Far outside the view of the American public, women in uniform are now breaking the "combat barrier" and fighting side by side with male soldiers. As The New York Times reports, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed the way American troops go into combat. Before 2001, very few American women ever saw action in battle, except when taken by surprise. Now, women are routinely deployed in combat situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- and all this in defiance of established policy.
As reporter Lizette Alvarez explains, "Women are barred from joining combat branches like the infantry, armor, Special Forces and most field artillery units and from doing support jobs while living with those smaller units. Women can lead some male troops into combat as officers, but they cannot serve with them in battle."
At least, that is the established policy. Nevertheless, "Army commanders have resorted to bureaucratic trickery when they needed more soldiers for crucial jobs, like bomb disposal and intelligence." In order to circumvent the policy, women are said to be "attached" to combat units rather than "assigned."
There is more. Alvarez explains that "as soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have done nearly as much in battle as their male counterparts: patrolled streets with machine guns, served as gunners on vehicles, disposed of explosives, and driven trucks down bomb-ridden roads." Women have even been involved in combat raids, she explains, "engaging the enemy directly in total disregard of existing policies." The policies themselves are often confusing, and appear "contradictory or muddled." Nevertheless, there is now an open acknowledgment that the policy is routinely circumvented.
In 2005, the House Armed Services Committee considered legislation that would require the Pentagon to seek congressional approval for any change in policy that would lead to women serving in ground combat units. Those hearings revealed that the Pentagon was blurring the lines of policy and effectively looking the other way when women, officially assigned to support roles, increasingly found themselves either in proximity to or actively involved in combat. Now, just four years later, it is fair to say that the Pentagon has moved beyond blurring the lines and is now disregarding the established policies. As Alvarez indicates, American commanders are "forced to stretch gender boundaries, or in a few cases, erase them altogether."
The New York Times report documents the extent to which women are now serving in combat, acknowledging that the United States military is now "steps ahead of Congress," which has been resistant to an official change in the policy. Nevertheless, the paper cites a poll conducted in July that showed a majority of American people favored "allowing women to do more on the battlefield." According to the poll, 53% were in favor of permitting women to "join combat units, where they would be directly involved in the ground fighting."
To its credit, the report also acknowledges some of the complexities involved in women in combat. Women require separate living quarters and bathrooms and the military acknowledges the problem of rape in war zones. As Alvarez also reports, "Commanders also confront a new reality: that soldiers have sex, and that some will be evacuated because they are pregnant." Commanders also reported that some women have timed pregnancies so they could avoid deployment or combat.
In its essence, war is a horrible business. In a fallen world, military action is often a lamentable necessity. In light of this necessity, military service is honorable.
A nation's moral character is revealed in the way it fights its wars. This report, filled with documentation, reveals that our nation's moral character is now being redefined before our eyes. If it is true that a majority of the American people affirm their readiness to see women "join combat units, where they would be directly involved in the ground fighting," the American people are demonstrating their disregard for the moral wisdom of the ages. The nation is forfeiting the responsibility of men to act as protectors of women, and acquiescing to the failure of men to fulfill their duty.
From a Christian perspective, the concern about women in combat goes far beyond the pollsters' questions. If we truly believe that God created men and women for different but complementary roles and shows his glory in the faithfulness of men as primary protectors and women as primary nurturers, the entry of women into combat roles is an open rejection of God's purpose. As military historians document, every society throughout history has normalized the military service of men. Though women have known combat in isolated cases throughout history, the fact that such cases are rare is the exception that proves the rule. This wisdom is part of general revelation and thus the moral wisdom shared by virtually all cultures.
When women are injected into combat, the dignity of women is undermined. In the extreme conditions of combat, women are exposed to the very worst that human beings can do and a physical violence that exceeds the imagination. There is no shortage of arguments against this practice. Biological arguments document differences of physical strength and stamina. Psychological arguments consider not only the psychological profile of women in combat but the difference the presence of women makes on men fighting alongside them. Sociological arguments and economic considerations focus on the costs of women in combat roles. These arguments are important, but not ultimate.
Feminists insist that women must be deployed in combat on the same basis as men -- just to achieve equality. Homosexual rights activists argue that the deployment of women into combat will strengthen their case for allowing openly-homosexual soldiers in combat as well.
The most important argument against the service of women in combat is moral. The decision to expose women to combat, to stretch and erase gender boundaries, and to normalize the exposure of women to violence represents a moral revolution. The injury to our moral character as a nation is only increased by the subterfuge of violating policy and circumventing regulations.
Are we a nation ready to admit that our men must be accompanied by women on the battlefield? Are we ready to break down the necessary lines of respect between men and women? Is this really who we are? Will Americans look the other way and refuse to see this quiet circumvention of morality? Far more than the future of the military is at stake.