Women and the Vietnam War

Natasha Zaretsky. Vietnam War Era: People and Perspectives. Editor: Mitchell K Hall. ABC-CLIO, 2009.

When Americans today recall the Vietnam War era, certain iconic images come to mind: young, fresh-faced soldiers being sent overseas; national leaders such as Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon justifying the war to an increasingly skeptical public; and antiwar activists burning their draft cards in protest. Women do not loom very large in our collective memory of the Vietnam War, and when they do appear, it is often in the context of haunting photographs of Vietnamese civilians burned, maimed, and killed by U.S. bombing raids. Yet American women too played a role in both the execution of the war and the broader politics that surrounded it, and this essay explores their relationship to the war in three different capacities: as military personnel and civilians who served and worked in Vietnam during the war; as protesters on the home front who became increasingly vocal in their opposition to the war; and finally, as the wives, mothers, and sisters of American prisoners of war (POWs) in Southeast Asia. By tracing their roles in all of these capacities, women’s complex position vis-à-vis the war comes into fuller view: they were both enablers of the war and resisters to it; executors of the war and, increasingly, protesters against it; actors who challenged official narratives of the war and, at times, crucial shapers of those narratives. Hardly on the sidelines, American women—both on the home front and the war front—were at the center of the military conflict.

American Women in Vietnam

Between 1962 and 1973, approximately 55,000 American women lived and worked in Vietnam, and somewhere between 7,500 and 11,000 of them served on active military duty. These women worked in a range of capacities: as clerical workers, air traffic controllers, cartographers, intelligence specialists, missionaries, teachers, journalists, photographers, and flight attendants. Almost all of them were volunteers. For women in the military, nursing was by far the most common occupation. One historian estimates that nurses represented a full 80 percent of women who served in Vietnam (Jeffreys-Jones 1999). The Navy, the Air Force, and the Army all enlisted nurses, who had to be at least 20 years old and were generally expected to complete a one-year tour of duty. In addition, civilian women worked in Vietnam under the auspices of several organizations, including the Red Cross, the United Service Organizations (USO), the American Friends Service Committee, and Catholic Relief Services.

Although nurses were officially excluded from the combat zone, the brutal, haphazard nature of the military conflict often placed them in perilous situations. As the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation (formerly the Memorial Project) later recalled, “There was no front. There was no such thing as safe behind our lines” (“During the Vietnam Era”). Naval nurses worked on hospital ships that sailed along the Vietnamese coast; Air Force nurses administered aid to the wounded on evacuation flights; and Army nurses worked in field hospitals, surgical hospitals, evacuation hospitals, mobile army surgical hospitals, and POW hospitals throughout the war. They often did this work in the midst of chaos. Writer Keith Walker, who interviewed several women who had served in Vietnam, recalled the various stories women had told him: “Red Cross women being fired upon in helicopters on their way to fire bases and outposts or stranded in a jungle clearing with no help in sight; nurses routinely working twelve-hour shifts six days a week and often much longer during mass casualties while rocket attacks went on outside their hospitals; a Special Services worker being flown out to a safe area during the Tet offensive, her helicopter lifting off as the mortar rounds walked in across the field” (Walker 1985, 4-5).

Women who made the decision to go to Vietnam had not always been adequately prepared for these risks. As Army nurse Lynda Van Devanter recalled, she had gone to Vietnam under the fallacious assumption that she would be safe. That assumption was soon debunked: “No sooner had I met some other nurses than I began hearing the stories. At least six U.S. Army nurses had died in Vietnam before I arrived—two in ’66 and four in ’67, all in helicopter crashes. And there were plenty of doctors, corpsmen, and other medical personnel who had been sent home in body bags.” She recalled an older woman major mocking her earlier naiveté. Whoever told her she would be safe, the woman said, “should be horsewhipped. There might not be many nurses dying, but there are enough being wounded to discourage anyone with half a brain from being here” (Van Devanter 1983, 85).

In their capacity as nurses, women bore witness to the extraordinary violence unleashed by the war. Throughout the military conflict, both the North Vietnamese and American forces relied on small arms that were designed to inflict massive, mutilating injuries on the enemy. The relatively small size of Vietnam meant that injured soldiers could be taken relatively quickly to base camps, which maximized their chances of surviving injuries that undoubtedly would have killed them in earlier wars. It also meant that nurses routinely confronted the bloodshed and brutality of war as they, along with doctors and surgeons, conducted triages, performed amputations, and inserted tracheotomies and breathing tubes. In their recollections of the war, nurses noted not only the split-second decisions they had to make in makeshift emergency rooms but also the remarkable youth of the soldiers they tried to save. One Army nurse who served for a year in two evacuation hospitals recalled that she “had to make the decision about those people who were wounded so bad that no matter how much time you would spend on them, they wouldn’t live. They were called ‘expectants,’ and you would have to put them in an area behind a screen to die—these 19 year old kids” (Walker 1985, 13).

This intimate proximity to the violence unleashed by the war had a transformative effect on many American women in Vietnam. Women went to Vietnam in the first place for a variety of reasons. Those who worked for relief organizations chose to go there out of a broad commitment to humanitarianism. For young nurses from working-class backgrounds, the choice to join the military meant they would be able to avoid going into debt for an education. Still others went to Vietnam out of a sense of patriotic duty and a desire to make a contribution to the war effort. Lynda Van Devanter (1983) remembered her early decision to go to war: “we were saving a country from communism. These were brave boys fighting and dying for democracy … And if our boys are being blown apart, then somebody better be over there putting them back together again” (47).

Many women found themselves forever changed by their wartime experiences in ways that were not unlike the transformations later described by male Vietnam veterans. They adopted coarser language and started using profanity, and some smoked marijuana and drank alcohol to numb themselves against the unrelenting violence they encountered. Perhaps most significantly, some women changed their views about the war. In the summer of 1969, Van Devanter (1983) wrote in a letter to her parents that it hurt “so much to see the paper full of protestors” (127). As the months passed, however, her attitude toward the war began to change. She found herself “cursing the people” who had brought American troops to Vietnam, and she soon viewed the protesters as allies rather than adversaries: “I wished I could march with them to make the politicians understand the terrible price Vietnam was extracting from our young” (Van Devanter 1983, 184). Not all women lost faith in the war effort, however. Over the course of her year in Vietnam, one woman who served in the Special Services oscillated between being very pro-war and doubting the direction of U.S. policy. By the end of her tour of duty, she had come full circle: “I was convinced we were doing the right thing and I supported it totally” (Walker 1985, 34). Much like the position of men who served, women’s position regarding the war defies easy political categorization.

Although there were parallels between men’s and women’s experiences in Vietnam, there were also marked differences. Despite the extraordinary trials of wartime, women were expected to maintain standards of moral and sexual propriety while overseas that men were not. Van Devanter summarized the Army’s oppressive double standard: “If the guys wanted to go carousing to all hours of the night and screw 97 prostitutes in a day, it was to be expected,” but “if we [women] wanted to have a relationship, or to occasionally be with a man we cared deeply about, we were not conducting ourselves as ‘ladies’ should.” Condoms were routinely available to GIs, she recalled, but birth control pills were rarely dispensed (Van Devanter 1983, 138). The denial of women’s sexual freedom—particularly compared with men’s—was overshadowed by a more pervasive problem: sexual harassment. Although the dynamic of sexual harassment did not enter the realm of public awareness in the United States until after the war was over, women who served in Vietnam later related their vulnerability to unwarranted sexual advances. In one particularly vivid account, a civilian airline flight attendant who flew in and out of Vietnam remembered that men routinely masturbated on her flights. More often, the harassment was subtle, as women encountered lonely, emotionally starved men who pushed the line between flirtation and coercion. One nurse described going to a local officers club after working a 12-hour shift and having “one guy after another” pressuring her to dance and complaining when she would decline a request (Walker 1985, 10). Another woman who worked at a communications center explained that as the only woman on her shift, she “got a lot of comments…. It was always sort of that fine line between flattering popularity and sexual harassment. And there were times when you really couldn’t distinguish between the two.” At the same time, she described her male colleagues as “like brothers,” whom she tried to nurture as best she could over the months. “The few women that were there,” she explained, “had to fill in as mother, sister, sweetheart, confidante … we filled every gap we could” (Walker 1985, 23).

After the war was over, the unique challenges women confronted in Vietnam remained largely obscured. Male soldiers who had fought in Vietnam did not receive a hero’s welcome upon their return, in part because of the failures of U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia and in part because of the growing domestic opposition to the war. The war deeply divided the country, and returnees came home to a nation that, in many respects, wanted to put a contentious and unpopular war behind it as quickly as possible. Thus, for many years returnees were rendered invisible, and this invisibility was even more acute for women. Throughout the late 1970s, there was no public recognition that women had played an active role in the military conflict. This failure of recognition could have dire consequences, as many returning women suffered from the same psychological fallout described by many male returnees: depression, suicidal tendencies, difficulty holding down a steady job, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite these shared experiences, women found themselves excluded from various forms of veteran mobilization. Lynda Van Devanter, who had turned against the war while overseas, attended a meeting of Vietnam Veterans Against the War shortly after her return to the United States. Upon learning she was a nurse, a member of the group praised her and her fellow nurses for having saved men’s lives, but the same man nonetheless hesitated when Van Devanter asked if she could participate in a protest march being planned by the group. Even though she was a veteran, the man explained, she did not look the part: “You don’t look like a vet … If we have women marching, Nixon and the network news reporters might think we’re swelling the ranks with nonvets” (Van Devanter 1983, 272). The man excluded her not out of a sense of malice but rather because he thought her participation might undermine the legitimacy of an organization that was already embattled.

By the early 1980s, this picture began to change as women veterans shared their experiences with one another, advocated for themselves, and asserted a greater role in the public sphere. Rose Sandecki, a nurse who had served in two evacuation hospitals in Vietnam between October 1968 and October 1969, later became a strong advocate for women veterans. By the 1980s, Sandecki was traveling to veteran centers throughout the country to educate male veterans, counselors, and psychologists about women’s experience in Vietnam. Dubbing herself a “social activist for women in the military,” she described her calling: “I let them know that women are in the military, that women veterans have needs as well as men. People are starting to pick up the fact that women were in the war and were in combat even though they didn’t carry guns” (Walker 1985, 16). No less important than educating the wider public, women returnees made contact with one another and shared their experiences. When one woman veteran told her story—through publishing a memoir, giving a public lecture, or being interviewed on the radio—other women listened and discovered they were not alone in their traumas. An Army nurse explained the experience of meeting two other women nurses at a conference on post-traumatic stress disorder in 1982. The women “practically talked nonstop for three days,” she recalled. Talking with other women, in her words, “[brought] out a lot of stuff and [helped] with filling in some of the gaps in memories” (Walker 1985, 121).

Perhaps the most tangible physical symbol of the growing visibility of women veterans is the women’s memorial at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C. In 1984, a group of women founded a nonprofit organization called the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project. The mission of the group was to identify military and civilian women who had served in Vietnam, to enlighten the public about them, and to facilitate psychological and sociological research on their experiences. No less important, the organization led the fight to ensure that women received their proper place in the collective memory of the war itself through the creation of a national monument. Located about 300 feet south of artist Maya Lin’s memorial wall, the bronze sculpture was dedicated in November 1993. Designed by sculptor Glenna Goodacre, the multifigure piece depicts three women caring for a wounded male soldier. On the day of its unveiling, 25,000 veterans and family members gathered at the site. More than two decades after the end of the Vietnam War, Mary Beth Newkumet, the memorial’s spokeswoman stood before the crowd and remembered what women had done: They “bore the intensity and carnage of war…. Three hundred fifty thousand wounded soldiers went through their hospitals, airplanes, and ships. Thousands died with a nurse beside them—she was the last person many of them saw. Many thousands more were saved because of quick, effective medical care” (Roberts 1993).

Women War Resisters

As some American women supported the war effort overseas, others on the home front tried to stop the war. Women’s position concerning the war proceeded in three stages between 1960 and 1973: early indifference, maternalism, and, after 1970, increased militancy. According to historian Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, in the early to mid-1960s, women’s groups showed few signs of dissent in the face of the war’s escalation. Mainstream organizations such as the League of Women Voters and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) adopted what he describes as a position of “quiescence”: they urged the Johnson administration to work with the United Nations to end the conflict but went no further. In addition, the 12 women who served in Congress between 1967 and 1969 were relatively quiet when it came to speaking out against the war. Antiwar activist—and the first U.S. congress-woman—Jeannette Rankin condemned women’s silence on the home front, arguing that they had prioritized the economic benefits of war over the lives of their own children. “They’ve been worms,” she accused, “They let their sons go off to war because their husbands will lose their jobs in industry if they protest” (Jeffreys-Jones 1999, 148-150).

By the mid-1960s, women did begin speaking out against the war, but they frequently did so in specifically maternalist terms—that is, they drew on traditional ideas about motherhood to condemn war and promote peace. Two organizations were particularly effective at mobilizing maternalist rhetoric to condemn the war during this period: Women Strike for Peace (WSP) and Another Mother for Peace (AMP). WSP was founded in 1961 by a small group of women that included children’s book illustrator Dagmar Wilson. An organization that developed a powerful critique of Cold War militarism, the group was not launched in opposition to the Vietnam War, but rather it began by seeking to call public attention to the risks of nuclear testing on the part of both the United States and the Soviet Union in the context of the arms race. Relying heavily on marches and street demonstrations to spread their message, the group was made up of mainly married, white, middle-class mothers of young children who resided in the nation’s growing suburbs. Initially, the group focused on the multiple dangers that attended the arms race, but after 1965 it increasingly turned its attention to the war in Vietnam. Over the next five years, it engaged in a range of tactics to sway public opinion against the war: it protested the use of defoliants such as napalm that injured Vietnamese children, it demonstrated in front of the Pentagon in January 1967, and it launched a letter-writing campaign to the White House that urged President Johnson to seek peace in Vietnam “for the sake of our children” (Jeffreys-Jones 1999, 157). Finally, it turned to legislative politics and sought to create an explicit peace platform within the Democratic Party. In the midterm elections of 1970, members of WSP celebrated as several antiwar candidates—including Rep. Bella Abzug—won seats in Congress. The congressional victory was due at least in part to the increased mobilization of women voters by this time.

The second organization that mobilized maternalist rhetoric to end the war was AMP. Founded in 1967, this group was even more explicit than WSP in its appeals to traditional motherhood. Spearheaded largely by women in the entertainment industry, this nonpartisan group developed the famous slogan “War is not healthy for children and other living things” and urged women to send their congressional representatives Mother’s Day cards that demanded an end to the war for the sake of motherhood and peace. In the cases of both WSP and AMP, the reliance on maternalism was complex. On the one hand, it legitimated women’s roles in the public sphere solely on the basis of their traditional identities as mothers and protectors of young children. It was only in their capacity as mothers, in other words, that women could act as moral arbiters in the growing domestic debate about the war. On the other hand, as Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones suggests, these groups helped to legitimize the antiwar movement as a whole and move the movement from the margins to the center of American society in the late 1960s.

After 1970, however, women began shedding this earlier maternalism and adopting a more overtly militant position toward the war. There were several reasons for women’s increased militancy and prominence in the antiwar movement by the early 1970s. First, as we have already seen, women voters became increasingly mobilized in electoral politics and contributed their efforts to the congressional campaigns of several peace candidates. Indeed, the growing significance of women voters was apparent in the 1972 campaign of George McGovern, who made a point of courting them. Second, certain high-profile women in the entertainment industry, most notably actress Jane Fonda and folk singer Joan Baez, used their celebrity status to publicly condemn the war and speak out against U.S. foreign policy. In 1972, Fonda famously traveled to Vietnam and was photographed sitting at a communist antiaircraft gun—an image that made her a villain in the eyes of military hawks who supported the war effort. Third, women writers such as Frances FitzGerald, Susan Sontag, and Mary McCarthy also traveled to Vietnam and wrote arresting accounts of their experiences there. In 1972, Fitzgerald published Fire in the Lake, in which she simultaneously chronicled her travels through the country and condemned what she saw as the misguided nature of U.S. foreign policy in the region. The book was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Women’s growing militancy regarding the war after 1970 also had its origins in the rise of the women’s liberation movement. By the early 1970s, women who had first become politicized through their involvement with the civil rights movement and the New Left turned to the themes of women’s oppression and male patriarchy. The struggles for racial freedom and equality, coupled with the New Left attention to the theme of alienation, compelled women to question their own marginalization in the larger society. They also developed a critique of the antiwar movement. Although white, middle-class mothers in the 1960s had spearheaded organizations such as WSP, young women became involved in groups such as Students for a Democratic Society, a student-based organization that had become increasingly involved in antiwar activism. Yet women activists later complained that patterns of male oppression had been reproduced within the movement itself. Male activists gave the speeches, led demonstrations, and dramatically burned their draft cards, while women activists did clerical work, cooked food, and provided male leaders with sexual companionship. By the early 1970s, women antiwar activists were rejecting both the appeals to traditional motherhood that animated WSP and AMP and the ways student radicals unwittingly reproduced patterns of women’s oppression that pervaded the culture at large. Thus, women activists condemned the war neither as mothers nor as male helpmates but rather as their own moral and political agents, and some feminists even condemned the war explicitly as both a manifestation and symptom of global patriarchy. The growing militancy of women protesters after 1970 was evidence of a developing feminist consciousness.

In many respects, the women who opposed the war on the home front were worlds apart from the women who worked, lived, and served in the combat zone, even though some American women in Vietnam gradually turned against the war. Yet both groups of women had one thing in common: a tendency to be left out of the public’s collective memory of the Vietnam era. Women who served in Vietnam were rendered invisible in accounts of returning veterans, and women antiwar activists were also obscured by images of the antiwar movement, which consistently featured male protesters clashing with police and burning their draft cards. In many respects, the emphasis on male protest is not surprising, as it was young men who were being conscripted into war. By rejecting the war, these young men were simultaneously revising prevailing definitions of masculinity by attempting to decouple manhood from military service. Yet women had also helped to bring an end to the war—as mothers, as voters, as public figures, and ultimately as feminists. In the process, they played a crucial role in moving the antiwar movement from the margins to the center of American life.

Women relatives of U.S. POWs in Southeast Asia

There was a final group of American women who played a crucial role in the public debate about the war in Vietnam: the wives, sisters, and mothers of U.S. POWs in Southeast Asia. These women assumed prominence in the late 1960s, as the plight of POWs and their families became the subject of growing public attention. Before that time, the government had pursued what it called a policy of “quiet diplomacy” concerning the POWs, which was later dubbed the “keep quiet policy” by one disillusioned POW wife (Stockdale and Stockdale 1984, 307). Premised on the assumption that publicizing information about POWs might jeopardize their safety and derail ongoing negotiations with the North Vietnamese, this policy advised the families of captured and missing men to stay out of the public eye and refrain from contacting the press.

Beginning in 1966, a number of forces began to undermine this policy. As the government received reports of prisoner mistreatment, the Johnson administration became more proactive on the POW issue, establishing a Committee on Prisoner Matters within the State Department in April 1966. But the demand for greater attention to the plight of POWs also came from the wives, sisters, and mothers of prisoners themselves. By the late 1960s, many relatives of POWs had grown frustrated, not only by the dearth of information coming out of Vietnam but also by the policy of quiet diplomacy, which they now saw as an excuse for government inaction. Sybil Stockdale, whose husband, naval commander James Stockdale, had been captured in 1965, met on numerous occasions with officials in the Department of the Navy and the State Department and reached the disheartening conclusion that “official silence and secrecy can cover up incompetence and just plain inertia” (“At Least” 1970). In October 1968, she defied the government’s policy and went public with her husband’s story in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Stockdale was not acting alone; she was part of an informal network of POW wives, parents, and siblings who took matters into their own hands and engaged in grassroots organizing, many for the first time in their lives. They launched letter-writing campaigns to members of Congress and the White House, appealed to the press, attempted to establish direct contact with Hanoi in the hope of gathering information, and sent POW wives to Washington, D.C., and to the Paris peace talks to demand North Vietnamese compliance with the terms of the Geneva Convention. Swayed in part by the growing assertiveness of these relatives, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird ended the policy of quiet diplomacy in May 1969, publicly charging Hanoi with prisoner mistreatment and demanding that if the Vietnamese did not release the prisoners, they at least had a humanitarian obligation to disclose information about their condition. The policy of quiet diplomacy was subsequently replaced with a coordinated “go public” campaign—spearheaded by both government officials and POW relatives—that aimed to generate sympathy for POWs and their families.

Over the next four years, this campaign featured stories of the loyal wives, grief-stricken parents, and uncomprehending children of American POWs. Editorials blamed the North Vietnamese for transforming the home front into a “fatherless world,” one of sons and daughters who, according to one editorial in the Armed Forces Journal, had “a right to know if their fathers [were] dead or alive” (“A National Disgrace” 1969). In December 1970, Life and Look magazines featured photo essays documenting POW children growing up without their fathers, contrasting early family photographs of cheerful, intact families with more recent, somber photographs in which the father was absent. Meanwhile, the POW wife was left with the nearly impossible task of explaining her husband’s disappearance to a child with no understanding of war. As Frank Sieverts, the State Department’s top official on POW and missing in action (MIA) matters, reported during the same period, “The telephone rings all the time. In the holiday season, it is especially bad. Wives call up asking me what to say to their children, how to explain that they don’t know where their husbands are, whether they are dead or alive, when all the other kids have their fathers” (“Living with Uncertainty,” 20). Through its policy of secrecy, according to these accounts, Hanoi had placed innocent women and children in a cruel state of suspension, generating enormous uncertainty within the family. “It’s a very lonely existence,” revealed one POW wife whose husband had been shot down in 1967. “You’re married but you’re not married. You’re not single. You’re not divorced or widowed. Where does that put you in society? That puts you in your own world” (“Living with Uncertainty,” 19).

The wives, sisters, and mothers of POWs who were at the center of the publicity campaign shared certain features with both the women who served in Vietnam and those who fought to end the war at home. Like some of the women who chose to go to Vietnam, many of them had spent their entire lives in military communities, and they strongly supported the war in Southeast Asia. But, like the women who formed WSP and AMP, they mobilized a maternalist rhetoric, one that appealed to essentialist ideals of motherhood to make political demands on the state. Although the maternalism of WSP and AMP was aligned with pacifism, however, these women were hawks who emphasized their roles as wives and mothers to condemn the North Vietnamese and demand more American military intervention, not less. Above all, the POW wife and mother hoped for the POW’s safe return while simultaneously wanting him to wage and win the war.

Just as some women who served in Vietnam gradually turned against the war, so, too, did some POW wives, sisters, and mothers. In May 1971, several relatives formed a group called POW-MIA Families for Immediate Release, which adopted an overtly antiwar position by demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. By July of that year, approximately 300 POW relatives had joined the group, claiming that the Nixon administration was using the prisoners as a justification for prolonging the war and insisting that the president negotiate the prisoners’ release without regard to the political fate of South Vietnam. As one member of the group exclaimed, “They cannot use my husband to spread the blood of 45 young men a week on Viet Nam.” These relatives insisted that their missing men had by this point become the political hostages of both Hanoi and the Nixon administration. Although some of them aligned themselves with the antiwar movement primarily for pragmatic reasons—believing that ending the war would be the quickest way to get the prisoners home—others believed American military involvement in Vietnam was morally wrong, above and beyond the POW issue.

The wives, mothers, and sisters of American POWs were thus another group who played a pivotal role during the Vietnam War era. Although the women who went to Vietnam helped to execute the war, and women war protesters on the home front sought to end it, the women relatives of POWs did something else: they helped shape an official narrative of the war that indicted the North Vietnamese for humanitarian crimes and constructed the POWs—and by extension their families—as innocent victims rather than aggressors in the wider war. Yet over time, as opposition to the war gained momentum, some women relatives of POWs questioned this official narrative and eventually challenged it from within. The shifting story of the wives, mothers, and sisters of POWs thus reminds us that women are not only the subjects of the stories Americans tell about the Vietnam War but also that women both construct and contest those same stories.

This essay has traced women’s relationship to the Vietnam War in three different capacities: as both civilians and military members who chose to live and work in Vietnam for the duration of the war; as protesters who fought to end the war on the home front; and finally, as the wives, sisters, and mothers of POWs who waged a campaign to call public attention to the plight of captured men and their families. These three positions reveal the difficulties inherent in making blanket generalizations about the role women played in the conflict: they waged the war and fought against it; they protested against the government in some instances and collaborated with it in others. No less significant, women’s positions changed over time: some women executors of the war evolved into protesters; protesters who condemned the war as mothers later did so as autonomous moral agents; other women who had helped craft official stories about the war later became critics of those same stories. Not coincidentally, many of these transformations took place in an era of women’s liberation, when women increasingly claimed more power and autonomy in the public sphere. Taken together, these stories leave little doubt that women played a constitutive role, not only in the war’s execution and opposition but also in shaping the collective memories of the military conflict that we have carried into the present.