Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Countess Emilia Plater
Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus all celebrate the legacy of the revolutionary Countess Emilia Plater who died young but has not been forgotten. Well educated as a child, her first heroes were women warriors Joan of Arc and Laskerina Boubalina (see the list of in-your-face women to your right), which would certainly indicate her commitment to in-your-facedness early on, especially since she bolstered her scholarly endeavors with training in how to ride horseback and shoot a gun.
When the Baltic States rose up against Imperial Russia in 1829, Plater cut off her hair, put on a uniform and equipped a unit of more than six hundred volunteers -- half trained soldiers and half peasants with war scythes. She led her unit into battle for more than a year alone or with others until a General tried to tell her to stand down and go home. When Plater flatly refused, the General made her the commanding officer of a regiment and ultimately promoted her to Captain.
Eventually, of course, Plater being already in-your-face, refused to follow an order and led her unit off on its own just before she became ill and died in 1831. Poems, books and paintings have established Plater's place in history and in World War II, a unit of Polish women soldiers was named in her honor. So why are we still debating whether or not women "should" go into combat?