do?
He tells me to review a piece of free nonfiction he wrote four years ago: The Amazon's Right Breast.
I have my suspicions as to why he chose that one, but I could be wrong, and at any rate, it doesn't matter. As it happens, this is a piece I am familiar with, having praised it and recommended it to members of the fire-arms web forum I frequent when it first came out.
The article addresses the role of the women in the military, and is laden with both personal reflections as well as objective study. It's the sort of article you can get your teeth into; it's not an article that leans on opinion or a community standard for support. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, he does define the issue in terms which must be addressed. His position may be wrong, but it's not lazy.
There are a number of stories of a tribe of women warriors; in some of the stories, they would raid other tribes for men, in others, they kept a few men around for occasional copulation. If you find it amusing to do so, you may research the topic and see that the myth is rather widespread, and that the name 'Amazon' can be derived from several different word origins. However, the meaning that we giggled about in the sixth grade was that the term meant 'without breast,' and that the Amazons had their right breast cut off or burned off to facilitate use of a bow and arrow. The fact that they are represented no where in art as one-breasted figures, nor the reality that mammary glands in no way restrict the archer, has no impact on the myth. Remember that.
Kratman is a bit younger than I am. His service in the Army began shortly before mine ended, and I do not envy him that experience one bit. However, I was a medic, stationed at a hospital, and there were quite a few women around in that environment before they began to become common in other areas. Therefore, while I didn't see the exact things he did, I saw some similar occurrences. For example, I was in a small unit, run by a TOUGH NCO, who had served five far East tours in his career. He chewed our butts out, whether we needed it or not, just because that's the way it was. Until we got our first female troop in the unit. She was married, so that may have eased some tensions, but she was still rather immature; and one of her first acts upon arriving in the unit was to pin a picture she had drawn and colored on the bulletin board. A picture of a horsey. I know it was a horsey, because she labeled it: Horsey.
Sarge didn't know how to handle it.
Kratman talks about one of his first experiences commanding female troops in Egypt. He has given his troops a day off, and inspects them prior to turning them loose on the town. He discovers that his two female troops were planning on entering the Moslem city of Alexandria in a bra-less condition. And when he orders them to return to barracks and put on their bras, they argue with him.
If you haven't had experience in the military, that might not resonate with you. Will it be enough if I tell you that the ONLY time a junior troop dares to disagree with an officer, unless it's a Geneva Conventions issue, is in private, behind closed doors, and better be sure it's respectful, even then? Those two troops didn't get that. This wasn't a matter of opinion, it wasn't something open for discussion, but if it had been, the discussion would have been held in private.
Kratman cites a few more personal experiences which confirm him in his opinion that women should not be in placed in the combat arms. However, opinions are just that. They are not a good basis for law, or regulations, or policy. So, when he found himself in a position to do so, he researched the issue.
The first thing he discovered was that most of the books and articles advocating the presence of women in combat units were not objective. They included the truth that females had been heads of state during times of war, but somehow equated that with serving in a front-line capacity. There is a huge difference between serving under combat conditions, and serving as an active combatant.
More extensive than the confusion between national leadership and foxhole service, however, was the advocacy for women in combat roles as a civil right. This is an issue which must not be swayed by opinion; it there is actually a civil right involved, deprivation of that right must be based on fact, not opinion.
Kratman found no support for the idea that piecemeal introduction of women into the war machine had ever worked; and the cases of sex crime in the American military present strong evidence that it is not working for us, either. However, there are cases where a unit of women has been an effective war tool. He cites all-female units in the Kingdom of Dahomey, Russia, and the Viet Cong as being successful: but, those were all-women units.
Kratman spent a goodly portion of his military career in the not-particularly-exciting role of figuring out how to get the bullets and beans to the people who could cook the beans and shoot the bullets, and be familiar enough with them not to confuse the two. That has NEVER been in my skill set, and I have avoided ever being in a position in which I was called upon to do that. However, based on his experience and training, Kratman came up with a list of 20 problems which have to be addressed, should we decide to incorporate women into the combat arms. They seem REASONABLE to me, individually, but it's not my area of expertise. Half of those are either eliminated or mitigated if the combat units are segregated by gender. The other half? Well, war is hell. You pay your money and you take your choice. But, if you are going to do it, don't do it stupidly. Anytime we get into a shooting war, our country is on the line, at least symbolically. And our individual sons and daughters are on the line, literally. For four generations, men in my family have volunteered for war. Except for the last generation, we all came back intact. It's a risk we take, and we HAVE to take it, if we are to be free citizens. BUT: never, never let us take a risk with the lives of our young because we were stupid, because we refused to look at important factors because of political expediency. If our grandsons or granddaughters die in the mud somewhere, because some politician thought it best that we have 100% gender equality, then our country is not worth saving.
Hold yourselves accountable. Hold your politicians accountable. There are some areas in which we can make a mistake, and all it will mean is that we spent some money for concrete to build an overpass that wasn't needed. In the area of national defense, political expediency is a luxury we cannot afford. And unlike the fable of the Amazon's right breast, we cannot allow a myth to triumph over cold, hard-headed reasoning.

(PERSONAL NOTE: Chances are that within 24 hours of your reading this, my son will finally receive his discharge, after two years of medical rehab.)


  1. Good Review, I'll read the piece. Thanks and good luck to your son.

  2. Good review. I will read the piece and would have read Kratman's books, if I hadn't already read them all.