Women in Combat: “Equality” and Ambition Over Privilege and Duty

Now that the military has finally surrendered in the face of relentless feminist pressure to allow women into combat, one might as well chalk up yet another battle in the culture wars won by the progressive Left. The rather cynically amusing thing about it is the tone of the articles in the mainstream media that announce this particular development. They’re full of smug satisfaction. “This development should come as no surprise,” is the general consensus, “after all, women have been serving in hazardous areas for some time now….”

Right-ho! And when women started serving in hazardous areas the worry-mongers who were afraid that it would lead to women serving directly in combat were accused of exaggerating the consequences. No slippery slope here. Ah, well. One must almost admire this insidious strategy—pushing little changes, pushing and pushing and pushing, and all the time scoffing at the fear that there will actually be a fundamental change. Then, when the time is right, you quietly make the change, as your opponents come to realize they have no leg to stand on. In other words, this battle was lost some time ago.

In any case, the change has come, and now the field of argument is not about whether it is good for women, good for society, and good for our country to have our women serving in combat; it is about the absurdity of preserving an outdated little technicality that prevented them from serving in combat when they are getting shot at and killed anyway. All the prohibition did was to prevent women from receiving the promotions that require some kind of combat experience, which is of course a dreadful example of misogyny, and part of the oppression of women that has apparently marked our species since we first started balancing on our hind legs.

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Well, there are plenty of arguments and good ones too, that one can make about women in combat. One can go round and round about upper-body strength, about statistics, sexual harassment, equality, and so on and so on, et cetera ad nauseam, and I’m sure that people will.

The thing is, these arguments rarely get anywhere. That’s because hardly anybody really cares about any of these things. The liberals don’t care because they have an agenda that calls for obliterating all recognition of the differences between men and women. The conservatives shouldn’t care because the traditional resistance to the idea of women in combat doesn’t actually rest on any of these arguments. It rests on a certain ancient idea of the fundamental differences between men and women, which naturally the liberals do not grant. Just for auld lang syne, I’d like to revisit that old idea.

The idea was more or less that women are, in a special sense, givers of life since they bear children; and for this reason they ought to enjoy a certain status. According to this old-fashioned view, even if an individual woman does not bear children she shares in the dignity and privilege of womankind—for after all, no man will ever bear a child.

If one accepts this idea of woman as life-bearer, it seems unfitting that she should make it her business to deprive people of life. The liberals like to talk about “a woman’s right to give her life for her country.” One is reminded of General Patton’s famous line about a soldier’s business being not to give his life for his country, but to make the other poor bastards die for theirs. The idea of women joining the military—all gung-ho to go out and make those poor bastards die for their country—is completely at odds with the idea that women have a special connection with life. Thus it was for a long time thought good in our Judeo-Christian society that women should not normally participate in combat.

Since the women were not to fight, what were they to do? Well, it was observed that someone ought to preserve what the men were fighting for. Society thought that it made sense for women to do this. For the common good, it was thought best for women to preserve the home, to refrain from killing, and to nurture life; to stand, in a certain sense, for the goal and purpose of warfare: the restoration of peace and justice.

The Role of Women in War
So much for the general idea. Of course there were always exceptions, and by way of illustration that the exception proves the rule, I like the story of the siege of the Alcazar of Toledo in 1936.

This story is taken from the book The Siege of Alcazar by Major Geoffrey MacNiell-Moss, a writer who arrived on the scene about six weeks after the siege was lifted by the arrival of Franco’s troops, and who conducted extensive interviews with the survivors. He did not support either side, and had no reason to inflate their deeds.

At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War a contingent of the Guardia Civil, loyal to the Nationalist cause, had possession of the stone fortress dominating the city of Toledo, which dated from the late Middle Ages. They were under the command of a Colonel Moscardo. They had with them their wives and children.

Toledo was in the hands of the Republicans, who laid siege to the Alcazar. The fortress was surrounded and the garrison greatly outnumbered. It was a situation that called for great courage on the part of the defending soldiers, but their part almost seems easy by comparison with what the women endured.

The women and children spent the entire siege in the cellars. Under Moscardo’s orders the women of the Alcazar neither fought nor did they even assist in the care of the wounded, since this would have exposed them to fire. Major MacNeill-Moss, in commenting on this fact, suggests two reasons for this course of action. The first was that the men were Regulars. Fighting was their profession, they had sufficient numbers for the defense, and they did not really need the women’s help. The second reason was that it was a matter of pride and morale for the entire garrison that the women and children were safe for the time being. MacNiell-Moss goes so far as to say that, had they not been there, “it is well possible the defense could not have been sustained.” Although several of the men committed suicide, none of the women did so.

In the cellars, the women supported from moment to moment the suspense of wondering what was taking place, and whether their husbands, fathers, and brothers were still alive. Along with the men, they were slowly starving. Their sleep was troubled by rifle and shell-fire—and the noise of the falling blocks of masonry on the stone courtyard above their heads was maddening. There was no getting away from the stench of the corpses, which were buried nearby in shallow graves. They heard for days, in quiet moments, the ominous scratching of the enemy’s tunneling. Under this almost unendurable strain they controlled their own fear, cared for their children, and encouraged the men when they came on hurried visits—managing to save food out of their own wholly insufficient rations to give to them. They prayed. Two babies were born.

The women were not passive victims of circumstance. After nearly two months of siege, the Republicans sent in a certain Major Rojo under flag of truce to explain to Moscardo that mines had been placed under the fortress. He offered the garrison a last chance of surrender, which Moscardo refused. Then Rojo made one final offer: if the women and children and were sent out under flag of truce they would be well treated and their lives would be spared. If not, they could expect to be blown sky-high.

Colonel Moscardo very rightly felt that this decision rested with the women. He called three of them in to hear the enemy’s proposal, and then sent them to talk it over with the others. Major McNeill-Moss describes their answer:

After a few minutes they returned and…the unanimous reply of the women was this: that they would never desert their men; that, even if the men wished it they would always oppose the surrender of the Alcazar; that, if the time should come when there would not be enough soldiers left to man the defenses, then they would take up arms and do so themselves—as had the women of Saragossa [in 1813].

The liberals can talk all they like about women’s rights and their desire to serve their country, but that is what real devotion to a cause bigger than oneself looks like—that is the courage women are capable of—selfless, unflinching, single-hearted, cold-blooded and deadly courage.

As it happened, the detonation of the mines failed to oust the defenders. The arrival of Nationalist forces relieved the Alcazar shortly thereafter, and it was never necessary for the women to take to the barricades. In the official record was noted “the boast—: ‘Total number of women and children harmed by enemy action….None.’” But there is no doubt that the women were ready.

Oh, no, I won’t argue that women can’t fight. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” as the Byrds (or is it Ecclesiastes?) put it. But it used to be that women fought as a last defense, fought when otherwise all was lost—fought, in other words, the almost-hopeless battles, the battles that are fought wholly on principle, because surrender is not an option. While there was still a home, while there was still a hope, the women preserved it. The women cared for the children, the wounded, and the crops; the men had something to fight and die for, and when the war was over, please God, they had something left to live for.

I’ll grant that “keeping the home fires burning” doesn’t necessarily sound like much fun, and I don’t believe I’d have cared much for the cellars of the Alcazar. But on the other hand, men often must fight, even when they would rather not. It seems a fair counter-balance that women generally may not fight, even if they would prefer to…. “Dooty,” as Long John Silver remarked, “is dooty, mates.”

No doubt, reader, you’ve noticed that I haven’t proven anything. I haven’t made an argument; I’ve only laid out certain views about women in combat, which you may or may not agree with. The point is that these views rest on a certain idea about women that is inherent in the Christian understanding, and which is totally noxious to the post-modern liberals of the New World Order. There’s really no common ground on this one. The liberals want women to be just like men, whereas the Christian understanding—which holds that God Himself has raised up a woman as His own mother and Queen of angels and men—accords to women a certain high status. This is in recognition of the incredible dignity of being God’s closest accomplices in the mysterious act of the creation of the human person. At the same time it asks of them such sacrifices as always accompany dignity and privilege.

You can take it or leave it. I know it’s an unfashionable point of view, but personally, I’ll take privilege and duty above “equality” and ambition any day.


  • Bernadette O'Brien

    Bernadette O’Brien writes from Western Kentucky’s farm country. She graduated from Thomas Aquinas College in 2009.

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