Nimo's War, Emma's War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War
by Cynthia Enloe
Reviewed by Robin L. Riley
Over a long career as a scholar of international relations, Cynthia Enloe has been preoccupied with the query Where are the women? Without asking questions about gender, she warns, we can't get a complete picture of international politics. In Nimo's War, Emma's War, she uses the experiences of four Iraqi and four American women as jumping-off points to examine the price women have paid (and continue to pay) in the Iraq War. Their stories help illustrate how gendered politics change over the course of a war and how this thing we call war itself changes over time.
One of her Iraqi subjects is Safah Yunis Salem, a 13-year-old in Haditha in November 2005, when that city's name became synonymous with massacre. U.S. Marines, reacting to the death of one of their unit by a roadside bomb, entered two homes, one of them Safah's, and began shooting the civilian inhabitants. Her aunt, killed in front of her, was one of 19 who died there.
Safah provides a point of view -- that of adolescent girls -- seldom considered in traditional war stories, despite it being their bodies upon which sectarian or ethnic violence in the form of sexual assaults is often enacted. They suffer from hunger, lack of access to education and post-traumatic stress disorder, yet are expected to handle the caregiving for war-injured families.
Among Enloe's American subjects is Emma Bedoy-Pina, whose hometown of San Antonio is called "Military City, USA" by city boosters. With one son already in the Air Force and another in high school, Emma is "the object of considerable Defense Department conceptualizing and strategizing": a Latina mom targeted by military recruiters. Although advertising agencies with Pentagon contracts were promising worried mothers "that their military sons and daughters would be able to stay close to home and remain part of the local Latino community," her younger son decides to attend college instead, and she supports his decision. Nevertheless, as president of the San Antonio branch of Blue Star Mothers, a group with a mission to promote patriotism, she becomes prominent as a spokesperson for the mothers of service members -- her story underlining Enloe's thesis that women's endorsement is necessary for war to occur and continue.
As in most wars, the women impacted by the Iraq War have remained largely invisible, either infantilized and disregarded or turned into symbols. Military commanders dismiss American women's accusations of rape by fellow soldiers; the wives of deployed National Guardsmen, left in desperate financial straits, turn to government food stamp programs. Meanwhile, Iraqi women provide serial images of helplessness, huddling together as American soldiers break down doors, shine strobe-strength lights and bark commands. "Time after time in press photos, we see a girl in her nightclothes, looking stunned," Enloe writes. "We hear nothing...from the girl, what she is thinking, what she later tells her friends, what she asks her mother, what she writes in her diary."
With Nimo's War, Emma's War, we begin to imagine.
Robin L. Riley is an assistant professor in the women's and gender studies department at Syracuse University.