Last week, the Obama administration opened up combat roles to women serving in the military. Word on Fire blog contributor Ellyn von Huben offers her counter stance, and considers what this could mean both for the sexes as well as the definition and fulfillment of valor.
I don’t often agree with President Obama, but his statement that “valor knows no gender” is something I wouldn’t dispute. The context in which he made this statement is where we part ways. Likewise, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated that it is “the responsibility of every citizen to protect the nation,” which certainly makes sense to me. It is in how men and women are to fulfill the call to valor that we would differ.
The lifting on the U.S. military’s ban on women in combat would appear to be reasonable in the 21st century. Women are already assuming dangerous military assignments — more than 150 women have given their lives in the current war — so common logic would embrace the expansion their duties. But what appears to be a fair extension of women’s rights to workplace equality will not translate well in reality. Military life is not a ‘job.’ This is especially true in combat.
Is it because women are weak or cowardly? Hardly. Women can be very fierce. (And what could more fierce than a mother whose children are in peril?) But I doubt if there would be any consideration made for the formation of all-female combat squadrons, battalions, and such. This might be an ideal situation for women with particular military genius, but would still leave these fighters particularly vulnerable when fighting in countries in which women are treated with particular contempt. And would a corps of American-style Amazonian warriors be in the interest of the equality, which the trending media frenzy is all about?
On Wednesday of this week there was a Huffington Post article about the high and rising rate of unplanned pregnancy among active-duty military personnel. "It's counterintuitive. This population has really good access to medical care,” said one of the author’s of a study on this phenomenon. I don’t think it’s counterintuitive at all. When men and women are in the tightest proximity, especially under stressful conditions, things will…happen. Rather than examining the pitfalls of throwing the sexes together in these unique situations, the experts are flailing about looking for ways to increase “awareness” and access to contraception.
Men and women are equal — in the eyes of God and the law of our nation. But equality does not mean that we are the same. To disregard the unique attributes of the sexes does no service to men or women; nor the world around them that suffers when they are treated as fungible actors. The codification of women as military equals to men has a veneer of progress, but this brings to mind a brief snippet of St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6: “Everything is lawful for me,”but not everything is beneficial.” Yes, this may be somewhat out of context, but it is apropos nonetheless. Just because the Defense Department has said that women are to be equal combatants alongside men, does not mean it will be beneficial — for either gender and for society as a whole. Civil governments cannot legislate away the complementarity of the sexes. We are not our own. We have been purchased at a great price. And for men and women to be put into situations of increased moral and physical peril in the name of a modern construct of gender equality is a grave disservice to all involved.
It is shortsighted to imply that the only way to protect our nation is through military combat. Whenever women or men are parenting their families, educating young people, delivering medical care, or carrying out any number of tasks that strengthen and nurture, we are indeed protecting our nation. When we live out our vocations and do what is appropriate for our stations in life, we are not only protecting our nation — more importantly we are strengthening the Body of Christ. In the current discussion of men and women fighting alongside each other, might I propose that this begs to be examined in light of discretion being the better part of valor?
Ellyn von Huben is a writer and Word on Fire blog contributor.
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