VIEWPOINTS: Should women be allowed to fight in combat?

With women being involved in more and more combat situations in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, the Pentagon recently decided to rescind its 1994 policy banning women in combat that kept them from holding about 230,000 combat positions in the military.

A study last year from researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, found that female veterans reported the same rate of post-traumatic stress disorder as male veterans. The study authors found in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, 4 percent of women reported killing, 9 percent reported witnessing killing, 31 percent reported exposure to death, and 7 percent were injured in the war zone.

While one study of the 1990-91 Gulf War, 1 percent of women reported killing, 14 percent reported seeing someone dying, and 2 percent had a combat-related injury.

Some voices in the evangelical community question whether officially sanctioning women in combat defies scripture and points to a larger problem with men not fulfilling their proper societal roles while other Christian military chaplains point to biblical examples of warrior women Deborah, Jael and Judith. Retired U.S. Air Force chaplain Jan McCormack wrote in Christianity Today: “'Greater love has no one than this, that he [or she] lay down his life …' (John 15:13, NIV 1984). In all things, we are to respond to the Lord's call on our lives. No one should automatically be excluded on the basis of gender alone.”

Women's rights advocates have hailed the official “shattering of the brass ceiling” as long overdue.

We asked our panelists what they thought.

Should women be allowed to fight in combat?

Amanda Greene is the editor of Wilmington Faith & Values.

32 Responses to “VIEWPOINTS: Should women be allowed to fight in combat?”

  1. Eric Blauer

    Many countries send children into war too. Equal opportunity!

    Lets not discriminate based on sex or age, if you can shoot a gun, lets give them a gun.

    Why do you think we’ve been training them in first person shooters anyway? Lets not let all our cultural conditioning of aggression and violence go to waste!

    We’ve got wars to fight and too many wounded warriors, so reinstate the draft, send women and children, give the over touring men a break and let’s blow some freaking stuff up!

    While we’re at it, cut social services on the parasitic culture, make military service mandatory for welfare recipients who are able and raise taxes in the rich to pay for it all.

    Reply
  2. Deb Conklin

    Eric,

    you’ve made your point – war is all hell (to quote Joe Newby/General Sherman). And I am hardly a hawk. The US invasion of Iraq was a war crime. Our ongoing wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan are doing more harm than good and need to end. There is no excuse for the lives we’ve spent perpetuating US imperialism.

    As true as all this is, the fact remains that we do need some military. And sometimes they will legitimately be involved in real combat. The question posed is whether it is fair to refuse to allow women who want to serve their country in this way to do so. And the reality of modern warfare is that women ARE in reality already serving in combat. The rule simply keeps them from getting the pay, benefits, recognition and opportunities for advancement that are available to the men who are labeled ‘combat’ assigned.

    The debate is not about the evils of war – you get no debate from me. The debate is about, yet again, excluding women from equal pay and advancement opportunities and using unfounded gender differences as the excuse.

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  3. Eric Blauer

    Well, Im all for equal pay, advancement etc. but I am not for a warring culture that prides itself on equal slaughter for all.

    I take no pride in presenting the best and most precious in our community to the ravages of primarily male dominated atrocities. I wont feel good about my progressive values when women are subjected to the horrors of relational dysfunction, marital destruction, physical mutilation, amputation, mental devastation and moral and spiritual degradation and wounding and suicide. Not to mention whatever other brutalities men can think up to do to our mothers and sisters in the hell of war!

    I do not find this ennobling to a culture anymore than sending its children to fight. It reveals the depth of our depravity not the heights of our nobility to me.

    Not that I don’t think women can kick ass or lead better than most men, I do, but it still doesn’t warm me to the act no matter how much more they get paid or what title they can achieve.

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  4. Sam Fletcher

    What interests me is how we’re on the cusp of what I think may qualify as a “new epoch.” I don’t think Americans, and other Westernized countries, have got much taste left for sending any human into combat. Robots have almost entirely replaced the role of surveillance aircraft, are quickly replacing the role of combat aircraft (drone vs. drone combat is the next battleground), and are beginning to make their first forays into ground combat. This is going to require enormous amounts of discourse about the ethics of it, but I think we’ll see the human combat role become that of machine operator, and I think it’s going to happen a lot more quickly than most people anticipate.

    So the issues for women (and men) in combat won’t be physical endurance, but dealing with the emotional trauma and weariness of remote killing. I think on one hand, the Powers that Be in national defense are aware that women will be just as good, if not better, than their male counterparts at operating drones, but I don’t see them taking any steps to address the PTSD that comes with operating drones. I think what this really means is that we’ll have a whole new expression of PTSD to deal with in society.

    I’m pessimistic. I think it’s going to be really, really bad to see not only fathers, but mothers come back from war-by-desk with suicidal and self-destructive tendencies. If people of faith really want to make a difference in thinking about women in combat roles, we should being, like, yesterday to think about how PTSD is going to affect people, not any red herrings about endurance, combat ability, or any of that. That’s going to be a motif of the past before we know it.

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  5. Eric blauer

    “the Powers that Be in national defense are aware that women will be just as good, if not better, than their male counterparts at operating drones”

    What is it about women that makes you think they will be better at killing people on a screen?

    Reply
  6. Sam Fletcher

    Women have been shown to be slightly better, on average, at multitasking. If you eliminate the physicality and athleticism from combat, you might see a slight edge in performance. That’s all that was meant.

    Reply
  7. Deb Conklin

    Eric, I am troubled that twice now you have compared women in combat to children in combat. That seems paternalistic to me. Are you suggesting that men have the same obligation to protect women as adults have to protect children?

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  8. Eric Blauer

    Absolutely.

    Reply
  9. Joe Newby

    @Eric, having some knowledge and training in the “art of war,” let me just inject here that there’s a reason the infantry is called the “queen of battle.” No matter how much we advance technologically, there will always be a need for “boots on the ground.” It’s not just the physical requirements, it’s the emotional strain combat puts on people.

    From the time one first steps into hostile territory to the moment one is on the way home, the soldier/sailor/airman/Marine lives with the knowledge that any moment could be their last. Those who actually have to draw down and shoot someone lives with that guilt for the rest of their lives. Those who lose comrades and friends never forgets the horror of that moment.

    it’s not just a question of being physically fit. I’ve seen big, strapping men reduced to simpering babies. There is nothing more physically and emotionally taxing than combat.

    I remember having this debate many years ago, and my response then was to suggest one experience combat for themselves before advocating it for anyone else. In those days, we didn’t have drones — for that matter, we didn’t have the Internet, and computers required multi-story buildings. In my day, we were taught how to deal with the enemy close-up, one-on-one. We called it “fixing bayonets and hooking and jabbing.”

    Things are different now. There are all kinds of roles needed on today’s battlefield, and technology opens up a lot of opportunities for those who wish to serve.

    But make no mistake, there will always be a need for the infantry. Beaches will still need to be assaulted and enemy soldiers will still need to be faced.

    That’s why I say that if a woman wants to serve in a combat arms role, she should have the opportunity to try. And if she proves capable of handling the job and the logistical requirements of women in the field do not negatively impact the unit as a whole, then fine.

    Just my .02.

    Reply
  10. Eric Blauer

    My position on women in battle has nothing to do with capability…it’s the morality of it.

    Reply
  11. Bruce Meyer

    As I understand most of the contributors to this discussion to be Christian, let’s go back and think about what it means to be a “Christian”, or a follower of Christ. The basics of Christianity is that Christ went to the cross and gave his own life for the sake of others. He allowed himself to be brutally beaten and crucified rather than to take the lives of the Roman soldiers who accosted him. Perhaps I don’t understand Christianity, but to me any talk of war on our neighbors or anybody else is not an element of “Christianity.” There is no moral high ground here except to offer your life for the sake of your enemies. By defending ourselves, we are not following Christ. We are not being Christians. Didn’t Christ die on the cross rather than defend himself? The main idea is that Christ trusted in God to raise him from the dead rather than to murder others in his own self defense. This is the basics of the Christian myth.

    I’m not saying that we should stop defending ourselves or that we shouldn’t go to war. I’m pointing out the inherent silliness in claiming a moral high ground on who should go to war. If we really want to follow Christ to the grave, then nobody should go to war. We should give our lives rather than beat up on our neighbors, whether with drones or men or women. Obviously this is mythology and doesn’t work in a real world. But saying that men should go to war instead of women is not a Christian idea. Perhaps I don’t understand Christianity, but it seems to me that Christian idea would be that we should not even fight in the first place, whether men or women or drones. Any talk of moral high ground other than peace doesn’t work with the Christian myth.

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  12. Eric Blauer

    I have no problem saying I would defend my wife as a Christian man, especially so, even lay my life down for her if duty called. I would never, ever push her in front of some brute to fight for me either. Sorry, you can spin whatever cultural words around it you want or claim its silly or unchristian but in the end, I am sure the woman I love would prefer that scenario too.

    As for Jesus, as I read it, he defended other people from viscous, life threatening assaults on body, soul and mind by disease, evil powers, corrupt systems and self-righteous religious system that had exalted principles above people, sanctity above soul, morals above love. Sin and sickness is evil and Jesus confronted it, uprooted it, drove it out, replaced it and set in motion it’s eventual demise. He took the kingdom by spiritual force, it got him nailed to a tree through the powers but He laid his life down willingly according to a predetermined plan not the will of evil men.

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  13. Bruce Meyer

    My understanding of Christianity is not about laying down your life for your wife. Any normal man would do that. While we were still enemies, Christ laid down his life for us. He laid down his life for Romans when they were whipping him bloody. He laid down his life for the disciples when they deserted him. He laid down his life for the people who had convicted him. If you profess to follow the example of Christ, that means laying down your life for Muslims, Hindus, that burglar with a gun who breaks into your house in the middle of the night and threatens your wife and children. The basics of Christianity as I read it is that rather than killing others to save himself or his family, he laid down his life for his enemies. You can spin it any way you want, but these are the basics as told by all four of the gospels.

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  14. Eric Blauer

    You’ve exalted one aspect of the cross experience and made it law by which you judge others and demand them to adhere. I reject that process and exegetical method.

    We all choose how to love and what course of action would be the most loving act for the other, those we are told to care for and innocents beyond us.

    The cross was many things but it surly wasn’t a literal template to follow in all aspects. I’m not the pure lamb of God, Jesus was. His offering was far beyond what God would or does expect of me.

    I need a savior not a role model.

    Reply
  15. Sam Fletcher

    “You’ve exalted one aspect of the cross experience and made it law by which you judge others and demand them to adhere. I reject that process and exegetical method.”

    I was pretty sure this was a core part of the Christ story and its application to our lives. Why are you rejecting it out of hand? Isn’t submission and peaceful non-resistance a pretty huge theme in Jesus’ life and teaching? It seems like an odd thing to say it doesn’t have a life application component for Christians.

    Reply
  16. Sam Fletcher

    I also think “Defending my wife and children” is a concept that is a long, long ways away from “Women and men can be partners in combat”. War is an exercise in diplomacy, and soldiering is for the vast majority of people who choose that profession, either a serious career path, or a stepping stone on their career path. Defending one’s home is something no one should be condemned for (I mean, c’mon, saying otherwise is just pedantic).

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  17. bruce

    Thank you Eric for engaging me. I would repeat Sam’s question above and add one more. As I understand your initial argument, you had claimed a higher morality related to Christianity in regards to women in the military.

    “My position on women in battle has nothing to do with capability…it’s the morality of it.”

    But now you are rejecting my claim to the higher morality of the cross because I have exalted the cross?

    “We all choose how to love and what course of action would be the most loving act for the other, those we are told to care for and innocents beyond us.”

    So is there a higher morality or isn’t there? If there is, then I claim the cross of Jesus as the highest morality to which those who claim to be Christians (follow Christ) are called.

    Or perhaps you have become a none like me?

    Reply
  18. Joe Newby

    Here’s something to chew on — women serve with distinction in the IDF, defending Israel from the multitudes who would destroy that tiny nation. Just curious to know what all y’all (that’s ‘southern’ for ‘all of you’) think about that.

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  19. The Reverend Deb Conklin

    Eric has essentially produced a red herring to justify a sexist position. This is not about anyone’s position on war. I am not an absolute pacifistic – I cannot say there will never be a war that I would consider justified. But, specifically as a Christian, I oppose every war we’ve engaged in in my lifetime. Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Granada, Honduras, Iraq, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Pakistan. So I have no interest in any sort of career in the military. However, many women who join the military are not Christians. And those who are Christians, do not seem to be pacifists. I do not believe that Jesus is unequivocal on use of violence. (He did take a whip to the moneychangers in the temple, so he’s not an absolute pacifistic!)

    The issue here is the right of women (of any faith or no faith) to engage in a career in the military without suffering gender discrimination. And the Jesus that I follow was pretty clear on respecting women. So using Christianity as an excuse to prevent women from the career opportunities which are only offered to those who are designated ‘combat’ is a total red herring and sexist.

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  20. Sam Fletcher

    “Here’s something to chew on—women serve with distinction in the IDF, defending Israel from the multitudes who would destroy that tiny nation. Just curious to know what all y’all (that’s ‘southern’ for ‘all of you’) think about that.”

    Exactly. Women have been military leaders for thousands of years, in fact. Joan of Arc? Cleopatra? The female Russian conscripts who beat back the nazi war machine? Lots of examples if you’re looking for them. Women have been entrepreneurial leaders, religious figures, poets, authors, teachers, landowners, managers — the full range of professional life — for as long as human civilization has existed.

    In fact, the “faux-traditionalist” model where women are gentle, sexually pliable (yet chaste) home makers who know nothing but nurturing of children and domestic beauty, wasn’t even known until the industrial revolution made it possible for households to be financially supported by the work of the husband alone. There’s absolutely nothing traditionalist about Eric’s opinions. They are very, very modern ideas that willfully ignore a huge amount of history.

    Being bad ideas, of course, they haven’t penetrated very far into human society. It’s a generational idea, highly tied into fear of progress and modernity.

    Reply
  21. Eric Blauer

    I’m for total freedom to follow the Viking or Amazonia way. Go for it, bathe in the gory glory of your armaments and the righteousness of your position to send equal and all to war.

    It’s a good for Ameircan prosperity. It’s going to be a lot more money for the medical industry, the mental health industry, the military manufacturing, equipping and re-equipping aspects of industrial complexes. It’s a good old fashion economic plan of salvation! Good call Prez.

    It amazes me liberal/progressive values dance to either issue. Life? Yes! um but wait, abortion and women’s “rights” above and beyond! No War…uh, YES! Um wait, Womens Liberation! Equal fights and equal rights!

    My opinion, as ive read it, is the nonviolence of Jesus was related to “tooth & eye” interpersonal matters not “life for life” matters that are reiterated elsewhere in the NT.

    The morality I discussed is related to protecting those God told men to protect. I take no shame in calling men to treat women with respect, honor and put them before oneself. I don’t believe it is sexist to believe in the differences of e sexes. I’ve reiterated that my issue isn’t with capabilities of women at all. My issue is with the growing black hole that is the Ameircan Military and Whitehouse posture and policy in this world that is sucking resources, men and now potentially even greater amounts of women into the abyss.

    I am against it even when I allow it, as a good libertarian always has the choice to do. You go right ahead and sleep with whoever, smoke whatever, shoot whatever, do whatever you feel your liberated self has to do, but your freedom to do, doesn’t mean it’s right to do. A point that many in is society have completely lost sight of.

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  22. Eric Blauer

    I’m for total freedom to follow the Viking or Amazonia way. Go for it, bathe in the gory glory of your armaments and the righteousness of your position to send equal and all to war.

    It’s a good for Ameircan prosperity. It’s going to be a lot more money for the medical industry, the mental health industry, the military manufacturing, equipping and re-equipping aspects of industrial complexes. It’s a good old fashion economic plan of salvation! Good call Prez.

    It amazes me liberal/progressive values dance to either issue. Life? Yes! um but wait, abortion and women’s “rights” above and beyond! No War…uh, YES! Um wait, Womens Liberation! Equal fights and equal rights!

    My opinion, as ive read it, is the nonviolence of Jesus was related to “tooth & eye” interpersonal matters not “life for life” matters that are reiterated elsewhere in the NT.

    Reply
  23. Sam Fletcher

    Way to miss the point, Eric. Not every “combat soldier” sees combat. The ones who do get higher pay and faster promotions. Like with gay marriage, this comes down to unfair pay. You, being a white, straight, American male, seem to have no idea that people who are just as qualified as straight, white men routinely receive lower pay, slower promotion (military or career), and fewer life opportunities. While you’re pontificating on ideals, other people are trying to go through, incidence by incidence, and correct the inequality of white American patriarchy. If you’ve missed this point, I really question your knowledge and grasp of what is going on in this world. Where’s your head when it comes to real life problems for people other than middle class dudes?

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  24. Eric Blauer

    Actually Sam the question presented by this article is: Should women be allowed to fight in combat?

    I think you missed the point.

    Reply
  25. Sam Fletcher

    We went off from the original question because it was too limited, and kind of irrelevant because women are in combat right now (as Joe Newby pointed out just a minute ago), and have historically taken roles in combat and military leadership since the dawn of time. A few of us, such as Deb and myself, pointed out that the reason this is something to think about, not because either of us particularly like or encourage combat, is because of the unequal pay, promotion clock, and opportunity afforded to women in the military.

    You’re being shouted down because you’re coming from a position that is sexist — women should be defended by men, but no one should be defended by women. Deb and I both agree with you that war is stupid and we should stop making war. That’s not the point. We won’t be in endless war forever (I think “national defense” as we practice it is very much a baby boomer obsession dating back to cold war, nuke scares and then 9/11) but combat roles will still get higher pay and faster promotion.

    It’s really one shard of a whole, huger problem of patriarchy based on nothing but religious superstition and the status quo, but fine, let’s talk about this because it looks like we have a window of opportunity to fix a problem that many, many career military women face: The glass ceiling.

    You’re not going to get anywhere haranguing us about the evils of war because on that point, you’re just preaching to the choir. We get it already.

    Reply
  26. Eric Blauer

    If its sexist to defend a woman…than I am guilty as charged.

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  27. Sam Fletcher

    That’s not the sexist part (thanks for that straw man argument). The sexist part is saying “women shouldn’t be/do…” and then following that up with a broad statement about how women are inferior. That’s doubly true if your justification is based in your religion, because people can make up any “fact” about God/gods, apply it as law for all of society to follow, and claim their faith tradition makes it an empowering and noble thing, over the protestations of those who stand to lose a lot in life because of it.

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  28. Eric Blauer

    You must not be reading the full comments because I’ve never said that women can’t/shouldn’t do anything? The exact opposite in fact. I’ve never pointed to the Bible or religious frameworks for anything I’ve said about women. It sounds like you’ve written past the person in your attempts to put me in my place.

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  29. Sam Fletcher

    You’ve categorized women and children as the same, you’ve said your position is a “moral” one rather than a practical one, and spoken in a way that condescends and patronizes women who despite being born as such, dare to want the same opportunities afforded to males. Am I missing something? I completely agree with you about how immoral and awful war is and if I had my way, we’d have nothing but a strictly limited, defense-only military. But I hate seeing my sisters reduced to what set of “naughty bits” they possess when it comes to pay and opportunity. Screw that. Any religious tradition (this is Spokane *Faith* and Values after all) that is going to go so far as to say anything else is not worthy of anyone’s time, much less mine.

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  30. Sam Fletcher

    Also, what the heck, man? Some women are more masculine, some men are more feminine, and between us all there are a huge range of gender variations. Why can’t we just talk about human beings and what’s good for them, and not arbitrarily put individuals into camps they don’t identify in? I’d be REALLY MAD if someone came along and tried to tell me I couldn’t pursue a career in nursing because nursing is “women’s work”. Why can’t we pay human beings equally for a day’s work and not worry what they’re carrying between their legs?

    *Head, desk*

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  31. El Gato

    And what do you propose to do with the children that result from our women combatants being raped by the enemy? Oh, that’s right, I forgot, we have abortion on demand.
    Forgive us, almighty God.

    Reply

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