NOTE: “We can do it!” was a slogan used by the U.S. government during World War II to promote women’s participation in industrial jobs (within the safe confines of the combat-free homeland) in support of the war effort. The slogan, along with the graphic image accompanying it, has since been taken up by feminists as an expression of female capability in general. In the following article we see an example of female capability in the martial arena within the Russian civil war, where female members of the Bolshevik communist army (the revolutionary extremists) showed themselves to be more reliable than their male counterparts when given instructions to commit war crimes.
FULL TEXT: Helsingfors – A terrible story illustrating the nature of the war waged by the Bolshevists is recounted by a traveler from Riga [Latvia]. Toward the end of the Bolshevist rule in that city, before the Lottish Red leader Stutska, fled on May 22, companies of women were formed as Red Guards. Their duty was to carry out executions when the men refused that dreadful duty. Nearly 100 executions are known to have been carried out by these murderesses. When the Reds abandoned Riga the women were dressed up as nurses. Anti-Red troops on meeting the women in nurse’s uniform examined their hair. If it had been cut short they were arrested, as the presumption was that they had been soldiers. If found guilty of crime they were shot.
[“Women In Firing Squad In Russia,” The Newburgh Daily News (N.Y.), Aug. 13, 1919, p. 5]
Maria Leontievna Bochkareva (Мари́я Лео́нтьевна Бочкарёва Maria Leontievna Bochkaryova; born Frolkova (Фролко́ва), nicknamed Yashka; 1889–1920)
Here is a little bit of information from two years earlier on the Russian military’s use of female soldiers in the Great War before civil war broke out in that country. The leader of this effort was anti-Bolshevik tough gal Maria "Yashka" Bochkareva.
Men’s Human Rights Advocates will recognize the use of the shaming tactic, a method of exploiting chivalric tendencies, that was also used at the same time in England, in the guise of “White Feather Campaign,” to coax men into running off to war.
Wikipedia excerpts: Women's Battalions were all-female combat units formed after the February Revolution by the Russian Provisional Government in a last-ditch effort to inspire the mass of war-weary soldiers to continue fighting in World War I. In the spring of 1917, male shock units and battalions of death were created from pools of enthusiastic volunteers to lead the way in battle. Already some women had successfully petitioned to join regular military units, and now a number began pressing the new Provisional Government to create special women's battalions. These women, along with a number of high-ranking members of the Russian government and military administration, believed that female soldiers would have significant propaganda value and that their example would revitalize the weary, demoralized men of the Russian army. Simultaneously, they hoped the presence of women would shame hesitant male soldiers into resuming their combat duties.
After the 1st Russian Women's Battalion of Death failed to have the intended effect of revitalizing the war-weary elements of the Russian army the military authorities began to question the value of the women's units. In particular, the government found it difficult to justify the allocation of badly needed resources to such an unreliable project. By August 1917, there was a growing inclination in the military establishment to discontinue the organization of women for combat purposes.
FULL TEXT: Petrograd, July 27. – When the Russian women’s battalion, known officially as the “Command of Death,” went into action against the Germans near Smorgon July 25 they captured a number of women from whom it was learned for the first time that German women also were fighting on the battle-front in Western Russia.
The wounded heroines of the women’s battalion arrived in Petrograd today leaving their commander, Vera Butchkareff, and Marya Skydloff, former commander of the Baltic fleet and Minister of the Marine, in hospital at Vitebsk. Interviewed, the women said it was reported that of the 200 of the command who reached the front only 50 remained. Twenty were killed, eight were taken prisoner, and all the rest were wounded.
“Several times,” said one wounded girl,” we attacked the Germans. Especially memorable was our attack at Novospassky Wood, near Smorgon, where the enemy hearing the voices of girls lost their nerve. The result was that many of them were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Among the prisoners were a few women, from whom we learned for the first time that German women also were fighting.
“We did not feel the slightest fear for our personal; safety. Our passion was to serve the fatherland. We advanced gaily against the foe with laughter and song, our only unpleasant sentiments being when we first came to the corpses. Once, when replying to the enemy’s severe rifle and machine gun fire, we discovered to our amazement that all our men comrades in the neighboring trenches had treacherously fled, leaving us – a handful of women – to face the enemy alone.”
[“German Women Fighting As Soldiers – Members of Russian Women’s Battalion Tell of Capturing Some Near Smorgon.” New York Times (N.Y.), Jul. 29, 1917, p. ?]
FULL TEXT: Petrograd, June 22 – In a couple of weeks the first battalion of women soldiers expects to go to the front as an object lesson to malingerers and peacemongers. It is worth noting that the recruits to the so-called “Battalions of Death” are most exclusively women and girls of the educated classes.
The women responsible for the Amazonian “battalions of death” movement, began their propaganda of patriotism by a strongly worded and passionate appeal to Russian womanhood, to Russian soldiers, to soldiers and politicians at the front, and to those who wear soldier’s uniforms in the rear.
The women of Russia are summoned, in the name of those millions of fathers, sons, and brothers who freely shed their blood before the Petrograd revolution happened, to remember those sacrifices and losses.
True soldiers who have not danced to the piping of the enemy or sold to Germans food taken from the mouths of their children are reminded that every day’s standing idle costs Russia $25,000,000. the appeal proceeds:
“You are eating up your country. Know you that the last hopes are fainting in our hearts and that we weak women will turn like tigresses in defense of our homes and children and Russian liberty? Woe unto you if you earn our scorn! And you others, soldiers in name but Judases in fact, who are selling Russia to the foe, know that the time will soon be at hand when it would be better for you to face ten German bayonets and the curse she lays upon you.
“You who make war without annexation and contributions, but expect tribute from your own native towns and eat up your own country, take heed and be wise betimes. Your ‘brotherhood of nations’ is a jest for the enemy, who still occupies our soil. Until you march against the foe and enter his towns and capitals with flags flying and overturn with your bayonets the throne of Wilhelm, we have no words for you but cowards, traitors and Judases.
“We, your mothers, wives, and sisters, know one party only – the liberty and glory of great Russia. We know only one platform – our country and our homes and the future of our children. Forward upon our foe! We come to die by your side!”
Another appeal is addressed to workmen, bidding them take example from what the Germans are practicing, though their agents in Russia here preach something very different.
“The Germans,” says the appeal, “whether in soldier’s uniform or workman’s blouse, all are alike in fighting their fatherland and not talking about ‘socialistic heavens’ and strangling industry and commerce by exorbitant demands.”
Finally, there is an open letter to the women of the Allies begging them to have patience for a time, for if Russian men betray the common cause the women of Russia will save it.
[“Russian Women Warriors Denounce Men; Bid Slackers Beware of ‘Tigress Mothers,’” (from The London Morning Post), New York Times (N.Y.), Jun. 25, 1917, p. 1]
FULL TEXT: Petrograd, Sept. 20 – A small riot occurred to-day in the ranks of the Women’s Battalion drilling at Moscow and it resulted in an attack by the girls upon Vera Butchkaroff, the twice-wounded girl officer who initiated the woman suffrage soldier organizations. According to the Boston Gazette, an infantry man rescued Commander Butchkaroff after some rough handling from the infuriated girls, who resented some acts of their leader not clearly defined.
In a second riot a crowd of women wrecked the militia headquarters and had beaten to death a government agent who had shot into the crowd before they had shot into the crowd before they were dispersed by mounted militia and Cossacks.
[“Russian Women’s Battalion Riot – Corps Drilling at Moscow Make Attack Upon Vera Butchkaroff, the Twice-Wounded Girl Officer,” syndicated, Quebec Telegraph (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), Sep. 21, 1917, p. 9]