Donald Morrison: Song of the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment
BECKET — In the summer of 1942, the German 6th Army attacked the Soviet Russian city of Stalingrad, from the north. The Russians were expecting an attack from any other direction but that one. The only Soviet military unit in the Germans' path was the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment. It was staffed almost entirely by women.
I have been saving this historical nugget to use whenever I heard somebody question the role of women in the military. But that doesn't happen much anymore, so now seems a good time for deployment. It's not that women are currently under attack, though you might think so from Brett Kavanaugh's recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings in the Senate. Or because our mostly male Congress just let the Violence Against Women Act expire. Or because October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. (Nice irony there.)
No, I'm dragging out my little anecdote because history seems to be launching another of its surprise attacks. Those women at Stalingrad were untrained, untested and largely abandoned by their male comrades. Sound familiar? But then, women have always been underestimated, and often they surprise us skeptical males with their quiet strength and anger.
Christine Blasey Ford certainly did with her testimony at the recent Senate hearings. Our wives and mothers surprise us constantly with their ability to bear children, run households, hold jobs and pursue careers without a lot of chest-beating. Too often, we have responded to their accomplishments with indifference, derision and — when the fragile male ego feels truly threatened — drunken violence.
Consider those recent hearings. What was supposed to have been a slam-dunk Supreme Court confirmation instead became an unexpected ordeal for our elected officials. Especially for the party with no female senators in the hearing room. That's also the party opposed to paid family leave and equal pay for equal work. The party convinced that the real victims of the #MeToo movement are men. The party itching to restrict women's reproductive rights. The party whose president separates mothers from their children, boasts of his own sexual misconduct, and the other day questioned the intelligence of a female journalist on live TV. A day later he mocked Dr. Ford.
A storm is gathering. Women have long tended to vote Democratic, by small margins. In the last election, a majority of white women voted for Trump. Lately, however, polls indicate that the gender gap has become a chasm. Vast number of women are running for office, some of them Republicans. That's good news for America. After all, 51 percent of its citizens are women. Their wisdom and competence are too seldom appreciated.
Those qualities are certainly remembered in Stalingrad, now known as Volgograd. When it became clear that male units were not coming to their aid, the women of the 1077th cranked their anti-aircraft guns to horizontal and held off the German advance for two precious days. They had no armor-piercing ammunition, only air-burst flak. Yet they destroyed or disabled 85 tanks, 14 planes and three entire infantry battalions. (All men.) By the time the Germans reached their position, most of the women were dead.
The fighting at Stalingrad raged for 200 days, becoming the biggest military battle in history. A total of 2 million troops were involved. Casualties also hit 2 million, most of them civilians. In the end, the German 6th Army was obliterated. Stalingrad never fell. The Nazi war effort never recovered.
There's a similar battle coming in just a few weeks. The party that gave us Brett Kavanaugh is massing at the mid-term gates for yet another assault on America's norms, checks, balances and, of course, women. This time, it looks as if the most important force standing in their way is female.
We mighty he-men can only hope that women, much as they did at Stalingrad in the summer of '42, rally at the polls next month to save us. Not just from a political threat, but from our own arrogance, ignorance and blinkered vanity.
Donald Morrison is an Eagle columnist and Advisory Board member.
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