A reader writes:
That letter from the "straight 46-year-old male" has to be a parody, right? It's just too on the nose. The cataloging of his feminist street cred ("I'm as feminist as they come") that is then immediately undermined by the exaggeratedly offensive references to protecting precious "fertile wombs" and "cherishing" the helpless woman, seems too perfectly mindless to be real. My guess is that this was written by a 20-year-old gender studies major looking for a laugh.
Yes, women are to be protected and cherished. That is why women routinely are killed, raped, mutilated, abused, burned out of their homes, left to starve, and otherwise become "collateral damage" in war. The idea that wars are fought because men are "protecting" their women is ludicrous. Wars are fought for territory, for resources (sometimes those "resources" are women), for ideology, for defense, and even, so the poets would have us believe, for more personal motives like revenge. There is no "deep psyche" reason for people to be appalled at the thought of women in combat. Women are already on the battlefield. They’ve always been on the battlefield in one way or another.
Regarding women serving in combat, I would put forward for example the WWII women snipers of the Soviet Union who numbered over 2,000 in strength. They proved themselves capable of the duty and several of them excelled at the task of killing the enemy. Like another reader put forward, we should determine what combat duty requires and then allow whomever can meet the demands, serve.
The Atlantic currently has a great photo essay of women engaged in World War II, including combat. For a fictional but realistic depiction of a female soldier taking down male enemies, watch the sniper scene from Full Metal Jacket (though fair warning: it's gut-wrenching). Another reader:
As a former combat-arms Marine officer, I don't have a problem with the idea of women in combat – provided they can fully hack it physically. Indeed, I've known some steely-eyed female Marines who could kick my butt from here to next Tuesday.
But it's not as simple as that. War is not a movie. In reality, it has always been a hellish Globe Theater tailor-made for cruel actors. They operate best in situations usually characterized as FUBAR, which are frequent. And sadly, war routinely invites the worst in men (see any war of your choosing since the Bronze Age). So I'm a bit surprised that your readers are dancing around the 800-pound gorilla in this debate: What happens when a female soldier or Marine is captured in battle?
To put it bluntly, some will almost surely be brutally raped. The greater the number of females in infantry-type units, the greater the odds some will be captured. The experience of Maj. Rhonda Cornum in the Persian Gulf War is just one example of why chivalry, if it ever actually existed, is long dead. Is the specter of sexual abuse not the core moral reason why some oppose employing women in combat? Are we as a society ready to cope with this special kind of collateral damage on a potentially larger scale?
If we (and the women we ask to serve in war) can live with this grisly reality, then, yes, open the combat arms to those brave females who can meet the requirements. But let all of us – tough, would-be G.I. Janes included – walk into this Brave New World with our eyes open. Know that ugly risks are involved.
Your reader concluded: "My generation grew up viewing the idea of women serving in the armed forces, as they might serve in any other profession, as natural and normal. But a woman on the battlefield somehow still seems to me like a crime against nature."
He’s half-right. Until very recently, the American public has not had to deal with the idea of daughters, wives, girlfriends and sisters being maimed or killed in battle. It is a crime against nature.
But the whole truth is that a battlefield is a crime against nature, as is war. The fact that we as a society don’t seem to agree on this is a problem that keeps leading to more wars. And if it takes opening up the battlefield to strong women to make the rest of us see the horror of war, and to fix the public mind on the idea that wars must be avoided, then those women in combatroles have already served a cause even greater than country or gender equality. Their presence may lead to less reckless use of those armed forces.