My five year old daughter sat in my lap last week and told me, “Daddy, when I grow up I think I want to be a doctor (her mother’s profession), a preacher (her father’s profession), or a rock star (ummm….).”
While I would question the theology of one option, and the sanity of another, the truth is that I want my daughters to grow up with limitless opportunities before them. I want them to believe they can be anything they set their mind to. With hard work and determination, they can reach the stars. That being said, just because they are capable of something doesn’t mean they should choose that path.
For the past week, I have been chewing on the Pentagon’s overturning of a 1994 rule banning women from serving in combat. With this decision, females are now eligible to serve in front-line battle on behalf of our nation. The more I mulled over this decision, the more discomfited I became. What follows is not so much an argument over why women shouldn’t be allowed in combat forward positions, as a lament over the ethos of a culture that would push for it.
What does it say of a society when it throws its women into combat? The message culture wants us to hear is, “Men and women are equal.” Indeed, if men and women are equal and gender lines are no longer blurred but obliterated, then we should trot out a gender neutral frontline military strategy.
Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio made some very strong statements last summer as the Marine Corps enacted policies that paved the way for the Pentagon’s recent decision. Writing in the Marine Corps Gazette, Captain Petronio stated, “As a combat-experienced Marine officer, and a female, I am here to tell you that we are not all created equal, and attempting to place females in the infantry will not improve the Marine Corps as the Nation’s force-in-readiness or improve our national security.” Petronio served two combat deployments and has a resume that qualifies her as an expert on the subject of women in combat. She is a model Marine, serving her country with distinction. Her insights into this debate are thoughtful and clear:
“As a young lieutenant, I fit the mold of a female who would have had a shot at completing IOC, and I am sure there was a time in my life where I would have volunteered to be an infantryman. I was a star ice hockey player at Bowdoin College, a small elite college in Maine, with a major in government and law. At 5 feet 3 inches I was squatting 200 pounds and benching 145 pounds when I graduated in 2007. I completed Officer Candidates School (OCS) ranked 4 of 52 candidates, graduated 48 of 261 from TBS, and finished second at MOS school. I also repeatedly scored far above average in all female-based physical fitness tests (for example, earning a 292 out of 300 on the Marine physical fitness test). Five years later, I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyze and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.”
As a civilian, I didn’t fully understand some of the qualifications or military-speak in Petronio’s quote, so I contacted a several marines for explanation. I asked them, “What does a 292 out of 300 mean on the Marine Corps physical fitness test?” One retired Marine described it as “first class.” Another young serviceman who I consider to be a beast physically told me his highest score was a 289. Petronio sounds like a physical specimen who realizes that she is simply not the same as a man in the area of physical strength.
With Ft. Knox just down the road, I live in a military-saturated community. My street is filled with military personnel, retired and active. I have been conducting an informal survey for the last week or so. I have asked many military people, both male and female, what they think about women in combat forward situations. I have yet to hear a single person say it is a good idea. There are various reasons as to why it is a bad idea, but they all basically come back to the idea that men and women are just different. I also asked the men in my survey if they would be in favor of their daughters serving in infantry positions. I almost got punched a few times when I asked that question. Their answers were unanimous and clear.
To say that women are different is not to say that they are weaker or lesser than men. Different simply means “different.” Can women do battle? Try to take one of their kids and they’ll claw your eyes out. They are probably fiercer than men in some respects. Can women withstand emotional stress and pressure? Often better than men. However, just because women can do battle and withstand stress does not mean that we should send them to the front lines of the war! Rather, we should honor and celebrate the differences between men and women.
I’m sure to receive a barrage of comments and emails from those accusing me of being a misogynist. Nothing could be further from the truth. My feelings of frontline warfare and the inappropriateness of any society placing women in that line of fire are not rooted in a disrespect for women or a disbelief in their abilities. The opposite is actually the truth: we should not allow women in combat forward positions because of their worth and value. We naturally protect things that are valuable and precious to us. To protect our women from the front-lines of battle is a statement of value to us; conversely, to send them to the front lines is a negative statement by society about their perceived value.
The indictment on our culture is that we have not often enough celebrated the God-given differences of the sexes. Were men to rise up in chivalry, responsibly fathering their children and cherishing their wives, society would not be pressing for the obliteration of gender distinctions. I long for a chivalry and honor to be expressed among the men of America. Pastor and theologian John Piper has expressed it far better than I ever could:
“If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.”
This idea is offensive to those who somehow wrongly perceive that Piper and I are advocating that women be put into a subservient, demeaning role. I am suggesting nothing of the sort! I am suggesting that we celebrate the uniqueness of gender that God has stamped upon us. I understand that my views are hopelessly out of touch with modern society. Frankly, I could care less about the endorsement of modern culture.
Author Joe Carter has rightly noted that this debate has been framed in the language of “choice.” Opening up combat roles for women who “choose” to serve in them is political doublespeak in service of the all important virtue (sense the sarcasm): tolerance. Carter hits it on the head when he writes:
Most of the men and women championing a woman’s right to choose combat have never served in the military and would certainly not want their own daughters to join the infantry. They are concerned only with choice and equality in the pristine abstract, rather than in the bloody, concrete world of warfare. What they favor is an equality in which our daughters get to join our sons in marching off to war.
In the 1997 movie, G.I. Jane, the sneaky antagonist, Senator Lillian DeHaven, makes a profound statement: “No politician can afford to let women come home in body bags.” One hundred and fifty two servicewomen have done just that in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. That number touches me deeply. We honor and respect their sacrifice. I pray for their grieving families. And I shudder to think of what that number would be if we push our daughters to the frontlines.
I’m sure there will be some exceptional, strong women who pass the rigorous demands of the infantry qualification exam. My fear is that their personal strength will be an indictment upon our cultural weakness.
What do you think? Leave your civil comments below.