Should Women Be on the Front Lines of Combat?

combatThere has been a lot of buzz about the recent decision to allow women to serve in the front lines of combat.  According to the Associated Press:

Leon Panetta is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule banning women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

As I have thought through this issue and listened to/read the opinions of others, here are some key issues that arise in connection with this decision:

First, we need to understand that women are already serving in forward areas in combat zones.  I have a friend who is a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq explain to me that the soldiers who are more often killed/injured are actually those serving in support roles rather than the front line.  These are soldiers operating the vehicles to equip those on the front line that hit IEDs.  It is in this support role that many of the women in the military serve.

Second, and for me probably the biggest issue in this debate, is what this decision signals in terms of a shift in morality.  Are there some women capable of fighting in combat?  Undoubtedly so.  But the bigger issue seems not to be can a woman be in combat, but should she be?  The long established norm of our society is to protect women and children from harm.  We see this manifested in many ways.  For example, the men who got on the lifeboats ahead of the women/children on the Titanic were excoriated (and in my opinion rightfully so).  Traditionally, when war comes, we don’t send women to the front, but seek to protect them.  In fact, when the horrors of war come to the homes of civilians (many of whom are women/children/elderly), we see that as an especially egregious consequence of war.

Denny Burk wrote a post on this subject and states: (access his blog post here)

Are the fortunes of women in our country really enhanced by sending them to be ground up in the discipline of a combat unit and possibly to be killed or maimed in war? Is there a father in America who would under any circumstance risk having his daughter shot or killed in battle? Is there a single husband in this country who thinks it okay for his wife to risk being captured by our enemies? To risk becoming a prisoner of war? Is this the kind of people we want to be? 

Burk goes on to quote John Piper‘s 2007 article for World magazine in which Piper writes:

If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of women.

Another problem with women in combat is that this same sense of morality will undoubtedly pervade the thinking/reactions of men in combat with women.  As my veteran friend noted, in a firefight one of the first things you do is check to see if everyone is OK.  If two soldiers are wounded and need to be dragged to safety and one is a man and the other a woman, the decision process is most likely going to be affected.  Could some decisions be possibly made by men in the combat unit to instinctively protect the women that might put the whole unit in greater jeopardy?

Regardless of your opinion about women in combat, this decision certainly signals a shift in the cultural norms of our nation.

Third, this decision is almost certainly going to have massive legal repercussions if a draft lottery is ever reinstituted in this country.  It is very possible that men will sue the government on grounds of some form of discrimination if they are drafted instead of a woman.  In addition, it’s one thing to ask a woman to volunteer for the front lines.  It’s another thing to force them there through conscription.  Morally, do we want to force women to fight in combat?  Legally, will women have expanded grounds to resist a draft?

Fourth, I have noticed a number people saying this issue is about equality.  I disagree.  In terms of physical structure, men and women are not created equally.  A friend of mine posted on her wall on Facebook:

For my size and my age, I am strong and in good shape. But … I AM NOT A MAN. And that’s okay. I cannot EVER keep up with the guys, no matter how hard I try. I am different … we are not equal. And I am good with that.

Nothing here says that men are “better” than women.  That’s ridiculous.  Yes, I understand that women have served in combat roles in countries such as Israel, but in general men are capable of doing many things in terms of physical strength that a woman simply cannot do.  And in combat that is important.  Again, this doesn’t mean men are better than women.  It just means they are different.  There are many things women can do better than men.  God created men and women this way and we should celebrate this reality, not try to blur the lines of gender roles, responsibilities, and capabilities.

We are living in times of fast, sweeping societal change and the issue of women in combat is one among many.  This is a controversial topic.  I am eager to hear your opinion.

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6 Responses to “Should Women Be on the Front Lines of Combat?”

  1. This was a perfect example of approaching a controversial subject in a very straightforward, yet tactful and respectful way. I really enjoyed reading this!

  2. Right on, Bro. Todd. I am a woman who enjoys my role in life that God gave me. It is, by no means, inferior to that of a man. This is just another step away from His plan for the family.

  3. As a soldier serving in an infantry unit, I have a huge problem with women serving beside us. It has nothing to do with a woman being physically able to the job, some are capable some are not. Alot of men are not capable of serving in the infantry. It has more to do with unit cohesion than anything else. Infantry units are very tight nit groups that share EVERYTHING with each other. When you introduce a person of the opposite sex into this fraternity, it changes the way we train and even speak to each other. When we train for war, we are around each other 24 hours a day every day, we sleep next to each other, change clothes next to each other, go to the bathroom next to each other, even shower next to each other. These small menial, everyday things create a corp de esprit that you will never experience anywhere else. For obvious reasons, a female will not be a part of these everyday things and will always be somewhat of an outsider to the actual unit.

  4. But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died. (Judges 4:21 NLT)
    I think when a woman finds herself on the front lines ( for whatever reason )she better use her God given abilities to respond!
    If there were an all-female combat unit for specific female tasks that only females could accomplish better than men, then I would agree with females in combat positions; otherwise we have failed to elevate God’s role for females in our society.

  5. Just as I love being a man, I love women being women. That is not to put them down but to rise them up to the place God gave them.
    When women had to go to work outside the home during WWII, the family structure suffered and continues to suffer.
    This will just be another notch in satan’s gun.