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Should women be drafted for military service?

US Navy (USN) Construction Mechanic Third Class (CM3) Morgan Cameron, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Seventy-Four (NMCB 74) listens during vehicle inspection training being conducted at the Central Command area of responsibility (AOR), while deployed in support of Operation, July 13, 2004 (Credit: VA Comm via Flickr)Let's consider the difference between can and should. For example, I can eat seven donuts. But just because I can eat those calorie-laden fried sugar bombs does not mean I should. It may not be right, for me or my wardrobe. I can do the Macarena, but that does not mean I should. It may not be right, for me or those within viewing distance. All might be permissible, but not all things are beneficial.

On Tuesday, top military officials in the Army and Marine Corps testified before a Congressional committee, saying that it is time for women to register for future military drafts. General Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, and General Robert Neller, Marine Corps commandant, were in agreement for this progression that would reflect societal norms onto the military community. This follows Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's historic decision last December to open all jobs in the military to women.

While the Defense Department plans to begin implementing changes in training and evaluation by April 1, the inclusion of women in Selective Service is still yet to be decided. First adopted in 1917, the Selective Service System ensures the military has enough manpower in times of war. The current version of the Military Selective Service Act requires men in the United States between the ages of 18 to 26 to register within thirty days of their eighteenth birthday. This includes non-U.S. citizens.

Much has been made of these recent comments and Secretary Carter's earlier decision. However, it is important to note the distinction between these two events. To be drafted does not guarantee a combat role, and just because you assume a combat role does not mean you were drafted. Today's military includes a wide variety of roles, each significant and important in order to achieve victory. When you are drafted, you have the possibility, not a guarantee, of assuming a combat position.

Unsurprisingly, both sides have used the Bible, among other sources, to prove their point and win the argument. What follows is an overview of both sides of the argument.

Women Should be Allowed

Some believe that women should be drafted and allowed to serve in combat jobs. These modern day Rosie the Riveters refuse to be confined to non-combat roles, but rather believe they should at least have a chance to fight on the frontlines. One of the larger advocates for this position is the Service Women's Action Network. They believe the most effective military is one that is fully integrated. They are proponents for one physical fitness test and occupational standards that are task-oriented.

Founder Anu Bhagwati believes it does more harm than good when women are allowed only to serve in non-combat roles. "The separation of female recruits, as well as the overall lower training standards for women, only serves to fuel the fierce spirit of misogyny the Marine Corps is known for and a climate in which sexual violence is pervasive."

She is not alone. Brenda Sue Fulton, chairwoman of the Board of Visitors at West Point, writes: "It matters because if you want the best force, you need to set aside things that don't matter—like race, gender, sexual orientation—and focus on what does: competence and character." She believes they will bring new skills and perspectives to the mission.

These new skills and perspectives will be valuable, but just like many items of value, they will take time. Megan MacKenzie, author of Beyond the Band of Brothers: The U.S. Military and the Myth that Women Can't Fight, argues just that point. She cites a study by the Israel Defense Forces which determined that the performance gap between genders can be reduced by recruiting physically fit women, developing prep courses for basic training and assigning personnel based on mission needs independent of gender.

Adding the biblical narrative to the mix is Libby Anne at the online journal Patheos. She writes that women are more than wives and daughters, but females made in the image of God. Anne asserts that women should have equal rights and opportunities to serve their country, calling to mind the equality found in Galatians 3:27.

There are examples throughout the Bible of these warrior women, that when presented a chance to fight, do so valiantly. Consider Deborah. When Barak hesitates in fear at going to battle against the Canaanites, Deborah leads the armies of God to victory (Judges 4:9). Or Jael. She took a tent peg and a hammer to the temple of Sisera (Judges 4:22).

However, it is important to differentiate between prescriptive and descriptive passages. Just because it is present in the biblical narrative does not mean it is encouraged. Moses killed a guy, but the Bible is pretty adamantly opposed to such actions. There are descriptive passages that do not call for prescriptive actions, such as "love your neighbor." Jael and Deborah are descriptive examples of a particular time, not prescriptive commands for all of time. If that was the case, tents would come with warning labels.

Women Should Not be Allowed

Just as there are those that argue that women should be allowed, there are also those who are in adamant disagreement. Among the reasons given are physical capacities, alchemy, and the biblical narrative.

Scientists Anne and Bill Moir, in their book Why Men Don't Iron, write and cite studies that show men are generally larger, stronger, and faster, and have greater lung capacity, a faster metabolism, and roughly eleven times the testosterone of women.

The LA Times reported a study out of the Marine Corps where women fall short on combat skills and all-male units perform better than mixed gender ones. They found that all-male units performed better than mixed-gender units on 93 of 134 tasks. All-male infantry squads were faster in each tactical movement, with differences more pronounced when "crew-served" weapons such as machine guns had to be carried in addition to the standard assault load. Also, all-male infantry rifleman squads they found were more accurate shots with notable differences in the vast majority of categories.

Coupled with the physical capacities is the alchemy. Gregory Newbold (U.S. Marine Corps, retired) finds that there is a certain gel that binds groups together, which would be hindered should integration occur. While some women may be physically capable, it is much more than passing a physical endurance test.

"The characteristics that produce uncommon valor as a common virtue are not physical at all, but are derived from the mysterious chemistry that forms in an infantry unit that revels in the most crude and profane existence so that they may be more effective killers than their foe. Members of such units deliberately reduce the individual and collective level of humanity and avoid all distractions so that its actions are fundamental, instinctive, and coldly efficient. Polite company, private hygiene, and weakness all step aside."

Ryan Smith agrees. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, the former Marine infantryman finds: "Combat effectiveness is based in large part on unit cohesion. The relationships among members of a unit can be irreparably harmed by forcing them to violate societal norms."

Adding the biblical narrative to this side of the argument is professor Denny Burk. He believes women's inclusion in combat jobs is a "gigantic leap backwards for our civilization." Framing women as daughters or mothers, wives or aunts, Burk imposes the roles of some women onto all women.

Joining Burk is theologian Douglas Wilson. Part of Wilson's argument is based on Deuteronomy 22:5.

"The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."

Wilson, who must be a professional Twister player, finds this verse as clear evidence for women taking combat roles.

"This verse is a prohibition for cross-dressing when it comes to men. … Whether we are talking about a man in fishnet stockings, or a woman decked out in full battle regalia, we need to recognize that God finds it loathsome. So should we."

Finally, joining Burk and Wilson is John Piper. Writing in World Magazine, Piper notes:  

"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."

Conclusion

History is replete with examples of women fighting bravely and courageously. For Rosa Parks, her battlefield was a bus. For Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her battlefield was at the Seneca Falls Convention. For some Hebrew midwives, it was in the homes of women who refused to fall in line with the edict of Pharaoh.

Women have been fighting longer than we have been fighting over women. The biblical narrative is unclear as to whether women should be in combat roles. But it is very clear that women have been wonderfully made, beautifully fashioned, and divinely empowered to bring about God's kingdom here on earth. The difference between can and should is right. But anything that keeps women from glorifying their Father in heaven is wrong.

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