This is a tough one for me. In the course of considering this post, I’ve written half a dozen introductions, ranted to friends and family, shouted mental objections at myself, binned the whole idea, retrieved the crumpled paper and smoothed out the edges. Still I feel no closer to expressing what I really want to say.
The only reason you’re reading this exercise in mental gymnastics is because of an MSN article I recently read. It’s about a little girl, Vivian Lord, all of 6 years old, who wrote a letter to several toy manufacturers about her desire to see the production of female toy soldiers. I’ll link it here, but you don’t need much of an imagination to guess at the gist. “A decisive victory in the battle for equality,” reads the final line. A tagline for the coming packaging, perhaps?
So here we are. And now you’re probably expecting me to write a diatribe about women in combat, how women are physiologically weaker than men and thus ill-suited for the competition of war. I’m almost tempted to do it. It’d be a much easier post to write. Instead, I’m going to advocate that women not be in the military at all. See the work I have cut out for myself.
Before I’m accused of being a traitor to my country (don’t worry, I’m not burning flags in my front yard) allow me to provide some context. I grew up in a military family. Both my parents were officers. My father, an Air Force Academy grad, reached the rank of Captain before taking a job in the civilian sector; my mother is a retired Lieutenant Colonel. In my family, the Air Force is legacy, passed down from both grandfathers to both parents to…
At the age of 18, I packed my combat boots and reported to the Air Force Academy for basic training. Unlike little Vivian, I never had any desire to play with toy soldiers and I certainly had no deep-seated longing to join the military. Needless to say, my stint was short-lived. I lasted two years.
In many conservative circles it’s sacrilege to question the military. We faithfully observe Memorial and Veterans Days. We attend the parades and wave our flags. We are nostalgic about our patriotism, longing for V-J Day Times Square kisses and the rally of World War propaganda. Even the war-time movies we flock to are shamelessly earnest in their patriotic fervor. You know the ones: flags rippling in dramatic slow motion, soldiers saluting by the backlight of a setting sun. In these the prolonged separations, the deployments and reassignments, take on a sort of literary romanticism in their portrayal−the deceit of the silver screen.
After giving birth to me, my mother had a mere six weeks of maternity leave before she had to report back to work (the Air Force has since extended the time to 12 weeks). Before my first birthday, the Air Force sent her to Defense Information School (DINFOS), a ten-week course in Indianapolis. We lived in Colorado Springs at the time. After 9/11, she was recalled to active duty and stationed at Offutt AFB in Omaha, a three-hour drive from where we lived. She got an apartment near work and, for a year, we saw her only on weekends. I was 13, a pivotal age in a young girl’s life.
I don’t say any of this out of resentment. I love my parents, and my dad did a great job taking care of me and my brother while she was away. But mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. The roles and responsibilities are not equal; children need their mothers in a different way than they need their fathers. It’s sad the dilapidated state of our society requires me to spell this out.
What’s more: mothers need their children. That was the thing I was most struck by in reading through my baby book as I tried to wrap my mind around this topic−the yearning of a young mother wanting to stay home with her child. It would have been impossible for my mom to know how she would feel after giving birth, that by signing her time to the Air Force years before, she had been signing away witness to so many childhood milestones.
Motherhood v. Military
The Word of God is clear that a mother’s priority is her household. She is the manager of its affairs−keeper of order, exemplar of wisdom. We’ve talked before about the Proverbs 31 woman, a typological ideal of the women we should aspire to be. Proverbs 31:27 reads, “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” We see this same exhortation in Titus 2:3-5, for women to be “workers at home” and to “love their husbands and children”. It sounds very old-fashioned to our modern “sensibilities”, doesn’t it? Yet the Bible doesn’t advocate a nanny system whereby women prioritize career before children, dropping their kids off at daycare while they fulfill their personal ambitions. Instead, women are to answer these scriptural calls by organizing their lives in a way that sacrificially benefits their families.
She watches over the affairs of her householdProverbs 31:27-29, NIV
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Many mothers have jobs, so why pick on the military? In a nutshell, civilian mothers have options. After giving birth, a woman can decide to quit her full-time job to stay at home, switch to a part-time position that complements her family’s new schedule, or work from home. She has flexibility. Not so in the military. Most military members are contractually obligated to serve. Until the time is complete, Uncle Sam effectively owns you.
In most cases, a woman on active duty cannot leave her post. As such, she is separated from her child whether she wants to be or not. There is no option to change her priorities until after the time is served. During that time, the military can choose to send her wherever needs demand with little thought as to how it will affect her family. Even those on reserve duty, as my mother was during the 9/11 attacks, are not immune. We often talk about the breakdown of the family and the impact on the fabric of society, but how often do we consider the consequences of such institutional policies? Or have we so turned patriotism into idolatry that we cannot see the flaws within the system?
I can’t lay all the blame at those spit-shined combat boots. Institutions are reflections of culture, and our culture has decided motherhood is not a job that requires your full-time attention. If you’re an intelligent woman, it is not even worthy of your time. As of now, there is no draft for women in this country. All female servicemembers are volunteers and responsible for the decision they make to enlist.
The narrative surrounding mothers in the military is one of self-sacrifice, but is it honorable to sacrifice your children on the altar of country? There are all sorts of ways our society seeks to subtly undermine the family. Patriotism may indeed be one of them. Allegiance is a powerful motivator (remember those schmaltzy war-time movies). All the more important, then, that we understand where our loyalties lie from a biblical perspective.
So, to answer the title’s question: no, women shouldn’t join the military if it means enforced separation from their children. In fact, women should eschew any job that places demands on their time or energy in interference with familial obligation. The Christian life is one of sacrifice, a model of the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. As such, we must take its responsibilities seriously and prioritize according to the will of God, not according to our own selfish dreams or desires.
If you’re still not convinced, I would ask that you prayerfully consider if general absenteeism is a model that fulfills the exhortations for women in Proverbs and Titus. If it’s not a mother’s job to nurture her children, whose is it? The nanny’s? The daycare provider’s? Do we practice through our actions the cultural lie that children are a burden instead of a blessing (Psalms 113:9, 127:3-5)?
Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,Psalm 127:3-5, NASB
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
During her time in the military, my mother worked on projects for Air Force Space Command, U.S. Strategic Command, and NORAD. Even given these worldly accolades, she always said the best job she had was being our mom. Not long after being recalled, my mom chose to retire from the Air Force so she could be home with us. I’m tremendously blessed that she was around for most of my childhood and that I never felt she would rather be anywhere else.
Which brings us back to little Vivian Lord. I wish someone would tell her that mothers are warriors, not because they wear Army Green, but because they sacrifice the praise of society for the good of their families. They truly are the unsung heroes. Only a warrior would bring new life into a culture that celebrates death. Only a warrior would sacrifice her own desires to raise her children, discipling the next generation of believers, standing between them and the scorn of the world. This is the message we should tell little girls: being a wife and mother is the beautiful mission of a woman’s life.