On Veterans Day, a miraculous encounter

Photo: Zach Pierce mu-43dotcom

Photo: Zach Pierce mu-43dotcom

I grew up surrounded by veterans. My father, my uncles, my friends’ fathers all had served in WWII. Both grandfathers served in WWI.

A question never asked

When it came to my own generation, the Vietnam generation, none of us served. I remember watching TV, sick with anxiety, as a man drew the lottery numbers for the military draft – numbers that would determine whether my brother would stay or go. I would not have considered serving myself, but as the oldest girl cousin, the question did not even occur to me.

But it occurred to Chris Banigan. As a lieutenant and then a captain in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, she served two tours of Vietnam, from 1969 to 1971. Chris was the first veteran to read an early draft of Her Own Vietnam, and we shared a lively email correspondence, since we lived on opposite coasts of the country.

When we finally met on Veterans Day in 2003, she told me a story I’ll never forget. I’ve shared it on this blog before, but it’s worth repeating.

A miraculous encounter

That morning, Chris encountered at the Vietnam Wall a soldier who had been her last patient in Vietnam. He had been visiting the Wall for years on Veterans Day, walking along its gleaming black expanse and asking everyone if they knew a nurse named Banigan. Finally, he asked her.

She told me, “I remember when I took him to x-ray. He was terrified that his eye had been blown out, and he could not be reassured until he saw the reflection of his left eye in the x-ray machine. Odd, the things you remember.”

All gone now

On this Veterans Day, I remember my father and grandfathers, all of them gone now. And I remember Chris Banigan. She died suddenly six months after her encounter at the Wall, only in her fifties. I am sure a part of her died in Vietnam.


Missing: Sunday’s Women

Pueppilottchen aka Dollily

I have recently railed about how women writers are underrepresented among books that get published and reviewed.

Well, guess what? Women are also missing from Sunday morning.

You may have seen this recent report from Media Matters, which documents that on the Sunday political talk shows, only about 30% of the guests and 15% of the individuals interviewed are women. (The only hero of this tale is Melissa Harris-Perry, who hosts the most gender-balanced Sunday talk show on television.)

So what? After all, not everyone gets their news and opinions from the Sunday talk shows. Most people get them from Jon Stewart.

But here in Washington DC, the Sunday shows are serious business. Powerful public figures go on the shows to float policy proposals or advocate a position. What they say on these programs is widely quoted and discussed in mainstream and social media.

What happens when most of a nation’s public authorities – those who are called upon to tell us what is going on in the world and what it means – are men? How does that shape our understanding of the world and our role in it, as a country and as individuals?

I know this kind of gender argument is a blunt instrument that misses other dynamics – such as race, class and culture – that might affect how people lead, govern and interpret the world. Yet in every race, class and culture, half the people are women – and they are the half we don’t hear from.

In the U.S., women constitute a slight majority of the population. In some categories, we constitute a distinct majority: minimum wage workers, for instance, or people living in poverty. (On second thought, maybe that’s only one category since, at $7.25 an hour, “the minimum wage” and “poverty” are synonymous.)

But I’m not holding out hope for completely proportionate representation for women on the Sunday talk shows or elsewhere; I’d settle for something less. Fifty percent, let’s say.

Women would comprise half of Congress and half the Cabinet. Half the state legislatures. Half the Supreme Court. Half the judiciary at all levels.

Women would constitute half of the writers who get published and reviewed. Half the experts on news programs. Half the executives of the corporations that own the mass media and run the Internet.

Would this scenario really make the world a better place? Or would women simply mess things up in a different way, with different blunders and blind spots?

I’d sure like to find out.

(Photo: Pueppilottchen aka Dollily)