Culture: Role Models and War Hero Case StudiesBy Sally Graham August 21, 2020
“In my opinion, the only good German was a dead German, and the deader, the better. I killed a lot of Germans, and I am only sorry I didn't kill more.” – Nancy Wake
This PME session aims to explore what lessons can be drawn from historical case studies of individuals who have performed heroic acts. The session draws on the unique perspective of war heroines in an environment often dominated by the inspiring stories and experiences of men. It is designed to introduce members to case studies they may not already be familiar with and explore the character and qualities of the women portrayed which make them exceptional.
This activity does not suggest that personnel should only find a role model or professional respect in those of the same gender, but rather ensure that non-masculine examples are available.
- She's Got Grit: Lessons in Grit from a female POW via Shannon Huffman Polson
- Sgt Leigh Ann Hester, Raven 24 and the Silver Star via NRA Explore
- The White Mouse Who Roared via the Sydney Morning Herald
- Behind Enemy Lines with Violette Szabo via smithsonian.com
- Additional Resource: Teaming: An Introduction to Gender Studies in the Australian Army
While this was designed as a facilitator-lead discussion, individuals will also benefit from reading the case studies (above) and using the discussion questions for self reflection. As you read through each article, consider the following two questions:
- What can I learn from these case studies?
- Who do I currently look up to as a military role model or war hero and why?
Discuss their personal qualities and the lessons that can be taken away.
Notes for session leaders
There are many impressive stories, Australian and otherwise, of feats that occur during wartime. They are a rallying point for public admiration of the military, and importantly, provide soldiers with real life examples of what is possible in extreme circumstances. Their stories help highlight admirable behaviour and the reality of force on force combat. Additionally, role models that are representative of minorities are important in normalising their place in the workforce.
A key consideration for this discussion is to focus on the positive attributes exhibited by the women involved in each case study, and more generally women in the military. The audience will be able to identify characteristics in the case studies which are commonly thought of as admirable in combat (and often associated with men - courage, ferocity, sacrifice) as well as potentially other less popularised ones (that may be more feminine in their association - compassion, calmness).
This discussion is in keeping with the ideals of this day (and the celebration of women). It is not designed to become a discussion of women in combat roles, reasons for hegemony in military teams or an opportunity to provide examples of where a woman hasn’t been a positive influence. Be wary of ‘whataboutery’, and particularly members who feel that it is exclusionary that male case studies are not being used. These types of sentiments might be indicative of someone who is struggling to understand the benefits of this discussion (and perhaps the benefits of encouraging exclusivity in the workplace).
For units that have a very small population of women, there is still considerable benefit in conducting this session. Your members cannot expect to remain in this type of workplace throughout their whole career. Providing them with an appreciation of the potential of women in a military environment, and normalising women as part of the ‘standard’ military workplace is important.
- What struck you as the most impressive feats by the different women from the readings?
- What characteristics did they demonstrate in their times of hardship?
- Do you think the characteristics they showed were typically masculine, feminine or neither?
- What are some less common characteristics that may also be important in war/conflict/crises?
- Do you think you could perform to the same standard in a similar time of crisis? Why or why not?
- Who are some other key female role models who have not been discussed?
- Who are your personal role models or war heroes?
- Is it possible to find a role model or war hero who emulates all of the qualities that are desirable? Why/why not?
- What is the value of exploring case studies of individual feats particularly on the battlefield?
- How relevant are WW1 or WW2 war heroes? Do you have more in common with modern figures?
- Do you think we should explore different case studies for those involved in HQ staff appointments? Do we need them to exhibit similar or different characteristics compared with those in practical/tactical roles?
Extract from Teaming
About the author: Sally Graham is a Major in the Royal Australian Corps of Transport. She has sixteen years worth of experience serving in a variety of different corps and non-corps postings throughout her career.