Frankly, I am not happy with the idea of women in the U.S. armed forces going into combat. Yes, I know The New York Times and The Washington Post tell us that they are in combat already. And we know from the tabloids that women can murder as often as men. But society for good reasons has been reluctant to develop the female killer instinct. One female military police sergeant in Afghanistan, who already has a taste of combat, said. "It’s something I would enjoy.”
In an America article from 1968 a chaplain in Vietnam reports troops laughing riotously about their killings and wonders what we are doing to them. In fact I winced at a front-page New York Times story some years ago during one of our police actions about a women soldier who got herself up front, broke into a house where enemy were hiding and killed some of them.
This was reported as if it were a great event. A breakthrough. Now women could do even more of the things that men can do. It used to be that women could only drive trucks, administer offices, collect the wounded, nurse and heal them, etc. Now they can kill too.
But I have always thought of killing as the bottom thing that soldiers have to do. When I was in the artillery in Germany in 1956 I was ready to fight if Russia suddenly attacked — we were told by our commander to expect them any week now — but I was not revved up, panting to go. It was just something evil that I had to do to protect myself, my comrades and my country. When we were on the Czech border on maneuvers the Russians invaded Hungary. This looked like war, and a couple of my fellow officers couldn’t wait to get in there and fight. After all, that’s what we were there for! And that’s how captains become majors and colonels. The Russians, God bless them, backed off.
In another Washington Post article (1/27/13), Marine Capt. Timothy Kudo reports that he is still dealing with the times he killed people in Afghanistan. One was an innocent 16-year-old civilian boy on a motorcycle who still haunts him. He did not return from Afghanistan as the “good” person he had been; the only people “who could forgive him are the dead.” Meanwhile, the army lost more men last year from suicide than from enemy fire; and one in five Americans who commit suicide is a veteran, although veterans make up only 13 percent of the population.
Interviews with military women in The New York Times (1/ 24,25,27/13) all expressed enthusiasm for the change. The main point seemed to be that, in order to climb the military ladder, one needed combat experience. But is that reasonable? What if the United States enjoys a long period of peace? Will there be no one to promote? Shall we start a few more wars and kill more people to give future leaders job training?
I know this may be a heretical statement, but I see women as morally superior to and often more intelligent than men. I know that in “My Fair Lady,” when Henry Higgins sings, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” it is meant to portray him as a comic jerk. The glory of women is in their differences, things that only they can do — like give birth to and nurse children, and mother families — and things they often do better, like listen, read character, teach, run universities, fill cabinet posts, observe and write about what they see.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker (1/27/13) says, “Women do not belong in combat,” because:
1. Women, “because of their inferior physical capacities...have a diminished opportunity for survival.” They “tend to excel as sharpshooters and pilots,” but in ground combat are “not equal to men.” Eighteen-year-old males have the advantage of testosterone that fuels both sex and aggression. Yes, “men and women are equal under the law” and in the front lines they can return fire; but women “have only half the upper-body strength as males,” which puts them at a big disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat.
2. If the enemy surrounds you, and you need everyone to fight — “that is one set of circumstances”; but to have women “engage vicious men and risk capture” is something else. “This is not a movie or a game.” To put women in these circumstances is also a “threat to unit cohesion.”
We’ve all seen those romantic 1930s Westerns and British Empire flicks where the enemy captures the commander’s son and tortures him, so his screams can be heard all the way back at the fort. And the commander barks, “There is no room for sentimentality in the army.”
“Women face special tortures,” says Parker, and we can expect them.
The New York Times editorial answers that, today, women are more in danger from sexual attacks from our own troops than from the enemy. Full combat integration will remedy this, the Times says. But feminist Noah Berlatsky in the Atlantic (1/29/13) calls this a mixed win and quotes pacifist feminist Virginia Wolfe’s point that women’s experience of not having killed makes them valuable in answering the question: How to prevent war? That half of humanity has been excluded from making war demonstrates “that fighting is an aberration rather than a necessity.”
I support the full and equal right to advancement for women in every profession I can think of, including the military and the church; and I can imagine a hypothetical situation — an invasion from Mars — where we are in a war so vast and terrible that the lives and security of all are in immediate danger, and we can survive only if every able man and woman takes a weapon and fights. Then men and women, old and young, teachers, priests and nuns, as well as the sick, halt and lame must fight and kill, or die. Let me know when that time comes.