I pen this article on Memorial Day, 2010, a sacrosanct occasion that I hope politicians never try to change or abolish, like they have done with other important days in our nation's history. This morning while I was working out, I tuned in to a local radio talk show. The host and his listeners were discussing the recent phenomenon of female soldiers killed in combat. He posed this question to his audience: Does the fact that we send women into combat enhance society, or degrade it? My gut instinct was that it improved our society and culture, but I listened to some callers who were convinced that women have no place on the battlefield.
An article in the Sunday Washington Post (linked below), dated 5/30/2010, revealed some interesting statistics that may surprise some of you. During World War II, American servicewomen suffered sixteen combat deaths; Vietnam produced only one. However, deaths from the wars in the Middle East have resulted in eighty U.S. servicewomen killed due to hostile action, more than from any other causes, such as accidents. The numbers have risen because women are directly involved in fighting, even though officially they are barred. Operating as fighter pilots, EOD techs, helicopter gunship pilots, platoon leaders, and machine-gunners on convoys, women are in the thick of the fight. You can't be in these types of positions and not be in harm’s way.
As I continued to listen to callers to the radio show, people on both sides of the argument opined, some strident in their assertion that women belonged at home. Didn't children need their mothers? I instantly yelled at the radio: Kids need their fathers just as much! Others took the position that the feminist movement was the cause of this morphing of a woman's role in society. That's a hot-button issue that I wouldn't touch, but as I thought further about the issue, I found myself taking the position that women in military combat were no different than our female police officers on the streets of our cities and towns.
In January of this year, I wrote an article entitled, Warriors In High Heels (also linked below). In it, I described some of the more recent events in which women played a pivotal role in saving lives. Some of the incidents resulted in the officer losing her life, something which all of us know can occur once we pin on the badge. Female police officers, just like their male colleagues, serve on the front lines, 24/7. They sometimes find themselves in situations which are life threatening. Do we ban them from police work because the possibility exists that they might be killed? Of course not. We expect they will react accordingly, based on the training we've given them - the same training we've given their male colleagues.
Then the talk show host posed this question: Is it worse when a female servicewoman is killed in the line of duty; is it a degradation of our society when we send women to fight for our country? After all, we've become accustomed to men losing their lives on the battlefield, but women?
Let me make a point here. In Israel, all physically able citizens, men and women, must serve in the army for three years. In contrast, the U.S. is fortunate to have an all-volunteer fighting force. Men and women who join the armed forces in our country are serving because they want to, not because the government has compelled them. Women who join do so of their own volition - even those in combat. I see no difference in women who join either a police department or the military, both recognize they will be physically challenged, and are up to the task. Indeed, some of our female warriors are doing both simultaneously - serving in the military and the police force. None of these women is looking for sympathy or shortcuts. They know that respect is earned, never given. They don't countenance playing favorites; they expect to do the job. When one of our women in uniform loses her life, whether their garb is military or police, we mourn the loss for what it is - a fallen warrior.