Men, Women, and War
I remember the first time I was aware of being really, really glad that I was a girl. I was a senior in high school. One by one, members of my class were turning 18. As the boys of my class turned 18, there was talk about how they now either “had to” or “got to” sign up for Selective Service. I was so glad that my gender excluded me from that particular rite of passage. I did not want to serve in the military, voluntarily or otherwise. I did not want to fight in a war. If I had been a boy, I would have been terrified that the draft would be enacted and I would be forced to do that which I so feared. March 14, 1983 rolled around, and I thanked God for making me a girl.
Here we are, 30 years later. I still do not want to serve in the military. I still do not want to fight in a war. So you would think that when U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week that the ban is being lifted on women serving in front-line combat roles, I would have been distressed. Strangely enough, I was not.
Obviously part of my reason has to do with my belief in gender equality. If an individual who wants to do a particular job is physically and emotionally capable, and if that individual has received the proper training, then gender should not play a role in whether that person is allowed to serve or have opportunities for advancement in that position. I believe that to be true of any job, from pastor to President to front-line infantry.
“Wait a minute, Jan,” you might say. “How would you feel if it was one of your daughters serving in combat on that front line?”
How would I feel? I imagine I would feel positively sick and scared because my daughter was in a place of mortal danger, seeing and experiencing the horrors of war, wondering if she would come home alive. It would be a horrible thing to face as a parent.
But guess what? I would feel the same way if it was my son. I felt the same way when it was my male cousin. I would feel the same way for anyone I knew in that position, whether that person was male or female.
You see, the problem I have with front-line combat is not who is serving there. My problem isn’t with men and women going to war. It is with war itself. Yes, sometimes war is necessary – the lesser of the evils we face. It is also, however, always hell.
So why am I not more upset that women are no longer necessarily exempt from front-line battles? Because some of them are called to serve and protect their country. If they are called and equipped, then I wholeheartedly support their right to follow that call in whatever way their gifts and skills can best be used.
But that isn’t my only reason. I also believe that women can make a difference. Yes, a difference in war. The New York Times ran an op-ed column written by Nicholas D. Kristoff yesterday entitled, She’s (Rarely) the Boss. In it, Kristoff explores the large gender gap in places of leadership in global businesses and politics. Near the end of his column, he stresses that businesses need to address this gender gap, and not just for the sake of equality itself. He says, “But we need more women in leadership positions for another reason: considerable evidence suggests that more diverse groups reach better decisions. Corporations should promote women not just out of fairness, but also because it helps them perform better.”
I would say that the same holds true for the military as well. If women are allowed equal opportunity in service and leadership in our military, then one day when the powers that be sit down around a table to decide the best way to address a national or international crisis, there will be more women around that table as well. These women will bring to the table a diversity in perspective, opinion, and knowledge.
(Disclaimer: I realize that I’m doing some wide generalizations in these next two paragraphs, but I don’t think I’m too far off, so bear with me.)
I believe that men, as a whole, are conditioned to be more accepting of war as an option to settling disputes. There is something about the military and guns and fighting that seems to appeal to them, beginning at a young age. Watch little boys playing together on the playground. You will see that they are not only more likely than the girls to play war, they are much more likely to settle their differences physically in a scuffle. There is a phrase that I abhor, yet I see a nugget of truth in it: boys will be boys.
Women, on the other hand, are less enamored of war. We are more likely to seek solutions to problems that don’t involve violence. Watch the girls from that same class on the playground. They get in disagreements too, but they are more likely to talk out their differences, sending delegations from one side to the other. Yes, there may be yelling. Yes, there may occasionally be a fight. But the fight will be their last resort. Grown women are the same way. Our need to protect those we love is fierce and we are willing to fight to protect if we have to – especially if we are protecting our children. (The world knows that you don’t want to mess with a Mama Bear!) Still, we don’t want our fathers, our mothers, our spouses, our brothers, our sisters, or our children fighting in a war. We don’t want to have to fight in a war either. We want to find other options, if it is at all possible. And if it is possible, a woman will find a way.
When men and women, their voices equal, sit around the table to decide how to proceed in the face of a crisis, I believe that better decisions will be made. Men and women have different gifts and different perspectives – different, and equally valid. When all of these gifts and all of these perspectives are given voice and consideration, then perhaps the very women who have fought and persevered for so many years to have the right to serve on the front lines of combat will find that the need for those front lines would come less often.
Give women voice. Give them opportunity. Give them equal power. Then stand back and see what a difference we can make – for the good of us all.