The Fight Over Women in Combat

The article “Why Not Send Women to War” (Spring 2013) sparked a lively exchange at Some highlights:

Stalingrad (today’s Volgograd) was taken by the Axis forces—and, somewhat later, retaken by Soviet reinforcements. So to mention the first defenders of the city as examples of women being fit for frontline duty is silly: That city’s first defenders failed miserably. In any event, Soviets did display heroism, but in many instances they were inspired by the very real possibility of being machine-gunned down by the security-enforcement battalions placed right behind most units of “questionable determination,” which most Red Army units were, until 1944.

Andras Boros-Kazai
Beloit, Wisconsin


Sure, my mum was a Wren in the Women’s Royal Navy Service during World War II. She worked as a radio operator trying to intercept German naval communications from a safe office on land. She had a great time and made many lifelong friends.

But this wasn’t remotely combat, and so long as countries engage in combat, people without combat experience are going to have hard time being promoted—as they should. Part of the thrust to put women into combat roles is to clear the way for women to be promoted to higher ranks. I’m not sure this is a good enough reason.

Christopher Burd
Victoria, British Columbia


The real opposition to allowing women in combat units in the U.S. Army is not that combat is an environment in which no woman can perform well. A lot of men can’t perform well in combat, and some women sure can.

Rather, the resistance stems from a suspicion that the army will come up with a quota for the number of women needed in combat units—a number that will be based upon social-engineering policies that commanders will be expected to make succeed, regardless of the facts.

The test for women in combat will not be how many Silver Stars they earn. It will be the day that some male commander can fire an incompetent female subordinate secure in the knowledge that he will face no more scrutiny than if he had fired a male. And based upon my observations, that day is a long way off.

Shaun Darragh
Tampa, Florida


And from our online discussion forum:

During the Blitz periods of 1940–1941, my mother spent her days as a secretary and her nights fire-watching during air raids over wartime Birmingham, England. This entailed speedily descending upon the Luftwaffe’s incendiaries armed with a stirrup pump and buckets of sand. Dangerous? Certainly. In fact she saw more enemy action than my father did during the early part of the war. Not quite in the sniper Roza Shanina [left] class perhaps, but then she was only doing what thousands of women did in wartime Britain. It was “the thing to do.”

Phillip Whitehouse
Melbourne, Australia

Who Started the Trouble at Malta?

To set the record straight on the 1565 Siege of Malta, featured in Paul Lockhart’s War List [“When Walls Came Tumbling Down,” Spring 2013] on significant sieges, the reason the Hospitaller Jean de Valette fired the heads of Turkish prisoners at the Turks was to respond in kind to an atrocity the Turks committed.

When the Turks captured Fort St. Elmo earlier that year, they nailed their decapitated Christian prisoners to crosses and floated them into the harbor—an act of intimidation. Valette sent them a message right back: We are not intimidated.

The siege of Malta is one of the great turning points in Western civilization. A small Christian army beat back a Muslim army intent on conquering parts of Europe, and the heroism of the Knights of Malta, outnumbered 40 to 1, deserves more recognition.

Tom Murrey

Wage War

I enjoyed Chuck Lyons’s article “Victory of a New Order” [Spring 2013] concerning the triumph of England’s Edward I over William Wallace and the Scottish rebels at Falkirk.

However, I found something rather confusing where wages are discussed for the various specialties in Edward’s army: “Longbowmen collected the same pay as other infantry [two pence], but crossbow archers made four pence a day.” In all the material I have read on the subject of English military dominance in this period, the English longbow was the premier weapon and was instrumental to multiple victories over the Scottish and the French as outlined in various works by Jonathan Sumption and Bernard Cornwell as well as Mr. Lyons’s excellent article “Simple but Deadly” in your Summer 2010 issue.

To my understanding, the crossbow was replaced in the early 1300s by the longbow. If that is so, should not longbowmen have received higher pay, since it took as many as 10 years to develop a skilled archer?

Matt Butow
Rota, Spain

Chuck Lyons responds:

The longbow was certainly the premier weapon, and it did take much longer to train a longbowman than a crossbowman. So, yes, the longbowman should have received the higher pay. Life is not always just, however, and my sources indicate the crossbowmen were more highly paid whether they deserved it or not.




“Why Not Send Women to War?” (Spring 2013) stated incorrectly that Sergeant Lee Ann Hester received her Silver Star for combat action in Afghanistan. Hester was honored for her role in a firefight in Iraq.

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