Aug. 18, 2020, marks the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment securing women’s right to vote. A lesser-known fact about the success of the suffrage movement is that it was partially fostered by women veterans of the First World War.
Suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, while not a service member herself, was in full support of the war effort and saw women’s active participation in the war as a patriotic steppingstone to winning the vote.
Although World War I was the first time women officially enlisted in the U.S. military, it was not the first time they had been present in military campaigns. Women were fighting and dying for this country long before (and since) gaining the right to vote.
After igniting a movement through suffrage, women continued to publicly engage as pillars of modern society, encouraging those who’d been silent in the past to speak up.
Today, there is another chance to speak up, on an issue where previously, I’d been silent.
Right now, men and women are still deployed to places like Afghanistan and Syria, in harm’s way and ready to come home. From 2019 to 2020, support among veterans for the withdrawal from Afghanistan rose 13 percentage points, from 60% to 73%. Among military family members, it rose 9% from 60% to 69%.
I fall into the latter category.
I enjoy the joke that I was “issued by the U.S. Navy” to my wonderful parents in the middle of the Gulf War. Years later, my older brother enlisted in the same Navy, and now my son’s father is deployed with the Army.
Our “Endless Wars” meant I hoped and prayed my Dad would make it home for my high school and college graduations. It means he spent most of a decade in West Africa dealing with splinters of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. I watched him struggle through an emotional toast from my brother at my wedding because Joshua was on a ship in the Persian Gulf, deployed for a ‘conflict’ that began 14 years prior.
Some of my best friends are also military spouses.
I can vividly remember the phone calls on deployment days; statements such as “How am I going to raise these two babies for a year alone”; the tears, the fear and anxiety in their voice. I can feel my friends’ dejection when they found out deployments were extended, and their homecoming plans were dashed.
I can hear their children, and mine, asking for Daddy. “Is he comin’ home soon, Momma?” My heart is still breaking.
I also remember the good times. Weeks before they ever come home you start thinking about it, trying not to get too excited because you are so familiar with the term “needs of the (insert branch of service here).”
You know that those needs are actually the needs of the collective — the needs of America — and they overshadow yours. Still, you have everything planned. A great outfit, an amazing meal, and all your service member’s favorite activities filling the calendar for weeks after they come home.
But during the Endless Wars, that last sentence has an amendment: “for now.”
For years I listened to those who called for drawdown with disdain, called them unsupportive and silently labeled them unpatriotic.
Now I am one of them. I realize that criticisms of the “war” is not criticism of our troops, but rather of the bureaucrats and politicians who have mismanaged these conflicts for nearly two decades.
Americans can no longer afford to spend billions of dollars chasing elusive outcomes and having undefined missions.
My generation cannot sacrifice the lives or mental health of any more young men and women. Our country cannot afford to be involved in foreign conflicts with no end in sight.
As activist Carrie Catt understood, women’s duty to country did not begin with a vote, nor was merely voting the end goal. If those suffragettes were alive today, they would be so proud of the women who find and use their voices in our current political climate.
One hundred years after my sisters fought for me to have a voice, I will use it loudly to call for an end to the endless wars.
I will tell others about it, I will call legislators, I will be a part of another historic movement that will change the world. Women are known for their innate ability to rebuild, innovate, and inspire amid all climates.
We are problem solvers. We are bricklayers. We are lights in the darkness. We are a driving force behind positive change, and we’re not stopping anytime soon.
Micaela Kirwan lives in Pensacola and is a community engagement director for Concerned Veterans for America-Florida.