Johnston: Love our country? Don’t draft women

Barack Obama supports the registration of women with the Selective Service. Like many of Obama’s positions, this stance can be traced directly to philosophical liberalism. The argument runs something like this:

While women may differ from men in certain respects, they are equivalent in terms of autonomy. Individual men and women are both essentially creatures bearing inalienable rights, the protection and guarantee of which is the purpose of the state. Because autonomy requires available choices as well as the absence of external restraint, the rights and responsibilities of civic life ought to be equally applied to all citizens without distinction.

One of the most obvious cultural relics from the unenlightened past is the inequality of men and women in the public sphere. Though women in America have been granted civil rights, they are still not equal to men in the public sphere, for they are denied the opportunity to carry out the highest civic obligation: to fight for one’s country. Since women are not required to make the ultimate sacrifice, they are unable to garner ultimate respect, and they are thus reduced to an inferior position to men.

The appropriate solution is for women to register with the Selective Service so that, in a draft, they may be conscripted with men to fight for their country. And though Obama has not explicitly called for the elimination of the ban on women in combat roles, he has called the ban a breach of the principle of equality. It is therefore clear that, in Obama’s ideal America, all citizens will serve on the front lines without discrimination on the basis of sex.

Obama’s ideal follows the highest aspirations of liberalism. It will constitute an advance in the progress of gender equality. But, as is often the case in arguments derived from philosophical liberalism, the ideal is blind to the consequences of its own realization.

When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. The corollaries to an ancient rule run wide and deep, but they must then be rooted out. Progress undermines the hidden buttresses of civilization unawares. The future, in which women go to war, may only be seen as through a glass, darkly.

What motivates Americans to fight for their country? To what end are they willing to give the last full measure of devotion? Is it the liberal ideal of individual autonomy? President Bush thought so when, in the wake of September 11, he encouraged Americans to shop. The strip mall is the architectural embodiment of individual autonomy – free purchase and use of an increasingly dizzying array of products and services. But deep down, Americans know that the autonomy of strip malls does not fulfill their longings. This is why Americans are so religious. They will not fight that they might shop. Americans do not fight for the liberal ideal.

Americans who fight for their country do so in spite of her malformation. They love their country though it is not lovely. Rather, Americans love their country for her people. They are a democratic people who turn to each other for inspiration and who believe that greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Americans who go to war hope to express this love. But any man who has fought in a war knows that he cannot because the life the soldier sacrifices is not pure. War corrupts purity not because soldiers die but because they kill. Thus deformed, the soldier dies, his death not the ultimate expression of love but the appropriate retribution for an unknown slight by an unknown enemy.

The problem with sending women to war, then, is not merely that they are the more lovely of the two sexes. The problem is that killing, though absolutely necessary and the fundamental mechanism of war, is an affront to nature, a stain on the soul. If our women enter combat, they will kill and take the stain upon themselves as well. A nation the whole of which may become killers is barbaric.

Peter Johnston is a senior in Saybrook College.


  • Anonymous

    Oh, my, goodness.

    So women can't go to war because it will "stain" them or make them "impure"?

    OK, just wanted to make sure I had that right.

  • y09

    And we already know women have original sin to deal with, so the pain of war is way too much for them to deal with…

    I would much rather have a stain upon my soul than clean the stains from dirty laundry like the woman in your America would be doing.

    P.S. FYI- Women are already fighting in the war.

  • Yale 08

    I'm sorry, but regardless of whether you think women should be on the frontline, this is the most poorly written and tangentially focused piece I've seen in the YDN. It’s highfaluting to the point of losing a concrete argument.

    If you want to argue that women should not be on the front lines, argue it for some real reason—however debatable—such as the fact that female soldiers would face the possibility of rape on capture far more often than men.

    But to say that women should not fight because “If our women enter combat, they will kill and take the stain upon themselves as well” is ridiculously sentimental and degrades women in its very backhanded compliment that women are “pure” and the “more lovely of the two sexes”.

    Women should be allowed in combat because to the opportunity to stand up for what you believe, protect the ones you love, and fight for your country is a fundamental expression of the American philosophy. To deny it to anyone on the basis of gender creates a second citizenship. Is war ideal? No. Is it barbaric? At times. But it is also necessary at times, and to argue that American women cannot fight because they are the last vestige of purity for the United States underestimates both women and this country.

    Stephanie Wright, MC 08

  • OldBlue73

    I was wondering where you were going with this and then the last paragraph.Ay yi yi. So your objection to registering women for a potential draft is that their purity of nature might be stained? That it's OK for men to be stained that way but we must protect women's purity from it? Have you been reincarnated from a couple of centuries back?

    Whether or not women should be put in combat roles because of their relatively lower body strength (or whatever criteria might make it unsuitable for them--quite a different topic anyway) if a draft is ever necessary a minority of the soldiers needed will be in combat. Your argument for maintaining the discrimination is, well, archaic at best. Offensively paternalistic comes to mind, too.

  • OldBlue73

    Peter, if your article was ironic, you got me.

  • State your assumptions

    Peter, your articles and speeches would be more logical if you laid out your assumptions at the beginning. Instead, you usually reveal them slowly and indirectly as your argument progresses. You need to state your assumptions before you can build your argument on top of them.

    In this case, your assumption is that all women are fairer, weaker and purer than men, and thus they need to be protected by men. Specifically, they should be protected from the requirement to kill other people. You never attempt to justify your assumption; instead, you skip ahead and justify your conclusion based on your assumption.

    If you had explicitly stated your assumption at the beginning of your argument, you would have prepared your readers for the huge logical leap required in order to agree with your conclusion. Following a more rigorous structure may also have forced you to realize how sweeping your assumption is.

    I imagine most people, and particularly most women, would agree that your assumption is false. Don't be surprised when most people dismiss your conclusions, because they are actually dismissing the ridiculous claims you assume to be inherently true.

  • Y female 11

    I admit I am weaker than most men, but I know plenty of strong (both religious and secular) women who would love to serve in the army or would be able to defend themselves.

    Your editorial is highly derogatory and patronizing of women. Please save your chivalry for your relationships with the women in your life rather than suggesting that no woman is capable of fighting because the world is too harsh for them and would corrupt them.

    Well, I suppose that me and my female peers are incapable of understanding the world since we've been locked in our homes all our lives without any chance for corruption. Sarcasm intended.

    Give better reasons next time, wouldn't you?

  • y10

    This progressed from logical to illogical. Your criticism of lofty liberal philosophy is eclipsed by your own bizarre conclusions about the need to protect women from the "stain on the soul" that (apparently all) soldiers must collect. This is a poorly written piece that began with a solid thesis and good intentions, but wound up in the garbage.

    That said, I agree that women should not be drafted. It would be deeply detrimental to the effectiveness of our armed forces. Ultra-progressivists and liberal philosophers can whine about the right for everyone to protect his (or her!!) country, but the fact remains that, on average, women are weaker and slower than men as infantry soldiers. The US military does not exist so that everyone can be included. It exists to protect this nation. Period.

  • Right…

    I know plenty of women who are stronger than men (and who could probably kick your ass #8).

    The physical litmus test should be equal for all who are drafted/enlist, without a doubt. But if a woman can pass it, she should be allowed to fight.

  • Paging Newt Gingrich

    I think Peter might be better suited for Reinhardt College's giraffe-hunting program.

  • Andrew

    I'd like to respond to poster #8.

    Aside from the deep philosophical differences that clearly divide you and me on the issue of equality, I would like to raise one point as a response to your argument.

    Let's set aside for a moment the contentious assertion that women are inherently weaker than men. Now, I take it you have an interest in the strength of the American armed forces, and that you'd like to see our army flourish.

    The past several years have been especially tough on our army, both in depleting its forces through war and in discouraging new recruits from enlisting.

    When it comes to defending the country, can America really afford to turn away people who want to fight right now, be they men or women?

    Can beggars be choosers?

  • Y'11

    I found it hard to believe this was a serious article, and not some sort of self-mockery of the right. I certainly hope Peter isn't looking forward to a career in writing after he graduates.

  • MC 08

    I really hope this is some sort of poorly done satire, and not an actual argument. If Johnston actually thinks we should be making military policy decisions on the basis of his romanticized philosophical notions, then I certainly hope for the sake of our country he doesn't ever find himself in a position of actual power or responsibility.

  • Hieronymus

    Wow. While I am not in favor of women and men serving together in mixed units, I do not oppose women in combat based merely on their SEX (or even their "loveliness").

    ANY woman, any PERSON, that can successfully negotiate SeAL training, jump school, Ranger school, SFAS (and not cheaters like Katie Wilder) or even infantry school DESERVES the relevant tab and the opportunity to serve in an associated unit.

    I am hopeful that the author is attempting to be funny; there are serious--deadly serious--reasons that most women--heck, most PEOPLE--are not the best choice for combat roles, but the "reasons" cited here are not among them.

  • A PostDoc

    If it is the case that a population in which 100% of the people are willing to be drafted to fight is barbaric, but a population in which 50% of the people are willing to fight is not barbaric, I can't help but wonder where the line is drawn … what about a population in which 55% of the people are willing to fight? 75%? How about 91%?

    So how about this: If it is only a numbers game, we can think about enforcing the following rule: Only 50% of Americans (of a certain age, I am sure) can possibly be drafted in a given wartime period. This 50% could be randomly chosen from a pool of men and women candidates. That way, we don't offend women and we don't become a "barbaric" population.

  • FCCG '07

    I think that most people here are missing the point. I believe (and I certainly could be wrong)that Peter is not making an argument about chivalry or the innate gentleness of women but rather about society at large. Essentially if war is hell and hell corrupts the soul, then it is best for society if half of the population is exempt form the possibility of being corrupted. That way we will always have a morally sound, non-corrupted foundation. If I'm correct in characterizing Peter's argument, I will have to disagree and say that the argument is moot. The soul can be repaired.

  • Stranger in a Strange Land

    With respects to your beliefs, FCCG '07, I think you may have missed the point. You may also benefit from #6's advice suggesting that you be explicit with your assumptions before stating your conclusions, i.e., that people have souls and that souls are reparable. Indeed, Mr. Johnston is not making an argument that it is best for society if half of the population is exempt from fighting, he is making a clear distinction that the female portion of society should not commit that "affront to nature" that has been traditionally conceived of as male duty. Mr. Johnston's argument may not have been ABOUT chivalry or an innate weakness of women; but intentional or no, he has framed his entire article within that perspective. His article reminded me to a surprising degree of the kind of ingrained misogyny voiced in literature from the Gothic period, witness: Dracula. Incidentally, the chivalry that the male characters of Dracula embody leads directly to the vampire's corruption of the women they seek to protect, though I've never been sure if Stoker wrote that with observational intent or not.

    Frankly, Mr. Johnston's argument, unless it is a very misplaced attempt at satire, deeply offends me. His outdated replacement of America with the effeminate "her" is neatly eclipsed in the very next word by the bizarre use of "malformation." This word is never explained, but its use in sudden conjunction with the female pronoun certainly implies a disturbing conception of the female body. This was most likely unintentional, but pretty well typifies the kind of unconscious misogyny that tends to accompany chivalrous ideals - and that many of the other comments above have already disparaged.

    I am simultaneously appalled at Mr. Johnston's sweeping and assumptive characterizations of American soldiers. I believe I missed the explanation about why Americans fight in SPITE of their country's "malformations" or why they love their county though it is not lovely. I am also not clear on why individual freedoms are so quickly brushed aside as not being a reason to fight for one's country, though it must have something to do with autonomous strip malls that do not fulfill longings (this could actually be a very poetic metaphor for a bad lover - and perhaps does explain why so many Americans are religious, as Mr. Johnston suggests. They're just looking for a committed, stable department store with whom they can exchange vows before going inside to shop… So to speak.) At any rate, slightly more materialistic realities such as seeking money for future education, providing financial support for their families, and sometimes simply having no better-looking prospects often play a very real role in the decision of many soldiers to serve their country in the armed forces. However, the reasoning that those who die in war never, through the act of death, can express a love for those they hold dear is a terrific affront to the thousands of soldiers in this nation and their friends and families. Where Mr. Johnston finds the gall to arbitrate that the soldier who dies is "deformed" or constitutes merely an "appropriate retribution" is beyond me, but I believe his words show incredible disrespect for those who have died serving the country and the love that they held to the end.

    His issue and stance contribute to our great national tradition of debate, but the voice of his arguments truly insults the Americans it describes. If belittling women and deprecating the deaths of soldiers are expressions of love for our country, then you may count me an alien.

  • Andrew

    Equal rights = Draft
    Simply put, she wants equal rights?
    Then make her worry about putting her life on the line like the men do.