Strong woman

Indignant at the the sexist language of the mess hall, she at one point placed a fake hand grenade on the table at which she and a group of officers were eating. One of the men offered, loftily, to take the grenade and make it safe, at which point she pulled the pin. The men scattered, leaving Bohrer to finish her meal in peace.

Beats the current generation’s whining about sexism.

34 thoughts on “Strong woman”

  1. Reminds me of when Hedy Lamarr went to the US War Office saying: I’ve invented an encrypted torpedeo radio guidance system, I want to volunteer my engineering skills for the war effort, they told her: you just go off and look pretty. 20 years later they adopted her invention, 50 years later it forms the basis of the entire mobile phone network.

  2. It being behind a paywall, I couldn’t read the whole thing, but did it give any reason to trust the veracity of this truly incredible anecdote? Was the author a firsthand witness to the events, to have known that the male officer offered “loftily”? Or that these same officers – presumably her colleagues – were so deficient in courage and martial wit that a nonexplosive munition would leave her alone to dine; was her meal a peanut?

  3. Compare and contrast this woman with all the millennial snowflake feminists worrying about micro-agressions, sexual consent workshops, mansplaining and manspreading…

  4. Fail.

    All weapons handling instruction drills into you that a weapon must be treated as loaded/live especially when you think it isn’t.

    This sort of stunt should earn you an interview-without-coffee, not the respect of your peers.

  5. Clarissa, thanks for the link; it’s pretty much as expected – she’s made herself the heroine of her own anecdote, and we always trust that as if we’d seen it with our own eyes, don’t we? And her superior officer – who’d denied her whimsy to carry a grenade – would no doubt have thought that grenade fuses were timed to salad eating. I don’t mean to diminish this lady’s service in any way, but I see no mention of covert activity to justify the ‘spy’ label and these articles have more than a whiff of fancy about them to fit a very modern narrative. The ‘Annie Oakley’ photo with the NYT story is exactly the opposite of what I’d expect of a covert agent. As such, far from negating the ‘Unison class warrioresses’ I see it as supporting myth to their whinging. It’s not like there weren’t women who really did suffer horrifically in their espionage service that we have to gin-up tales like these.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    She probably did look at photos during World War Two. But her story is unusual. This is not from the NYT or behind a pay wall:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/doris-bohrer-an-american-spy-in-world-war-ii-and-the-cold-war-dies-at-93/2016/08/18/000d43d0-63de-11e6-96c0-37533479f3f5_story.html

    She said little publicly about her CIA career until 2011, when The Post published a story about her and a former CIA colleague, Elizabeth McIntosh, who found themselves neighbors at Westminster. In 2013, CIA Director John Brennan met with them at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to thank them for their service.

    So she did not talk about her career until she met someone else who had clearly worked for the OSS. Although her story remains remarkably light on detail. Virtually everything in that obit was printed here:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/decades-after-duty-in-the-oss-and-cia-spy-girls-find-each-other-in-retirement/2011/05/28/AG2xvZmH_story.html

    By the sounds of it her stories got a little bit better each time she told them.

  7. @jgh That Hedy Lamarr story is only one side of the story. Spread spectrum technology had been known about since the 1900s and was used for some German radio in WWI. I daresay the Yanks turned her down so that they didn’t have to disclose what they were already working on.

    The US developed voice scrambling technology using spread spectrum during WWII, but the system consumed so much power that it was only used for high level comms. It was one of the projects that Alan Turing worked on (N.B. not ran) while he was in the US during the war (at the time that the Turing myth peddlers would have us believe he was either cracking all the German codes with his bare hands or building Colossus out of Meccano and empty milk bottles), but we know less about the voice scrambling than Bletchley Park because the Yanks have kept quiet about it.

  8. jgh: Hedy Lamarr invented the frequency-hopping technique to scramble comms. I think the transatlantic WWII comms used something similar. FH was in the original spec for WiFi but is now not used. I think Bluetooth can use FH but signal coding techniques have moved on a lot since then.

  9. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Dennis, if you take a real grenade and remove the striker/fuse assembly, it looks like the real thing but is basically a dud. I assume that’s what the armourer did. They would have no reason to have practice grenades around, but probably had plenty of the real thing.

  10. It isn’t about the striker/fuse assembly… it’s about the color of the grenade. In the US services during WWII, practice grenades were painted blue. And not a blue paint that could easily be removed, either. I’ve seen them… real WWII vintage practice grenades still unmistakably blue.

    And for the record, no military armourer would modify a live grenade to a ‘dud’ without written orders. An armourer doing unauthorized modifications to weapons would result in a courts martial. Policy in all services was real clear: There are live grenades and there are practice grenades and nothing else.

    Live grenades were dark olive, practice grenades were a sky blue.

    As as mentioned above: “This sort of stunt should earn you an interview-without-coffee, not the respect of your peers.”

    If she’d done what she said she did, she’d have been courts martialed. Period.

    Borher is full of shit.

  11. Oh yeah Dennis, I’m sure that the OSS outpost in Bari was pure spit and polish, every regulation scrupulously followed.

  12. Matty –

    This may come as a surprise, but carrying ordnance, live or otherwise, into an officer’s mess in a rear area of an active theatre during wartime and then pretending to arm said ordnance isn’t a minor infraction of regulations. At the very least it would be considered “conduct unbecoming”, something Borher would have known all to well. Had she done what she claims to have done, any one of the male chauvinist pigs she fooled could have brought charges against her… and no doubt would have.

    Try googling “conduct unbecoming” or perhaps “Article 133 UCMJ”. Better yet, look up the definition of treason in Article 3, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution and try to grasp the term “giving aid and comfort to the enemy”.

  13. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Dennis, people in 617 Squadron used to drop parachute flares down people’s chimneys, at least if Paul Brickhill is to be believed. As in target illumination flares for Lancaster bombers. My father stole a 3 ton Bedford because he couldn’t be arsed to walk to the NAAFI and knocked the sergeants’ latrine down when he returned it, pissed (cos the wogs had nicked the wing mirrors). The Poles had a fucking bear with them at Monte Cassino. Adherence to rules during WW2 seemed to go in inverse proportion to how far away you were from Depot Regt.. Buggering about with live ordnance has a long and storied history.

  14. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in Costa Rica – “Adherence to rules during WW2 seemed to go in inverse proportion to how far away you were from Depot Regt.. Buggering about with live ordnance has a long and storied history.”

    Long and storied and often quite short. The question is how far is Bari from the depot? I am sure Front Line troops could get away with quite a lot. Some girl who looks at photos is not quite in the front line.

    The more interesting question is why she thinks this reflects well on herself. It is obviously part of the You Go Grrrl narrative pushed by the media 24/7 these days, and hence likely to be fake, but so what? Were those enlisted men – they seem to change depending on the telling – fools? Cowards? Knaves? Was she cool and calm? She knew it was harmless and they did not.

    It sounds like cartoon heroics to me. Much improved in the telling. By someone who was never particularly near any real danger in her entire career.

  15. BiCR,

    If someone had dropped a “target illumination flare” down a chimney, it would have taken out the building: these were big and bright enough to make the ground visible from aircraft at an altitude of three miles or so, typically forty-pound beasts ten times the size of a typical incendiary bomblet. Mishandling one such caused the fire that crippled the USS Oriskany, killing forty, in 1966: these are big, expensive, items, not left lying around for jolly japes, nor easily hauled up a roof.

    I’m perfectly prepared to believe that dropping a Very signal flare down a chimney into a fire was a popular prank, but that’s something easily held in the hand, widely issued, and in hazard terms on a par with the “miniflare duelling” we used to do when getting rid of part-used or life-expired pyrotechnics. (The 1.5″ Schermuly paraflare, a fair bit bigger and brighter than a Very light, was the boundary point of “fun and games stop here, this could actually do real damage”)

    And while I saw an interesting assortment of firearms at mealtimes while deployed, the sort of explosive ordnance that could take out a table or three if mishandled (like, a hand grenade) was never seen much less handled. You left your rifle, webbing/daysack and body armour by the door while you ate, and any grenades would be in there: a few folk with pistols in belt or thigh rigs (the General’s protective detail, for instance) kept then on because it was less hassle than dekitting and rekitting the holster – but actually fiddling around with a weapon, for any reason more than “it’s digging into my leg, excuse me while I adjust the straps”, was a real faux pas that would get you invited to find an alternative place to eat.

    Finally, photographic interpretation isn’t a frontline job and isn’t done in places where hand grenades are common currency; nor, frankly, would you willingly give most PIs/IAs grenades even in an emergency.

  16. “Adherence to rules during WW2 seemed to go in inverse proportion to how far away you were from Depot Regt.”

    Dunno about that. From what I’ve heard, it’s in inverse proportion to the distance from the nearest officer…

    Technically, sexist language is against the regulations, too. (As is drunkenness, bullying, bizarre ‘hazing’ initiation ceremonies, and racism.) So obviously that could never happen, either, because no soldier would ever dream of breaching regulations…

    There are two ways you can deal with other troops breaking the rules. The ‘regulation’ way is to report it to the officers, but I gather that tends to make you quite unpopular. The alternative approach is to demonstrate exactly *why* it’s a good idea to follow regulations with regard to your fellow soldiers, so that they’ll be more inclined to follow regulations when dealing with you. And equally, the unspoken deal would be that I won’t snitch you up to the officers for your bad behaviour if you don’t do the same to me.

    I can’t comment on the feasibility of obtaining an apparently ‘live’ grenade that wasn’t. (Like, how hard would it be to repaint a practice grenade?) I doubt anyone would believe that someone would pull the pin out of a live grenade and then just sit there eating their dinner for more than a moment or two. But I could easily believe that it would be seen as fair play if someone managed to pull such a joke and get people to jump, and maybe they would ease up on the language in return. Since there was no actual danger imposed, I doubt any all-of-a-sudden by-the-book ‘snitches’ would make themselves popular reporting it – especially if it resulted in their own collective bad behaviour and bullying coming to light.

    But since sexist language is against regulations and no soldier would ever consider using it, the credibility of the story ends right there. Right?

  17. So Much For Subtlety

    NiV – “But since sexist language is against regulations and no soldier would ever consider using it, the credibility of the story ends right there. Right?”

    Twenty first century mores in a story dated 70 years earlier is suspicious.

  18. Dennis, people in 617 Squadron used to drop parachute flares down people’s chimneys, at least if Paul Brickhill is to be believed.

    Paul Brickhill isn’t to be believed, for the reasons Jason stated.

  19. “Twenty first century mores in a story dated 70 years earlier is suspicious.”

    True. Reporting misbehaviour to the authorities was probably even more frowned upon back then, and practical jokes as an appropriate response even more the accepted army way to deal with it. ‘Lad culture’ hasn’t changed all that much, and it’s only because of the increased public scrutiny of modern times that they take following regulations so much more seriously.

    What would you prefer? That she should go whining to the officers?

  20. So Much For Subtlety

    NiV – “What would you prefer? That she should go whining to the officers?”

    As usual you miss the point. At the time, most people accepted that men were men. Even most women. They did not complain about men being men. Not even Jane Austen did and she clearly knew about sexist language – in private. These young men were, after all, dying in large numbers to keep the West’s women safe and so I would tend to think most people cut them some slack.

    But not this woman. Interesting that she displayed the insane male-hatred so typical of the late 20th century 40 years before it became fashionable?

  21. ” At the time, most people accepted that men were men. Even most women.”

    At the time, everyone accepted that men were violent and cruel bastards. The point was that in the army you *needed* violent and cruel bastards to stand up to the rigours of war. It makes perfect sense that if a woman wants to get on in that world, she’s got to act like the men.

    Which is exactly what she says she did. It’s actually quite a contrast to the modern feminist approach. A modern feminist would try to *change* the army culture to fit her civilised expectations. Instead, she joined in with the ‘lad’ culture of practical jokes and irresponsible humour.

    The army culture is full of bullying shitheads. Plenty of males found their lives made a misery by that sort of fuckhead, but they’re not allowed to complain about it, because apparently that’s not macho enough. You’re supposed to be able to take it, and join in. And if you show you can, it creates a bond of camaraderie between them so strong that enables people to sacrifice their lives for one another.

    Like I said, I can’t speak for the credibility of the actual method used – it doesn’t sound like that difficult a trick to pull off to me, but I don’t know. But the psychology is *absolutely* in line with army culture, and it seems perfectly plausible to me that she’d not only get away with it, but be respected for having achieved it. I’ve heard of far more dangerous stunts being pulled, and nobody said a word to the authorities.

    There’s no “insane man hatred” involved, any more than the sexism was evidence of “insane woman-hatred”. Soldiers pick up on whatever they can find that gets to you. They’ll have a go at your accent or your appearance or your hobbies and interests. If a woman turned up, obviously they’d have a go about that. And equally obviously, if she gave back as good as she got, instead of whining about it, she’d be accepted the same way – same as any man would. The army is not a woman-hating culture, but it is very definitely a characteristically *male* culture. A lot of males don’t like it, either. They’re just not allowed (by the macho culture’s rules) to complain about it.

  22. So Much For Subtlety

    NiV – “At the time, everyone accepted that men were violent and cruel bastards. The point was that in the army you *needed* violent and cruel bastards to stand up to the rigours of war. It makes perfect sense that if a woman wants to get on in that world, she’s got to act like the men.”

    Yet again you seem to view this blog as a form of personal therapy rather than a useful forum for discussion. Weird. There is a lot I could say about violence and the Army but I don’t see the point. It won’t further your therapy and it is beside the point.

    “A modern feminist would try to *change* the army culture to fit her civilised expectations.”

    She humiliated them to change their language. That look pretty modern to me. I don’t see any humour in what she did and she reports none.

    “and it seems perfectly plausible to me that she’d not only get away with it, but be respected for having achieved it.”

    Except the problem is not harassment. People were not bullying her. They were using sexist language in her presence. As you would expect in the Army that long ago, it appears they were deferential and gentlemanly to the woman.

    “There’s no “insane man hatred” involved, any more than the sexism was evidence of “insane woman-hatred”.”

    Amazing what you can read into the record.

    “If a woman turned up, obviously they’d have a go about that.”

    No, it is not obvious. Again she was not complaining about being bullied. Indeed she complained about being over protected. As you would expect of the mores of the time.

    But don’t let that interrupt your prejudices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *