Women Veterans Working for Peace
Eli Painted Crow served in the U.S. military for 22 years. Her last tour of duty was in Iraq in 2004. There she discovered she had a lot more in common with the Iraqi people she was sent to control than the U.S. troops with whom she served. Ms. Painted Crow is from the Yaqui people of Arizona, who have a proud tradition of both male and female warriors.
On her tour of duty in Iraq, however, Painted Crow realized that the Iraqi people were experiencing the same kind of destruction that her own ancestors experienced at the hands of European settlers who trekked across North America in search of land, resources and commodities to sell. She was not in Iraq as a "peacekeeper," as the U.S. government insisted. "What they are calling peace is not what peace is about," she told a large group of United Methodist Women members who attended her workshop on "Women as Peacemakers" at the organization's Assembly in St. Louis, Mo., April 30-May 2.
"Who are peacekeepers? They are soldiers with guns and weapons. How can they be keeping the peace with guns and weapons? They are invaders," she countered. And Eli Painted Crow decided she wasn't going to study war anymore. She retired from the military and returned to the United States. After a period of time in which she worked to heal and turn herself around right, she devoted her life to the practice of peace.
Women in the U.S. armed forces
Women serving in the U.S. military face many challenges and are exposed to dangers that their male colleagues do not generally encounter, because a major threat to women in the military is the men with whom they serve. In Iraq, one out of every seven U.S. soldiers is a woman. In a separate workshop on "Ending the War in Afghanistan," veteran Catie Shinn, a member of the nonprofit organization Veterans for Peace, said that one out of every three women in the U.S. armed forces is sexually assaulted. One out of nine is raped by U.S. military personnel or by U.S. civilian contractors who work alongside U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, but over whom the military has no authority.
"It is always a problem, but during wartime, it gets much worse," Ms. Shinn said. "Men who fight in combat absorb the violence, and then it explodes back onto the women."
Today, there are more women serving in the U.S. military than at any other time in history. But U.S. military leaders seem unable to address the problem of sexual assault and violence perpetrated against military women. Ms. Shinn said that during her military career in the 1980s, she was the only woman in her unit. She worked for men and with men who had never worked with a woman and didn't know them as co-workers.
Many veterans return to the United States with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but there is a particular form suffered by women that encompasses sexual trauma. "There is a lot of peer pressure and corporate pressure in the military, because you are a community dependent on one another — you trust fellow soldiers," Ms. Shinn said. "If you do speak up, there is so much peer pressure, even if others agree with you. You know the only way out of a combat situation is to stick together. The military represses questioning and soldiers find other outlets for their frustration."
According to Betsy Reznicek, who works in the national office of Veterans for Peace in St. Louis, there is a growing movement among veterans, with their firsthand combat experience, to say that war does not provide any viable solutions for national problems. "We now have 7,500 vets around the United States in 120 chapters," Ms. Reznicek said. "Our mission is to work to end the use of war as foreign policy."
Standing up for peace
Ms. Painted Crow cautioned her audience that working for peace is not a fight. "I don't understand that language," she said. "In order for me to even talk to you about peace, I need to have a little bit of it for myself.
"The planet is unbalanced. We, as women, are balancers. We have a big job. We have to redefine peace. It is about making a stand for something, without starting another fight. We can't keep doing what we've been doing and thinking that something else is going to happen. We have to stand up, we don't have to stand up and fight. We just have to stand up.
"I know that peace is possible," Ms. Painted Crow said. "If God says that everything is possible, then it is. We close our minds when we can't see a different way. Peace has to come from a seed. And the Creator planted that seed in every single one of us when we were born. So put away the language that says ‘We can't have peace.'
"You have to start with you," she said.
"We have to start with our actions. Love in action."
*Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine.