Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoughts on American Women Officially Entering the "Front Lines"

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.


. said...

Very eloquent and cogent post. I'm with you that the sacrifice of any life in battle is tragic, whether that life be male or female. And I don't want my two sons to ever have to go to war, let alone my daughter. That said, and in the event of a call to duty, I believe WHO we send to that battle says a lot about our character as a nation, as much as my lying in bed and expecting my wife to get the gun and go searching for an intruder in the night would say something about my character.

And over all of this is the legal question that, interestingly enough, no one has written about. Since what has been "in practice" is now, as a matter of policy, much more, we may be looking at an inevitable road to requiring women to serve in these roles should a draft be re-instated. This policy shift will, by its nature, trigger legal questions about selective service registration requirements, which to date have only been expected of young men 18-26. As Dad to a daughter, the prospects of this are frightening to me.

As to the rest of your post, we are in complete agreement. The church has not been loud enough in decrying the warmongering that has been taking place over the past 15 years. Thanks for looking at this issue in that holistic light.

Jim Puntney said...


To be clear I would like to state that as a follower of Jesus I find violence towards my neighbor as unacceptable on any level.

To add, or to acknowledge that women are being added to this mix only adds fuel to the fire of nonviolence.

An awakening within the body of Christ to understand our true identity 'in' Christ is essential. In this awakening we will discover our citizenship is not of this age. We are to live separate of mans derived form of governance. In this understanding we will see that love does not harm. The loving your neighbor as yourself applies without exception to the family of man.

I applaud your probing questions, and look forward to additional posts regarding these issues.

Thank you for your ministry of love.

Lee said...

I am personally a pacifist. Some people don't like that term but I don't mind. I was fortunate to have been born at a time when my age allowed me to "fall between the cracks" so to speak, and avoid the decision to enlist. I've been blessed in that I am one of relatively few male Americans who hasn't ever been required to register for the draft. I would not have used a "conscientious objector" status to avoid military service, but I am glad I never had to reconcile feelings about carrying a weapon into the field of combat, in a situation that renders moral judgement moot.

I believe the Bible does outline roles for men and women, not only in the church, or in a religious context, or the family, but in society as well. I don't think that being a woman would be a disadvantage to being a soldier in any way, but I'd prefer that the women in our culture not have to face that choice if they don't have to. I'm all for them having the opportunity for meaningful, and equal service if they so choose. I just don't think they should be required to do so.

I believe there are plenty of voices in the church speaking out against the immorality of war, but the influences are drowing them out and emphasizing those who are caught up seeking to advance the mission and purpose of God'schurch through the ballot box. That's where the mistakes are being made.

Christiane said...

If the same people who wanted to protect women who go into the military ALSO spoke up for women here to have the same pay as their male counterparts, I might be able to take them more seriously.

But I look at the conservative right's take on a woman's place in our own country, I can't find in it much support for fairness for women, as I define 'fairness'.

Maybe my definition is too progressive? A chance to support a family, a chance to make decisions over what is best for that family, a chance to be treated with dignity in all areas of American life including having a place of dignity within the life of the Church. A chance to be considered as 'person' in one's own right, as a human being made in God's image and likeness, entitled to the same dignity and respect as any other human being. Too much too soon?

Or about two thousand years behind schedule?