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
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
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
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
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
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.