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Women in Combat: Contra Naturum

My friend Karl Keating made a clear and reasoned call for the careful development of an apologetic with which to respond to the cry for women in combat. Permit me to underscore his excellent point.

For two generations conservatives have been giving ground in the battle over women in combat. Pete Dupont sponsored the legislation to integrate sexually the service academies. Ronald Reagan gender-neutralized the preamble to the Code of Conduct. (“I am an American fighting man” became “I am an American fighting for my country.”) George Bush opened the cockpits of fighter aircraft to women. John McCain just announced his support of opening ground combat specialties to women. As combat veterans who know better, the latter two bear a special responsibility for this latest evil. Yes, evil, and if conservatives would stop talking about the question in practical terms and start talking about it in moral terms, there might be hope of one day reversing this wicked decision.

The problem is not that many women cannot throw a hand grenade beyond the blast radius, nor is it that they cannot heft the trail of a howitzer, nor is it that they cannot make a 20-mile forced march bearing a full complement of battle gear. Nor is it that women will abrade unit cohesiveness or cause men whose focus under fire should be on the completion of the mission to protect them.

All these things are true, but the real problem is that sending wives, daughters, and mothers into combat is morally wrong. It is evil. Why? Because sending women into combat violates their nature. Women are designed to give and nurture life. Women are not designed to take life. (Abortion is a particularly evil kind of homicide for this very reason. For the same reason sodomy is a worse sin than fornication.) I understand that by using the word design I am implying a designer, but even the ancient pagans who had no beneifit of revelation recognized a natural social order.

Oddly enough, feminists have, in a twisted sense, captured the moral high ground in this argument by making their case from the perspective of “rights” and “equality.” These concepts separated from Christianity tend to be destructive, as anyone who witnessed the Terror of 1789 could have testified.

The Catholic Church needs to capture the real moral high ground in the women-in-combat debate by articulating this argument with precision and force. A good point of departure would be Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, in which the great champion of social justice wrote, “Women, again, are not suited for certain occupations; a woman is by nature fitted for home-work, and it is that which is best adapted at once to preserve her modesty and to promote the good bringing up of children and the well-being of the family.”

When Pope Leo penned those lines more than a century ago, the world was already well in the throes of modernity, but it had not yet begun to indulge in the fringe fantasy that the sex roles revealed in the natural law could be flat-out denied. His words will be unpopular in our deeply disordered age, but that does not make them any less true. Speaking the truth in and out of season is the special responsibility of the Church. Let the clergy and episcopacy come forth and do so before any more members of the gentler sex are called to violate the nature that God gave them.

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