Jun. 11, 2004. 01:00 AM

Posted on Sat, Jun. 05, 2004

What were women doing in Abu Ghraib?

Political correctness put female soldiers where they never belonged

Tribune Media Services

The American women of Abu Ghraib have put to eternal rest any notion that girls are made of sugar 'n' spice and prompted a flurry of possible answers to the question: How could women have done such things?

Theories have run the gamut: They were just trying to fit in; they were exploited by higher-ups to humiliate male Iraqi prisoners; they were an inevitable extension of the male-bashing culture back home, expressions of feminist orthodoxy in extremis.

Some feminists have expressed deep disappointment to discover that women can be just as bad as men. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote that a certain kind of feminism -- a feminist naivete -- died in Abu Ghraib. No longer could men be viewed as perpetual perpetrators and women as perpetual victims. Activists in the men's movement -- some of them victims of domestic violence -- expressed no surprise.

"What happened in Abu Ghraib is no isolated incident, no aberration," wrote Ray Blumhorst for MensNewsDaily.com. "I have little doubt that all of the females implicated at Abu Ghraib will have little trouble finding jobs in the multibillion-dollar VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) domestic violence industry, just as soon as `American gender feminist justice' rationalizes away all their misbehavior."

In searching for answers myself, I've managed mostly to come up with a question I've posed before: What the heck were women doing there in the first place? The last time I asked that question I was referring to Jessica Lynch. I'll keep asking it, even though I know the answer.

It is political correctness, scourge of our times. That intellectual burlesque that places greater value on protecting political sensibilities than on protecting our nation through attention to political realities.

Whose brilliant idea was it to place women in positions of power over male prisoners?

No single person can be blamed, most likely, as the lie that makes men and women equal in all things is a culture-wide deceit. Ehrenreich says she always supported women in the military because she "knew women could fight, and because the military is one of the few options around for low-income young people."

Undoubtedly, some women can fight. And it's true that military service is often a dead ender's exit. But neither assertion satisfies the only question necessary to national defense: Does the presence of women advance or delay the goal of security?

In most combat situations requiring physical strength and endurance, most women clearly fall under the "delay" column. As for prison guard duty, some reports suggest that women purposely were used to humiliate detainees as a "softening up" measure antecedent to questioning.

The grinning woman in many photographs, Lynndie England, was a clerk who wasn't supposed to be in the prisoner section of Abu Ghraib. Her thumbs-up poses were recorded during visits to her boyfriend, Cpl. Charles Graner, widely reported to have fathered the child England now carries. At the very least, we can safely say that no male soldiers ever got pregnant.

If one were compelled to justify the unjustifiable presence of women in a men's military prison, one could argue that the women's participation did advance the desired result of softening up detainees. But that argument stands only if (a) detainees provided useful information; (b) there were no other way to get the same information; (c) there were no other considerations to outweigh the value of such information.

We now know that other considerations were myriad. Our war against terror is not only a military war, but also a war of public relations. From the outset, we've talked of the necessity of winning hearts and minds, of respecting other cultures, of humbly bearing the burdens of a superpower.

We knew the rules of the Muslim world, yet we displayed only contempt while giving Osama bin Laden propagandist fodder to nourish generations of deadly America-haters.

It's easy to blame the president or the secretary of defense for what happened at Abu Ghraib, but we're all to blame for insisting that nothing matters as much as advancing the myth of gender equality. It's time to grow up and put our PC notions to rest before our enemies do it for us.