The Obama administration is making a major push to “fully integrate” women into the military, including most ground combat roles. This is the culmination of an effort that began with the rise of the current wave of feminism in the 1970s, and even though the range of problems with it were debated and aired fully at that time the current media and commentators seem unaware of that. While the Church obviously does not condemn women entering the military and is not likely to wade into a public policy question such as this, there are many issues present that should concern Catholics. The best place to start might be a long-forgotten encyclical by Pope Pius XI in 1929, Divini Illius Magistri (Christian Education of Youth), in which he laments the military training required of boys in school in some countries—but he is even more critical of this for girls since it is “contrary to the very instincts of human nature.” Human nature has not changed since 1929.
Perhaps the best, extended critique of this question is Brian Mitchell’s 1998 book, Women in the Military: Flirting with Disaster. Mitchell addressed most of the pertinent issues. In spite of much more experience with women in the fighting forces, no new evidence has shown his conclusions to be inaccurate. If anything additional troubling facts have emerged. He talked about the significant physical disparities between men and women and the much greater susceptibility of military women to injury, the considerably greater number of health problems that military women as opposed to men encountered, the much higher attrition rate from the military of women than men, the serious problems of out-of-wedlock pregnancies by military women (which was the major factor in attrition), the bending of rules and double standards put in place by the services to insure that military women could complete training and even be able to qualify for commissions, and the erosion of morale and readiness as a composite result of all these developments.
Another point he mentioned was how the sexually integrated military was diminishing the traditional fighting culture so essential to readiness. This seemed underscored when a female cadet from one of the service academies told my daughter that she had sought an appointment there so she could take part in humanitarian work. I thought that the purpose of a military was to be prepared to fight wars.
We witness these new realities since Mitchell’s book: apart from the pregnancy problems, there are a significant number of single mothers in the services with the burden put on the military for child care and the attendant complications when they are deployed (all too little attention seems to be paid to the effects on their children as women implant themselves generally in fields formerly limited to men); the growing problem of sexual assault in the services; and the possibility that military women and women veterans are more prone to mental health problems, especially when they have been deployed to war zones.
The military has scurried to address the sexual assault problem with new prevention and victim-assistance programs—the solution of government seems always to be a new program—but they are oblivious to the need for strong personal moral standards by military personnel, which is the basic cause of such a problem. (My late father-in-law from the World War II generation used to say that even in those times the military was not a wholesome environment even for young men.) Obviously, it does not help that large numbers of young men and women are put together in close proximity during training and deployments, which will become a much more acute problem with women allowed into ground combat roles. Indeed, the military’s primary response to sexual misconduct in its ranks—most of which is consensual—has been to make all forms of birth control readily available. Also, now Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation to fund abortions at U.S. military hospitals.
Then, there is the problem of false accusations of sexual assault—as likely a development in the military as in civilian society in an age of pleasure-orientation, easy sexual liaisons, and easily brewing jealousies. It is just one more factor in the undermining of readiness.
Obviously, these are serious moral issues from a Catholic standpoint. Most of them concern problems of sexual morality from within the military’s own ranks. The push for women in combat also shows an astounding disregard of the dangers of sexual assault, rape, and other torture of women captured in combat—even though we should recall that some of this happened to Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the army surgeon captured during the first Iraq war. Feminists, who are major crusaders against rape in the U.S., are strikingly silent about this. Columnist Jonathan Emord of U.S.A. Today Magazine asks another question: What might happen to the children of women conceived as a result of rape when in captivity. (Again, is anyone concerned about the good of children?)
How come the left-leaning journalists who always mention the threats to women and children when reporting on a conflict somewhere in the world are silent about that here?
As far as readiness and combat effectiveness is concerned, does anyone seriously believe that the men serving on the front lines with women would not go to extremes to prevent them from facing this fate, even if doing so meant that they would be diverted from their main concern of going after the enemy? This is just an obvious example of the crying tendency in this entire debate of—to go back to Pius XI—ignoring human nature.
More of a routine problem in combat situations is the ready likelihood of the compromising of personal privacy and modesty. Trenches and foxholes are not very private places. Former Marine Ryan Smith’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed about the conditions of infantrymen during combat operations (he was involved in the 2003 invasion of Iraq) is telling in this regard. There was no way of maintaining even the most basic kind of personal modesty. Already, in a much more limited way we see such problems in the integrated hand-to-hand combat training—men matched up with women—that sometimes takes place in the military. What stands in the background of all this is the sexual revolution almost as much as feminism.
Is it not likely that just treating men and women as one indistinguishable mass of people in combat, with no attention to even such basic concerns as these, will have the effect of coarsening relations between the sexes? If feminists are really concerned about women’s dignity and avoiding anything that might tend to objectify them, why are they for this?
The contradictions of leftists abound on this subject. Why does the left, which is so ideologically committed to something like gun control, want to push women into a killing role in combat? Also, if the left is so much against warfare and violence, why does it want to encourage a militaristic spirit in the half of the population that pacific attitudes most naturally come from?
There is another issue. The public should consider that in its 1981 decision upholding the national policy that exempts women from draft registration against a Fourteenth Amendment challenge, a decisive point for the U.S. Supreme Court was the fact that Congress prohibited them from combat. That exemption is now all but gone. Further, President Obama is on record as believing that women should be subject to Selective Service registration. With these developments, it is almost certain that if international crises cause the draft to be resumed women will be included. Perhaps people should pause for a moment to consider if they will really be happy when their 18 and 19-year-old daughters are forcibly sent into battle. Will virtually anyone—other than the collectivists among us who want to see children essentially reared by the state—be eager to see young mothers separated from their children in large numbers all around the country? There is no assurance that draft exemptions for mothers will be forthcoming. If they are, is it possible that we’ll see even more out-of-wedlock pregnancies and hasty marriages as young women try to avoid the draft and combat?
If women are drafted and put on the front lines in combat in a major or even other extended, limited wars, they are almost certain to die in large numbers. That will mean fewer women of childbearing age. The U.S. birth rate, just barely at replacement level (below it for the native-born population), would sink even further.
All this brings into stark relief a central reality about the contemporary left: its abstractionism. On many issues, it turns a blind eye to the facts, evident failures of policy, clear contradictions in its thinking, and even the obvious realities about how people are and how they act in different situations. They are driven by ideological imperatives, which themselves do not often even hang together consistently or sensibly. It is curious that they are the scions of the Enlightenment, which claimed to be exulting human reason. In the interests of ideology and hostility to traditional ways of understanding things, they are almost anti-reason.
The specific ideological imperative of the left on this issue, like so many others, is equality—or at least a shallow, unreflective notion of it, which cannot even distinguish between the equal humanness and human dignity of men and women on one hand and sameness on the other. Tocqueville presciently saw equality trumping liberty, and here it is the liberty and well-being of potentially whole generations of young American women. We can readily say that women have a place in most professions, but might there not be some, like the military, whose very nature by and large are perhaps unsuitable and even offensive to their dignity?
Finally, as the left has driven this issue over more than four decades to its near final culmination now in women side-by-side with men in close-in ground combat and prospectively being forced into this role through a draft, the Republicans in Congress seem to have taken cover. Even conservative commentators aren’t saying much about it, as if it’s not really an important issue. If male-female relationships, human sexuality, the good of children, and the family—which the Church calls the “first and vital cell of society”—are not important, what is?