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Opening Arguments

GI Jane

I was first drawn to this story just because the headline -- "Rules on Women Unclear -- seemed perfect for a snide retort -- yeah, to me, too! But the story below the headline is quite serious:

The Army is following Pentagon policy barring the assignment of women to units whose primary mission is ground combat, but the policies are difficult to understand, according to new study of the issue.

The study, which was recently issued by the Washington-based RAND Corporation, also says that there is no consensus among senior defense officials about the objectives of the two policies.

"Neither the letter nor the spirit of the policies is clear," said Margaret Harrell, the report's lead author.

The main problem, Harrell said Friday, "appears to be that the policies do not anticipate the style of combat experienced in Iraq, where there is no clearly defined battlefield."

"No clearly defined battlefield." Certainly in Iraq that is true -- the whole war zone is the "front line," and 76 female service members have been killed so far. And if you take the "war on terror" (or our "struggle against terror") seriously, then the whole world is the war zone, isn't it?

A few questions: If we are all equally citizens, with equal rights, does that not mean we have equal obligations as well? If a draft is reinstated, doesn't that mean women as well as men should be subjected to it? If men and women are equally obligated to surrender their freedom to the military, what would be the justification for sending the drafted men into harm's way but not the women? (What's the justification for it now, in the all-volunteer military, come to think of it?)

If you follow the line of logic in those questions, equalizing the military experience would forever change the place of women in this society. You should acknowledge the truth of that whether you are the most hidebound "men and women are different" conservative or the most outraged "patriarchy is holding women back" liberal. It would also change our attitudes about war, I suspect. We have thought of war in a certain way because it has been overwhelmingly men who have been killed by it. If our mothers and daughters and sisters are equally at risk of battlefield death, we are likely to see it in a different way. Would that be a good thing, making us more reluctant to go to war? Or, in an age when we might all be called on to be defend ourselves, would that be a bad thing?

Just asking. And, while I'm in this contrarian mood, another question. If I'm in a Titanic-like situation, I will give up my seat to a child. But tell me why I should adhere to the "women" part of the "women and children first" doctrine? I can't swim, so perhaps I should ask that of my good female friend who is a lifeguard.

Yeah, to me, too, indeed.

This just in: If the draft were reinstated today, it would be much more fair and equitable than it was during most of the Vietnam War: "There would be fewer reasons to excuse a man from service." (Emphasis mine.)