The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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Women at War

Michael R. Bowen, MD

The Basics

Michael R. Bowen, MD

mbowen@americasvoices.org       
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April 4, 2003


The image of Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson as a prisoner of war in Iraq is like Dr. Johnson's quip about the knowledge that one is to be hanged in the morning:  it crystallizes the mind wonderfully.

The utilitarian arguments about women in combat have all been covered thoroughly:  they can shoot straight, face danger, think fast, and bear suffering quite well, thank you very much.  But utilitarian arguments have no morals.  And America claims to be a moral country, fighting a morally justified war.  So there's a problem with sending our women into combat:  it's wrong.  We're not talking about whether they can do it—we're talking about whether they should.

There is no argument for me to make here, because I'm not talking about logic.  All the arguments for women's fitness for combat tend to dissolve when we're confronted with one in captivity, especially when she's captured by a country like Iraq.  The objection to sending women into battle arises from how we feel about them, not how we think.  And by we I mean men.

Of course, we have come to expect that our enemies will abuse our fighting men when they capture them.  But let's not beat about the bush:  there's a special kind of abuse reserved for women prisoners, one which men generally don't have to worry about.  And while lawless armies routinely violate the humanity of their prisoners, when the prisoner is a woman there's a whole new dimension of abuse available:  the violation of her womanhood in addition to her personhood.  Ugly things will be done to her especially because she's a woman prisoner, not just a prisoner.

Now throughout our history we've been raised to regard women in a special way.  The earlier version is often mocked as "putting woman on a pedestal", though that's a cheap oversimplification which ignores the honorable intent at its core.  Nowadays we like to think we've taken her off the pedestal, but we really haven't.  Even our most virulent feminists regularly proclaim the special virtues of Woman, as when they tell us that if women ran Iraq and America, there would be no war.  However much we may pride ourselves on shedding the benighted superstitions of the past, we still treasure the virtues we regard as uniquely feminine.  We may put a brave face on it, but inside we're revolted by the thought of women being subjected to what prisoners of war experience—and worse.  Only the most callous of men can fail to feel that special revulsion, a revulsion he feels because the prisoner is a woman.  And while it's always moving to see a little girl saying goodbye to Daddy as he goes off to war, there's something downright heartbreaking about watching her say goodbye to Mommy.

I know that our women are brave, that they are smart, and that they are willing to serve their country.  I know that in time of war sometimes women become prisoners.  I just don't think we should be deliberately sending them into places where that can happen.  If you ask me for the logic supporting my position, my reply is this:  Do you love your wife?  Husband?  Kids?  Now, give me one logical reason why you do.  You know the answer:  because they're your wife/husband/kids.  And you're the husband/wife/mom/dad.

And that's all there is to it.  I hate the idea of sending women into battle because I'm a man, and they are women.

 

Copyright © Copyright © 2020 by Michael R. Bowen, MD & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  He writes the weekly column
"The Basics" and the occasional guest column "Mixed Reviews" for America's Voices, a conservative political opinion and educational web site.  His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including Opinionet.com and Enterstageright.com.  E-mail Dr. Bowen at mbowen@americasvoices.org.

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