I hear aircraft carriers are in this season
The Guardian yesterday had, linked from its front page, a brief piece on Rear Admiral Nora Tyson, the first woman to command a US Navy aircraft carrier strike group. Until today I had no idea Adm Tyson existed (or indeed what the correct abbreviation for “Admiral” was) and having found out I am, on balance, glad that she does.
Recently, at the height of the controversy about “don’t ask, don’t tell” – the law forbidding gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the American armed forces from serving openly – in the US, there were a few voices in the social justice blogosphere essentially saying “With all the crap that is wrong about the American military-industrial complex, why the hell are we fighting to get into it?” And I can see their point, and can see an analogous argument in this case that an admiral who happens to be a woman taking command of a nuclear-powered US Navy aircraft carrier named in honour of George Bush Senior is not something to celebrate.
On the list of things wrong with military-industrial complexes in general, though, equal right to serve and equal treatment of service members are two of the more tractable problems. (Arguably, integrating the military properly would be a step, however tiny, on the way towards making it unnecessary; a tiny reduction in the net amount of inequality in the world, I guess.) And at the moment, none of the nations with armed forces seem terrifically interested in getting rid of them, and military service is still a valorised career choice; you work with what you’ve got.
There is a certain weight to the argument that the drive for equality in the military is only encouraging them, as it were, and that making it a less prejudiced environment would just encourage more people to join, ultimately perpetuating the whole business. Which is possible, though I suspect that some of any gain in recruitment would be offset by a drop in sign-up from those wedded to older-fashioned ideas.
I have to come down in the end, though, on the side of pursuing and celebrating equality in the armed forces being a worthwhile thing to do. It’s not a zero-sum game: it’s possible to simultaneously work towards a more representative military and in the longer term aim to reduce its presence or get rid of it entirely. Getting rid of sexism and homophobia would at least thin the list of wrong things a bit.
(Aside: This is one where it’s particularly obvious that sexism bites both ways. Military service is routinely portrayed even by its fans as physically backbreaking, psychologically devastating, brutal, dangerous, and thankless work – and by the same people as inherently a man’s job. What the hell is this supposed to say about men? Their injuries and trauma are insignificant? They’re naturally predisposed to be better at killing? There’s some pretty uncomplimentary implications there.)
Thoughts on the morality of the military temporarily aside, what actually spurred me to write this post was something else entirely. Whatever one’s views of Rear Admiral Tyson’s choice of career (helpfully detailed on the Admiral’s Wikipedia page) there is no denying her success at it is pretty formidable. She’s served in the US Navy for more than thirty years and is now in charge of approximately one hundred thousand tons of floating nuclear-propelled steel. (Just the fact that I can write the phrase “one hundred thousand tons of floating nuclear-propelled steel” and have it refer to an item of human construction is pretty amazing when you think about it.)
Her command of the USS George H.W. Bush on its first deployment may not be of international significance, but it’s no small thing. When I clicked through to the Guardian article from the link on their front page, I was expecting it to be in the “News: US” section – surely the logical place to file interesting tidbits from that country’s military. But no. It’s under “Life & Style: Women”.
I’m not entirely sold on the necessity or helpfulness of having a separate section of newspaper for news about women, but I can kind of see where they’re coming from. Having the “Women” section be not even a top-level category – when TV is a top-level category for chrissakes – but a subset of “Life & Style”, though? Fuck that shit.
Exercises for the reader:
1) Please attempt to envision circumstances under which the appointment of a male admiral to command of a US aircraft carrier would be reported in the “Life & Style” section of any newspaper. (The only even halfway likely possibility I can think of is if he were gay – which speaks for itself, I think. Though given the following list I have no idea which sub-category this would be put under.)
2) Peruse the following list of sub-categories under the Guardian’s “Life & Style” tab: