|BOOK REVEIW | SPRING 2010
By Robin L. Riley
Nimo’s War, Emma’s War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War
By Cynthia Enloe
University of California press
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, whatshe asks her mother, what she writes
in her diary.”
With Nimo’s War, Emma’s War, we begin to imagine.
KRISTANA ARPROBIN L. RILEY is an assistant professor
in the women’s and gender studies
department at Syracuse University.
Article reprinted from the Spring 2010 issue of Ms. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, join the Ms. community.
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