Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Prisoners of War, Prisoners of Race

The case of Jessica Lynch already exemplifies the differing value placed on the lives of young men and young women. Yes, though women are paid less, their actual existence is worth more: they are future Mothers of the Race, and as such must be protected. Males, on the other hand, are considerably more expendable, so their deaths in battle are not given the same emotional weight. Nobody is offering book and movie deals to any of the male POWs from this war. Men are supposed to suck it up.

Now we see the value of blonde hair and blue eyes. For the record: My mother, two of my sisters, and several of my nieces and nephews are blue-eyed blonds. I love them all, but not because of their coloring.

The Army apparently doesn't share my indifference to mere pigmentation. This came today from an Episcopalian mailing list.

Army Spec. Shoshana Johnson, the African American woman who was held prisoner of war in the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was looking forward to a quiet discharge from the Army in a few days. Battle scarred and weary, she has said not a word as her fellow POW comrade in arms Jessica Lynch cashes in with book and movie deals and a celebrity status in the media.

But it is the Army that is forcing Johnson to break her peace. A few days ago, military brass informed her that she would receive a 30 percent disability benefit for her injuries. Lynch, who is White, was discharged in August and will receive an 80 percent disability benefit.

The difference amounts to $600 or $700 a month in payments, and that is causing Johnson and her family to speak out. They are so troubled by what they see as a "double standard," that they have enlisted Rev. Jesse Jackson to help make their case to the news media.

Jackson, who plans to plead Johnson's cause with the White House, the Pentagon and members of Congress, says the payment smacks of a double standard and racism.

"Here's a case of two women, same [unit], same war; everything about their service commitment and their risk is equal. . . . Yet there's an enormous contrast between how the military has handled these two cases," Jackson told The Washington Post.

Johnson's father, Claude Johnson, himself an Army veteran, says that while neither he nor his family begrudge Lynch her celebrity or disability payments, he believes that his daughter should get her due, and it is more than a 30 percent disability benefit.

For its part, the Army, in denying charges of double standard, said
Friday that claims are awarded to soldiers according to their injuries.

Johnson, 30, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, was held captive for 22 days, when her unit stumbled into an ambush in southern Iraq last March.

Eleven soldiers were killed, and six, including Lynch and Johnson, were taken prisoners. Johnson was shot in both legs and is still
traumatized by her war experience. In addition to walking with a limp, she suffers from bouts of depression.

Now, I'm naturally suspicious of such claims. I checked various newspapers and, the best place to debunk urban legends. Snopes says it's true. The newspapers say it's true.

I am bitterly ashamed of my country.

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