Forgotten Warriors: The Long History of Women in Combat
“From Joan of Arc to Queen Njinga of Ndongo, the reader will meet a vibrant cast of powerful women whose stories deserve to be told.”
Sarah Percy provides a thorough review of women warriors, spanning centuries and continents. She opens the book with the story of a Viking burial, a grave that contained many weapons as well as the remains of two horses. "Clearly, this was the grave of a warrior—and a significant one." Naturally, the assumption was that the skeleton was a man's. However bone analysis done in the 1970s revealed that in fact the skeleton was a woman's. This proof was seen as suspect, some kind of mix-up rather than important new information.
As Percy explains: "Except many critics were unconvinced. Had the authors of the study got the wrong skeleton? Had another skeleton been mixed up in the grave?"
The assumption that only men could have this role was so strong that the facts themselves were questioned. Percy deftly uses this as her jumping off point to show throughout these fascinating pages how strongly this prejudice affects not only how we see women in war, but their intrinsic value as citizens.
Percy covers a lot of ground, from this first anonymous Viking warrior to women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars to rebel women on the barricades of France in the 1700s. She shows how women were part of siege defenses, flew warplanes for the Soviets in WWII, and took the same dangerous risks their male counterparts in countless battles in India, China, Africa, and Europe. Through all the individual stories that are told, Percy's message is clear:
"I am not going to claim that women were the star players and strategists who influenced the big turning points of military history. But I do want to demonstrate that women were part of the warp of weft of war, that they were common on the battlefield, and that they survived and even thrived as part of the machine of war. . . . It's a story where rules about female combat suppressed gender equality in society, and a story of the women who fought to change these rules."
It's a complicated task, but Percy is up to the challenge. The book succeeds precisely because she covers so many different historical periods and geographical regions. Naturally, with such a broad scope, she can't always go into depth about each kind of woman warrior, but she provides enough information that those who want to find out more will know where to start looking. And she's careful to link these views about women to the deeper ramifications of their cultural status.
From Joan of Arc to Queen Njinga of Ndongo, the reader will meet a vibrant cast of powerful women whose stories deserve to be told. Truly impressive in scope and rigorously researched, this is a book that should be included in all military libraries.