Gals with Guns

17 Aug

In researching Cold War religion and the 1962 tour of the Robert Shaw Chorale in the Soviet Union, I found this photo in an online archive. It’s of a female Soviet soldier guarding a WWII monument during the 1980s. Becca, do you know anything about female soldiery during the Cold War?


12 Responses to “Gals with Guns”

  1. Kirill Klimov August 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    I think that probably this is staging or fake picture

  2. Morgan Deane August 17, 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    This picture reminds me of the movie “Red Dawn”.

  3. ep August 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    Kirill, what leads you to believe this photo is fake?

  4. amanda5245 August 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    Also, I wonder if it was staged, what the purpose is for staging it. What message is it meant to convey?

  5. matt b August 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Women fought in the Soviet Army at least as far back as World War II. This seems entirely consistent to me.

  6. Christopher August 17, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Yeah, women fought in the Soviet army as early as WWI and, as I understand it, were very present in WWII and throughout the Cold War.

    Can you tell us more about your research, Liz?

  7. ep August 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    Certainly, certainly, Chris. I’ll try to cook up a post on it soon. And it will appeal to matt b because, of course, there will be some mention of his favorite Niebuhr.

  8. matt b August 18, 2010 at 6:09 am #


  9. ep August 18, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    🙂 Silly me, assuming that it would be Reinhold. But I appreciate the progressiveness of your choice. A woman theologian? Astounding. You interested in posting on her?

  10. Becca August 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    I don’t know a lot about female soldiers in Cold War Russia, but my impression is that Soviet women in combat hit a peak in 1943 after the Soviet Union started taking massive casualties from the German invasion. Frontline nurses and antiaircraft units were virtually all women. The Soviet “Night Witches” famously used obsolete biplanes to carry out bombardments of German camps. (The Night Witches used the second rate technology to their advantage, outmaneuvering German aircraft that had higher stall speeds, flying low to the ground, and cutting out their own engines just before reaching a target). Women were also integrated into infantry and sniper units and served as “partisan” irregulars. The New York Times recently had a nice photo feature on female Soviet veterans.

    However, it’s not clear how many women actually served in the Soviet forces during WWII (Joshua Goldstein’s War and Gender estimates it at 8%), especially since the USSR tended to overemphasize the role of women in the military to raise citizen morale and encourage male soldiers to fight harder. During the Cold War, female participation seems to have dropped off a lot, although women were still encouraged to join and surviving WWII soldiers were kept in the reserves. The proportion of women in the Russian army rests at about 10% today. I’d guess that the photograph above portrays a real female soldier, but largely for publicity and propaganda purposes.

  11. matt b August 18, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    She’s more a pastor than a theologian. And I haven’t yet written the portion of my diss chapter on her, alas. But it’s coming . . .

  12. ep August 19, 2010 at 4:16 am #

    Nachthexen–awesome. Thanks for this, Becca.

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