Facebook and Twitter are abuzz this morning with the news that outgoing US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will announce today that the Pentagon is officially allowing women to serve on the front lines of American wars. There are lots of opinions flying around and, of course, I have a few of my own. I was going to post this to Facebook, but then I realized that I have enough for a short blog post. (Hooray!) So, here are my initial thoughts...
I have very mixed feelings about the recent announcement regarding women serving on the "front lines" of US wars. For one thing, I certainly understand the gut-level aversion to the idea. Despite major social changes in the past decades, "women and children first" remains deeply ingrained in our culture. Yet, women have been effectively serving on the front lines in practice (in at least two undeclared wars, I might add) for some time. This announcement seems only to officially sanction a practice already in place. The arrival home of mothers and daughters in flag-draped coffins is not a new experience for American citizens.
For another thing, I'm troubled that "women and children first" doesn't seem to be an inviolable mantra when it comes to the black, brown, and olive skinned peoples in the Middle East and other regions of the world. Americans, in general, and American Christians, in particular, often shrug off rather quickly the deaths of women and children who are the innocent casualties of American violence overseas, including drone strikes. Are we prepared to offer the same level of concern for the Pakistani woman innocently and involuntarily mangled in a drone strike as we are for the American woman who volunteers to serve on the front lines?
Also, thinking more generally, I'm not sure why the bodies and souls of men are viewed as more suitable for sacrifice in the pursuit of US wars than those of women. I'd want to know why (especially from my fellow Christians) some are so convinced that male bodies--which are just as capable of loving, caring, nurturing, and life-giving--are more suited for killing and dying in war than female bodies. I assure you that my children losing their father in war would be as catastrophic to them as losing me. Moreover, the mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical trauma endured by soldiers who engage in warfare is a burden carried with as much difficulty by men as by women.
And, finally, a wish... I wish that my fellow Christians who are objecting so strenuously to women's service on the front lines were more troubled by the wars producing such front lines to begin with. When Christians are so easily conscripted into collective support for American wars (which have been morally dubious on nonviolent and just war grounds for a long, long time), I'm not sure the moral footing exists any longer to then dictate who is best suited for killing and dying in those wars. Both the nonviolent and just war traditions provide significant challenges to American war-making, but very few seem attuned to this reality. Would that Christians struggled more deeply and thoughtfully with the participation of any Christian in recent American war efforts, whether they be male or female.
Feel free to comment and offer your point of view. If you do, as always, please be charitable.