Here’s reader G.M. commenting on my take yesterday on an article in the June issue of Glamour magazine about a group of women Marines who were killed or disfigured for life–a cruel fate for a young woman–in an Iraqi suicide bomber’s attack in Fallujah last year (see “Is it Fair to Ask Military Women to Be Braver Than Men?,” May 9):

“I was struck by your post asking ‘whether we Americans really ought to be subjecting our women to a testing of their courage even harder than the testing that male soldiers face.’

” It seems to me that in asking this you seem–accidentally, I am sure–to be doing the same sort of thing that Cindy Sheehan does when she refers to our soldiers as ‘children.’ They are not children, and we do not ‘subject’ them to anything. They are adults and they are volunteers, and as volunteers they chose to face that test. It is precisely that choice which makes their courage so inspiring.

“The fact that America can produce such women –and such men– is surely one of the things that should make all of us American proud of our country, and of her soldiers. Victims are ‘subject[ed]’ to things. Heroes choose. Whatever your position on women in combat, our men and women in uniform are heroes, not victims.”

Cindy Sheehan–that hurts! And if you read my piece, G.M., you could see that I never referred to these brave women Marines as “victims.” I saluted them as brave heroes who well deserved their Purple Hearts. Nonetheless, we do have a system in place that effectively places women in the front lines in many kinds of military combat. They not only risk their lives as male military personnel do, but they also risk even more than men: impairing their bodies that bear and nourish children and their female physical attractiveness that calls men to their side to be husbands and fathers. I’m all for women serving in the military, and I know perfectly well that the slain and wounded Marines were adults who volunteered to be where they were–but when we ask women to give more than men and to subject themselves to a lifetime of stares that may not be admring, we’re “subjecting” them to tests of courage that go way beyond what men are called to do.

And reader J.P. says: 

“I know you’re not going to get over the horror of disfigured female soldiers, but some women are born b–t-ugly. Life must s— to be them. I prefer the tribute to these Marines by Subsunk over on

Well! Even a “b–t-ugly” girl can work on her grooming and fix herself up. That’s a little harder to do when your problem is dreadful scars, although as I wrote, good will undoubtedly see the beauty in these women that even a terrorist can’t destroy.

Here is what Subsunk says (by the way, Blackfive is one of the best milblogs going):

“In many cases, what drove Men was the need to find a Good Woman to help them raise their kids, help him carry the burdens of Life, and comfort him when he fell short of his goals, as all Men do from time to time. Good Women came in all shapes and sizes. They suffered loudly or silently, were easy or difficult to live with or maybe, simple or complex in behavior. Every one of us had a Mother who brought us into the world, bathed us, clothed us, loved us, comforted us before we outgrew the silly notions that we, as Men, needed any of those things. We seek Women who were like Mom to fulfill our notions of what a Woman is supposed to do and to be about. We were Men and we reigned Supreme (at least until the Chief of Subsunk Operations directs execution of the daily trash and cleanup detail).

“Then, along comes the US military and insists that we may have been a little hasty in our assessment of what a perfect Woman was made of, and proceeded to inform us that we would henceforth treat these objects known as Women exactly as we would treat any other Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine….

“[A]long comes a group of Women who teaches all us dinosaurs what Womanhood can achieve, changes our vision of the perfect Woman, and cements for their Sisters, a place alongside their Brothers in Arms. Which begs the question, when is a Marine more than Just a Marine?

“When she will stand beside you and fight with you against your enemies. When she is also your Shipmate wielding an M-16 and rescuing her sisters and inspiring her brothers with her courage and determination. When she immediately gathers together 10 replacement Marines to take the place of the Fallen. When she manages to make her brothers weep, stand tall and strong, all at the same time. When she can awe Generals who are inspired by not hearing about a miracle, but actually seeing one in the flesh. And when the idea that a Marine is not simply a Man or a Woman, but is that noble someone who places Life and Limb on the line, in defense of their Country, their Comrades, and their Corps, regardless of their sex, and performs their duty willingly, selflessly, and honorably — Then a Marine is More than Just a Marine.”

This is a beautiful tribute, and I agree with every word of it. But I still think it’s fair for us to ask as a nation whether we are asking women in combat to pay a price that men in combat never have to pay.

Now comes reader C.C. commenting on The Other Charlotte’s take on scholar Bernard Lewis’s recent optimistic speech about the potential for raising the low status of women in many Islamic countries (see “A Surprising Veiw of Women and Islam,” May 8):

“While I have enormous respect for Lewis (I have read and studied several of his books and aticles), and while what he has said is an important contribution, it is not a surprise. If you look closely at the Arab world it is obvious that the suppression of women has made them into the greatest potential turnaround resource for improvement.

“Lewis is right, but don’t be so surprised. Now let us figure out how to help those women transform.”

Agreed–the potential is truly there.