Jonathan Kirk Davis, Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps
It is an experience that is incredibly difficult to understand and describe.
I will try to describe the emotional/psychological process that I and many other fellow Marines (soldiers, sailors, etc) experienced.
Before you understand what a returning Marine/soldier/sailor/etc experiences when they come home, you have to know what they really go through when they are over there.
What we all experience, combat or none, is a very, very long period of extended absence from comfort, security, our families, and breaks. The Marines spend seven months on deployment. Army is about twice that, but they don’t go as often. That means months where you deal with the same people day, after day, after day. There is no change and no break. You work with them, you eat with them, and you live with them. If you can’t stand them, oh well. If your boss is a jerk or psycho, there isn’t even the escape of going home at the end of the day or having a weekend. Now you need to consider the war side of things. In the best case scenario, you are under the constant threat of surprise attack. Car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, mortars. Looking at people everywhere who you can see absolutely hate you. In the worst case scenario, you actually fight. You might kill people. You might lose friends. But I won’t get into what it’s like for those cases, they are pretty tough to nail down and can vary wildly. But whatever picture I drew, don’t think about how it sucks for a few short periods of intense violence; imagine it sucking for months and months of a slow drone and a psychological beating.
And then you come home. Everything is fine now right? Not really …
First, we are absolutely elated to come home, see our families, go to our bars, women … This is a high that can’t really be expressed very accurately. In a way, you are doing things that you have done many times before, but it has been so long that it feels completely foreign to you. When you see your wife, she is unfamiliar to you. When you first see her, you get the smell of her hair and her embrace, but there are subtle differences that make you feel as if things are different somehow. Her hair has changed or she has new interests. It kind of feels like a first date for a few weeks as you try to remember how you fit together again … figuratively speaking. This “second first date” is the same with all the things you do, hanging out with your old friends, going to favorite hangouts. But don’t get me wrong. Even if we are quiet about it and act like it is no big deal, these are some of the happiest days we have ever had.
Second, there is residual stress that carries over from a combat deployment. While on deployment, military people deal with each other in ways that are not normal in civilian America. We are harsh with each other and don’t often act with kindness and gentleness with one another. Add this to natural combat stress, the constant concern that you may get attacked, the wondering if a vehicle near you is going to blow up, always seeing in the eye of every local that they want to kill you. You are suspicious, tightly wound, and easily angered. I remember several times waking up in my bed even a few months after deployment and panicking because I couldn’t find my weapon. You also don’t mesh well with your families. They do things you don’t understand. They do things you don’t understand, mostly because they have grown very independent of you. Many confuse this for a feeling that you are unwanted or unneeded, and this makes the returning person very irritable. Combine all these, and you have an explanation as to why so many men returning from “over there” come back angry and beat their wives. It is difficult to transition between two worlds and some, especially those who experience combat, don’t cope well. It isn’t right, but it happens.
Third, there is a long phase where you try to adjust to having your life back. To be honest, it is never the same as before you left. You are changed by the experience of a combat deployment, even after the first. Every time you go, you change. And so does everyone else that you care about. Everyone matures naturally, but independent of each other, and you have to reintegrate into each other’s lives again. Young Marines often have a hard time keeping control; husbands fight with wives, and fathers can’t communicate with kids (and don’t be naive, this is different from those people who think it is the same as having teenagers). It takes time before everything settles down emotionally. Most people make it through this phase OK, but unfortunately, many don’t.
This is the part of coming home most people don’t really talk about.
This is for everyone out there who is thinking about the movie, but haven’t seen it or hasn’t read the book. More precisely, for those of you are thinking about letting your kids go. Before you get any further I am not about to tell you it is evil and wrong and shouldn’t be watched by anyone. In fact, I think the movie is pretty good and the books are even better.
What I will tell you is that if you are young person, this is one of those films that can change your view of the world. Even though it is a fictional story set in a distant future, it touches on some very deep, important, and disturbing ideas. These are ideas that at one point or another every child needs to consider and ponder before they can truly be ready for adulthood. But the ideas of this movie are very, very intense and can deliver to children who aren’t ready, a jaw dropping earth shaking set of ideas that could really bother them for some time.
So what are the basic themes of The Hunger Games? If you are going or letting your kids go you should know. Plus it would also be good to be able to hold some sort of an intelligent conversation about the thing everyone will be talking about for the next three months. Well here is one…
The central theme and the idea that literally drives 100% of the plot is about a world where children are violently murdering each other. Whether you are looking at it from the point of a girl’s struggle to protect her family, to how will these two young people will overcome impossible odds (really… only one is allowed to live) to the world they live in to the giant dude who has quite literally been waiting his whole life to kill the cute little kids. This entire plot is centered around a gladitorial match pitting young people against each other to the death, and not “Ha! I sunk your battleship! Now you’re dead!” No. More like arrow to heart, sword to the neck dead. And don’t kid yourself, these scenes are graphic enough that you get the point. There are scenes where children are slicing each other up, breaking each other’s necks and throwing spears at one another’s chests. It isn’t an “idea” of killing. It is some deep heavy stuff. Did I mention it’s kids doing the killing? Cause that’s important. It’s freaky.
I think I made my point on that. If it bothers you that Joker kind of killed people in a funny ways in Batman, than this is not something that you should let kids into. But here is something that you should consider: What value this does offer society is that it can help children understand some very important ideas, provided they have strong adults to guide them through it. The first is the concept of evil. Most children have a view of evil is that bad guy in the mask or the terrorist or someone so very dissimilar from them that they are instantly recognizable. Children automatically know that the slimy monster with two heads is evil. They know that Darth Vader as evil. They automatically know a Jihadist with an AK-47 is evil. What they don’t yet know is that evil is something that anyone is capable of doing. They don’t understand that even we, that is you and I and the children reading the books, are all capable of great and terrible deeds when put in difficult places.
Another story that captures this mentality and shares this theme is The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. The Lottery’s themes so closely match the story that one has to wonder if was an inspiration for The Hunger Games. The Lottery involves a town meeting where an annual lottery takes place. The people all scurry and talk and gripe about lottery and how annoying it is and how recent it was since the last one. They discuss how long it’s been going on and how other towns aren’t even doing one. They argue about tradition and meaning without the reader knowing what really is going on in the lottery. One woman is staunch supporter of the lottery and its meaning. In the end the men of the town draw for each of their family members and they then have a big unavailing. The woman from before, the one who was one of the advocates for the lottery, is the one chosen. She is unwilling and cries out about how now it isn’t fair. The townspeople then tell her to take her fair share like everyone else before… and then the townspeople, children first, stone her to death.
Both these stories touch on the idea that with no rational reason, every day people, our neighbors, friends and relatives are capable of unspeakable evil. This may sound far fetched, but it isn’t far from the truth. I was a Marine who served in Iraq. I have seen what can happen when people lose their rationality. When we see other humans as less than human and as evil, without truly understanding what has brought us to this point. History has also shown us this. What I am talking about is the numerous acts of world decimation that happen when good people unspeakable evil, because they lose their rationality. To see what I am talking about follow these links, but remember this, they are real, and did happen. Auschwitz, Rwandan Genocide, The Great Leap Forward. There are many, many more, but these three help serve my point best. They each are events that can still be remembered by many of good people doing what to them seemed right at the time, but which history will never ever forgive them for. Most still look back without ever thinking they actually did anything wrong. I note the fact that the commandant of Auschwitz, when interviewed, was quoted as seeming proud and unapologetic, because to him he had done a fine a job and had help Germany produce what was one of the most advanced industrial manufacturing super complexes in the world. This is what happens when people lose their rationality.
But you might know that something like a kids book can get that deep. Or that one should take it that far. But I did. And I think you should too. I think that it is important to use books like The Hunger Games and stories like The Lottery to introduce the real concept of evil. Not the kind of evil like the bad guy that the good guy throws into jail and starts again in the next episode, but the kind of evil of a starving person, or of someone who is truly scared, or the kind of evil of someone who follows a very influencial leader without ever questioning what is really going on. It speaks out that within our nature we are all good people, but we are capable of doing such very very hurtful, dangerous and deadly things if we think our life, or our way of life or even our convenience is put at stake.
So what do you do with all of this heaviness? I think it is important to ask yourself, or your kids, what they thought about it. Did it bother them (you should be worried if it didn’t) and what bothered them. Why? You should tell them about how people can be. That the story is real in many more ways than it is fictitious. And perhaps you should take the opportunity to teach them many of the ugly things that happened before they were born. It is my belief that you have to at some point wake kids up to the reality of the world in that sense. They have to learn and they have to think about, because someday these kids will be leaders and if they don’t understand what can happen, it will happen again. If you don’t teach kids about things like Auschwitz then future historians will be talking about some event in the future where thousands died in Ardmore, Oklahoma, or the millions who lost their lives in Bedford, Indiana, or of the holocaust at Auburn, Alabama.
So my point is, use the movie. In all honesty, it is pretty good. The actors do a good job, in my opinion of conveying some real emotion, namely terror. The filming was great and in all honesty, some of the most gore filled scenes were done in such delicate ways to not send the whole audience into shock. So visually it won’t freak you out as much as when the kids leave the theater. But all and all it is a good movie. Watch it with your kids. Think about these concepts and decide an age when you think it is appropriate for your kids to start tackling these difficult subjects. For instance, my wife works at a local elementary school. She told me that there about one in four kids is reading the book. I feel that this is too young and that the books were meant for a much older audience, seventh and eighth graders perhaps. You might decide that your kids are ready.
The one thing I hope you take away from this article is this: This is not an ordinary movie. It is not an ordinary book and you need to understand it before your kids see stuff they can’t forget.
I am writing this article to address a few trends that seem to be affecting the church, specifically those in the youth about to be adults most like Tanner. Tanner, while achieving much for his age, is young and has a future ahead of him and now is entering the phase of life where he and those like him will be making the most important decisions of their lives. I feel the church, for the most part, has directed them toward a path where they can’t succeed in the modern world and can’t fully take part in shaping and guiding it anymore. This is part of why so many are steering away from the church and why the church is steering so far from the rest of American culture, bad and good. I wrote this article to try and focus on the direction being given to these young people and perhaps direct readers of Tanner’s and my blog in how they should encourage their youth in the future.
So have you ever said to yourself something to the effect of “Politicians can’t be trusted?” Have you ever said that “All businessmen are greedy and corrupt?” Have you ever wondered why? Because they aren’t Christian anymore. For the most part, Christians have stayed away from the business and political scene for the better part of three generations. But why? Let me put it this way…
Have you ever said any of these things… around your kids?
I know it is something most of us don’t think about often, but ask yourself, what careers am I pushing my kids toward? For many of Tanner’s younger readers, ask what careers where you pushed to? I think though, we should also consider, what are you pushing from?
Many are raised with the idea that ideal Christian careers involve hard work such as construction. Carpentry seems to be popular among Christians (wonder why?) Other career paths include careers that involve some sort of service like the medical field, doctors and nurses (but not gynecologists, that is for the sinners of medicine), and education to become teachers. Another career path widely encouraged in church circles is the military. I was a Marine and I am still a little baffled at why so many in my church were so proud of me for doing a job that on a good day killed people… But they did. My wife says it has much to do with the service and sacrifice aspect of the job, which I understand. I still think they just haven’t really thought about it much though.
But what about big business? What is the first thing you think about me when I say I would one day like to own the next Chase bank or be the next Bill Gates? What if I said I would like to one day be a successful venture capitalist? Would you think I was greedy? What if I said I wanted to be a successful politician? That I wanted to be a Senator and work on Capitol Hill? Would you think my goals are to be corrupt, filling my pockets with kickbacks before I become a lobbyist, making millions to influence others while manipulating the democratic system? You may not think that about me in general, but if you were to meet someone on the street with these goals, you wouldn’t think very well of career business people and career politicians.
Why is that? Over the course of history some of the most important people in American history filled these roles. Politicians were once also viewed as a noble profession, public servants, stewards of the community. Businessmen once were viewed as the fiercely independent founders of the American wealth and prosperity. John Pierpont Morgan was one of the most influential business leaders in America. He built massive companies in his day. He also engineered programs and deals that helped to prevent two massive American breakdowns in the American economic system. He was also a lifelong member of his church and one of it’s most influential leaders. His grandfather was a preacher and influenced him greatly. He could be found alone often in silent prayer for hours at his local church.
The founding fathers were also religious men as well as politicians. Benjamin Franklin is quoted to saying
“Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshiped…As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.”
Seems pretty straight forward. What about Thomas Jefferson, the supposed atheist of the founders?
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?”
So it is possible to have moral leadership, both in business and politics. Then why is it that these two fields of achievement are so shrouded in the belief that they are corrupt, Godless and without morals?
Because good Christians aren’t supposed to want to do those things.
When I was a child I remember being told that the rich are nothing but greedy and that politicians are liars. I heard that a good Christian job was physical labor, medicine, teaching or the military and that these were the only honorable things available to me. Then I joined the Marines and during that time I realized that those who affect the most change, have the greatest impact on society are not on that list, not directly, not individually. Those with the most direct and individual influence on America are those people of business and leadership, which Christianity shuns.
The problem I see is that for three generations now, young Christians have been pushed by fellow Christians away from these fields and resulted in a growing movement where Christians do not welcome them and are not welcomed by them. And as a result of this, Christians are growing farther and farther from the socioeconomic center of America. They are losing their place as leaders in its future and are alienating themselves from its people. So while I see many posts going up about the Decline of Christianity in America and the general idea that we are becoming a Godless nation, I say to you “What did you expect? You teach your young people to join you in seclusion from the society they are part of.”
But things don’t need to be this way. In the future we need to encourage our young people to be those leaders of tomorrow. We need to encourage them with stories of great Christian businessmen and politicians, so that they can lead Americans with a Christian perspective. They can recommunicate the values of Christianity in a way society is able to understand and perhaps fix some of the problems we are seeing in society today from hatred of Christians to .
That’s why I am glad to be invited to speak on Tanner’s blog. He is an example of the future of Christianity and the future of America. In the next few years, people his age are going to be making the decisions that will put them in positions where they can have a great resounding impact on us all. I hope that you will encourage them to do something great.
Be entrepreneurs. Solve humanity’s problems with new ideas, new innovations and give people jobs. Make yourselves very wealthy and remember who blessed you with your success. Then tithe.
Be politicians. Become leaders who set a great example to all Americans of what a great person is and should be. Become directly involved in the decision-making process and therefore have greater potential to influence the aspects of society you see that can be fixed.
Don’t live a mundane life complaining about the rich, the wealthy and the powerful. Become them and set a new precedent.
***This post has been duel posted on Opinionz Matter by Tanner Brumbarger . I have been invited to guest post to Tanner’s blog and hopefully this will help drive a bit more traffic to Jon’s Deep Thoughts.
Have you seen the video yet? It is Jefferson Bethke’s poem about how Jesus hates religion. It went viral about a week ago and speaks a message that the country is ripe to hear. I’m not hating on it either. What he created is a good work and filled with very important ideas, ideas that strike deep to many who hear it.
If you haven’t seen it please direct yourself here before continuing on to view it. Otherwise most of this article won’t make sense. If you are up on your viral media and are now ready for my lecture please continue.
As I mentioned before, the poet Jefferson Bethke has captured some very important key points about the nature of Jesus and the church, and also what he calls religion. Before I start on the relationship between Jesus and the Church, I would like to point out another issue that many may have missed when they watched the video. This is also an important time in America’s development to be hearing this particular message. We are part of a generation that seems to be raging out against any form of authority we see unfit, and by unfit I mean anything that isn’t perfect.
We have seen decades of leaders, for many of us for as long as we have lived, fall horribly short of expectations. Many are resentful of political leaders who have let us down, like a President who had affairs in the oval office, or the one that sent us to wars we understood little about and couldn’t get us out of, or the President who didn’t give us back the jobs he said he would. Senators exposing themselves doesn’t shock us anymore, it is just time for a joke. But the failure in leadership doesn’t end there, and this where I think Bethke’s words hit most of us close to home. Our spiritual leaders have failed us too. Our generation has seen people kill thousands “In the name of God.” We also know that during the Crusades, reformation and inquisitions, Christians did much worse to far more people, even fellow Christians. Fanatics have spread hate in the name of God, like Fred Phelps who has led his cult/clan outside of fallen veteran funerals with slogans like “God Hates Fags” and “God Brought Down the Towers”. Christians have made war on science without considering the flaws in their own interpretation of the universe, leaving the enlightened members of our society with no place left to go but to feel shunned by God. Jokes about Catholic priests and alter boys don’t even get a reaction any more because we have heard it so many times. Major leaders in the Promise Keepers movement drove it to obscurity when they themselves committed adultery (a rare yet powerful blow to Christians and Politicians, thanks Mr. Ensign). Young people in the church see the older leaders acting against christian teachings. They see women gossiping and men telling dirty jokes as they frequent topless bars, all the while only a few actually still visit the widows, the orphans, the sick and the elderly. Even some of the most celebrated Christian leaders like Rev. Billy Graham are viewed by some as just a hoax dealer selling grace for as much as you can put in the bucket. How is it that, in a world of near infinite information, a young person should be expected to have such blind faith in the presence of such blatant hypocrisy?
They can’t. Young people are distancing themselves from the church. They are joining movements of self actualization in their own spirituality, making the path a solitary one. They are making statements like “I am spiritual, but not religious.” A few years ago, a religious person would laugh at such a statement, “How could someone know and understand God by themself?” but now we can see the divide clearly. People want to know and discover meaning in their life while not being part of a church that imposes rules, regulations, dogmas and passing judgements while making some feel welcome and ostracizing others. And the whole time many seeing them not living the lives they demand of others. Do you believe you are part of a perfect church? If you think you don’t, then why do you think others would want to join it? What good can they get from a less than perfect body? The conclusion… This is not perfect, it must have nothing to do with Jesus.
And there you see it. Our generation, with its abundance of information and its command of knowledge, are striking out against the “old ways” of religion. We are having a harder and harder time dealing with the dissonance between the idea of a perfect church made from imperfect people. This is why you see the individuals forming and leading themselves in spirituality. This is why you are seeing poems about how Jesus hates Religion and why you see so many openly denying the very existence of God. Christians today are personified in the world as self-righteous and condesending, hypocrites and ignorant. The world seems to hate us, and I can’t really say I blame them. We have been bad Christians, and now our families, our communities and our world are judging their walk because of us.
Up to this point you may or may not believe in what I have said. I do want you however to consider it and use it to focus on one point. Jesus is greater than religion. Religion is a construct of people to help learn about, understand, and communicate our faith. Jesus himself doesn’t need religion. Jesus does not hate religion, because he knows we as humans need it. What the author of the poem mentioned was that he loved the church, yet hated religion. This is what religion is. A community of believers, who teach the newcomers and the young the traditions and beliefs of their faith. This is called guidance to those in a community and indoctrination to those from outside. We teach the deep theology to our members when they have studied enough to receive it, such as the fundamental differences between sects of Christianity, the true nature of God and man. These ideas took thousands of years to develop and can not be arrived at by an individual without the guidance and leadership of a strong church. For example, it took the early church more than 300 years to arrive at the conclusion of the trinity, a deep and very complex philosophy about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that still leaves many Christians confused about their own faith. And people must practice the rituals of worship, they must repeat them over and over. This part is a mental exercise, a meditation, on why the act you are performing is practiced. Outsiders call this dogma with a self-righteous scowl, but these rituals, if done with a meditative mind, remind us of our promises, our commitments and the commitments that have been made to us. Without religion, being the acts, traditions, fellowship, and knowledge of a good church, how could a person truly come to know God? And if they do come to know God, how will their children? If this continues, what will become of our nation in the, void of religion?
I will put it to you this way. What happens when a person goes out and seeks spiritual understanding without religious guidance? I think about people who pray and don’t receive the answer they want quickly fall from faith because God either doesn’t exist or hates them. I think of people who wear a cross on their neck or get Jesus tattoos “because it brings me luck.” I also think of an episode of the popular show Glee. The episode was called “Cheesus Christ Superstar”, (don’t expect enlightenment here.) The episode grew around the students’ belief systems or lack of such, and centered on one of the characters discovering that he had grilled a sandwich into an image of Jesus. From that point on he prayed to “Grilled Cheesus” and when his prayers weren’t answered it supported the idea that God is either not there or doesn’t care. Many other topics were touched, but in general the entire episode is offensive to anyone who believes anything. My point here is that, though this is a dramatized and humorous account, it represents a real journey young people take on. They want to understand, but without good guidance in faith they are just as likely to worship a cellophane wrapped savior.
Many believers stand to idea that none of this matters because Jesus is coming back and the evil will get their come-up-ins’. If you believe this, you know it hasn’t happened in the last 2000 years, what makes you think it won’t be another 2000? Or more perhaps. Christians need to take a deep personal ownership of the religion. We need people willing to build it into something that can last another 2000 years in the way leaders like Peter, Paul, Marcus Aquinas and Martin Luther did. What religion needs is a new generation of true followers. Teachers to lead the young Christians in meditation and thought on their faith. To stop carelessly repeating the same lessons and get to the deep thoughts of the belief. End the hypocrisy that has grown rampant in the eyes of the world and be leaders of their church as they carry on the tradition that Jesus set forth.
I will close with this, I doubt Jesus hates religion. He knows it is a necessary part of the human spiritual experience. He built the early church and laid down the doctrines that would lead them after he was gone. Kevin Deyoung expounds on this idea in a similarly themed work where he said, “He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). “
He focused on the phrases “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Created Equal.”
He reasoned : “”My answers came relatively quickly. I think we can all agree that we should have the freedom to do what we want without lives, whether it involves us being happy or not. No government should prevent that. However, I firmly believe that this statement firmly defines the Founding Fathers’ vision for America; that people should have the right to pursue happiness, not the right to possess happiness in their lives.”
I would reword the last statement to be “not the right [ to be given ] happiness in their lives. But reading this post and others from Tanner I believe he wouldn’t mind the edit.
I believe that one can also derive the nature of what was intended in this statement by asking the founders where they got their ideas. I think that it is interesting to consider where Jefferson got many of his views. His work is based much off the work of political theorist John Locke. In a natural state all people were equal and independent, and everyone had a natural right to defend his “Life, health, Liberty, or Property.” Locke uses the word property in both broad and narrow senses. In a broad sense, it covers a wide range of human interests and aspirations; more narrowly, it refers to material goods. He argues that property is a natural right (meaning no one should be able to forcibly stop you from gaining property) and it is derived from labor (In other words, you have to earn it.) In addition, he believed property precedes government and government cannot “dispose of the estates of the subjects arbitrarily.” Karl Marx later critiqued Locke’s theory of property in his own social theory.
This became the basis for the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. You can see how happiness is derived from property in Locke’s work, however Jefferson expounded upon the idea as meaning something other than specifically property. If it were, people would assume that the government has an obligation to fill the Right to Property. Instead, Jefferson chose key phrases like “pursuit,” meaning the right to gain without governmental obstruction and “happiness” meaning that which gives value to your life, be it property, fame, relationships or writing blogs.
Occupy believes that equality is something that is concerned with wealth and that our equality in that respect should be guaranteed. This, as Tanner brought forward, is against the wishes of the founding fathers. Equality is not concerned with wealth. We are created equal, and equality is part of our nature as humans, not the works we do and not part of something that can be given to us by a governing body. Therefore, it seems apparent that the founding fathers did not believe it was their privilege or right to take property or to give it. This is contradictory to the idea of redistribution of wealth and forcible equality of wealth without labor to create that wealth.
We are born equal, we all agree. It took us a long time to understand this. We had to overcome racism, sexism and several other -isms to try to attain the level of equality we have today. I remember growing up when my mom said she thought she would never see a black president. I think that shows how far we have come, not that we are perfect yet, but we are reaching closer now than we have ever been toward equality among everyone. But that, as I said, is when we are created. That is why each of us have only one vote, one voice, equally. Where the equality should stop is the assumption that everyone should have the same property or happiness. This is what is meant to have the right to pursue, meaning it needs to be earned, it has to be worked for and it should never be given.
There is a debate going on right now concerning women’s equality, particularly in the military. As it stands, women are not allowed to take place in strictly ground combat occupations. This doesn’t mean that women in the military are always safe from combat, but it does mean they cannot join some MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty or military job) like infantry, artillery or to be an officer of those units. Women are also not eligible for the draft, if that were to happen.
There are many who believe this is not in line with our current view of a need for sexual equality. At President Clinton’s request, the Department of Defense reviewed this issue in 1994. DoD noted that America’s prior drafts were used to supply adequate numbers of Army ground combat troops. Because women are excluded by policy from front line combat positions, excluding them from the draft process remains justifiable in DoD’s view. Although no conclusions were reached, DoD recognized that policies regarding women need to be reviewed periodically because the role of women in the military continues to expand. This week Marine Corps command has release statements stating that it is planning on receiving an undetermined number of women candidates for it’s infantry officer training program. What this will mean for the future of the military and women’s roles within are undetermined, but it definitely shows signs of movement on an issue that hasn’t seen the light of day for quite some time.But where they have still not expanded is into the role of combat infantryman.
Most see no reason for this injustice. It must just be some dusty old tradition right? I think there is a better reason than that. Women are just not made for combat. If you say that then you must never have been married to a woman. But in all seriousness, what do you think makes us so different that men could “handle the stress” better than women? Men are just stronger than women? Perhaps, but as another article of mine shows the last decade of warfare has taught us one thing, we need more boots on the ground. In a Marine Infantry squad, there are few “heavy lifting” activities that I experienced where some women’s smaller (it’s statistically true women are smaller than men) frame may have slowed them down. That still leaves at least 10 slots left in the squad that anyone no matter how small would be good for. I would also like to point out another small fry who showed what the littlest member can pull off in an infantry situation. Check out the history of Audie Murphy. This is guy who was too small to join the Marines and then became the most decorated soldier of WWII. So you can see that I don’t put much weight in the argument that women, on average, are too small to do the job.
To maintain fairness I want to put out two differing points of view, both from my own personal perspective of real live cases I witnessed. I want to do this not because I don’t have a point of view, but because I want readers and debaters to see, as fair as I can, as much information possible so that you can arrive at a decision of your own.
I want to talk about an officer I knew while in the Marines. She was one of the best Marines I ever knew. Seriously, top 3, including men. Her name was Capt. Dienhart. She was a company commander for an engineering support squadron I worked for. She was in command of over 120 mostly male Marines. Even here in the Marines, the most famous boys club in the world, she had respect. Why? She could out do any one of us. She made it a point to be able to do more push ups than us (and not girl push ups either), she could do more pull-ups than any of us ( and I am not talking about flexed arm hangs) and she ran the 18 minute 3 mile. And when I say us, I mean the group of 450 19-24 year old male Marines in the squadron, not an easy group to beat, but she did almost every time.
The only time I really got to know her was when I was a marksmanship coach for the squadron. I was her pistol instructor and helped her through her annual qualification. I used “instructor” and “helped” loosely because she was, on top of everything else, one of my best shooters ever. She had the form down, was very patient and methodical and had the strength to hold the weapon with control that and delivered precise and accurate shooting. In the Marines, marksmanship is kind of a big deal, so for her to deliver precise, consistent shooting, not just a few good shots was impressive for myself and the other Marines.
The women rewrote the book for me on what women in the military are capable of. I don’t know if she has any inclination to be part of a combat MOS, but I feel that the leadership and professionalism she showed while in a non-combat roles shows that woman have the capability and potential to serve in such positions in the future.
Against women in combat roles:
Many of you ladies reading are about to get very upset. I am sorry if you feel I am not being fair to the gender, that is not my intention. Remember that what I am writing about is what happened to me and is all very true. I am trying to provide all points of view on the subject so please try to keep an open mind throughout.
In truth, I don’t see any reason that women can’t do anything in the military that men can do. My mom always had fun pointing out that there wasn’t anything a man could do that a woman couldn’t do. What I think is the key determinate in this argument isn’t what women can’t do, it’s what men can’t do that is holding women back.
Men can’t get pregnant. (Oh dear God he went there!) Now this sounds like someone attempting to throw up a catchall to prove that all women shouldn’t ever be able to join the armed forces. It isn’t. But it is a fact, women alone can conceive and carry a child and this fact has grave repercussions in the military world. Let me explain.
Suppose that you are getting ready for a deployment to Afghanistan for a 7 month tour. You will be sent to some very dangerous areas where you need every member of your team. Your unit isn’t in combat roles, but there is still a lot of work to be done and the presence of threat is very close, as it is a combat zone. Now, two weeks before you deploy everyone is arriving from pre-deployment leave and PFC Sarah has news. Everyone is happy for PFC Sarah, sort of, because they know that will be deploying a man down. You can’t deploy when you are pregnant after all. So now a team of 10 is a team of 9. That means that for the next 7 months, everyone will have to work harder and have less security during risky operations or difficult procedures. But hey, we are just breeding one more warrior in the fight against terrorism right? It’s ok we can manage.
But what if it happens, 4 more times? That is exactly what happened during my second deployment to Iraq. In a platoon with 9 women, 4 became pregnant within weeks of leaving. 1 was actually sent home from Iraq in the first week of the deployment when her mild case of mono turned out to be a severe case of pregnant. So now the platoon was down to just 4 women left of the original 9.
That may not seem like a great deal, but not only did this mean of all their work was split between those who remained, but they were also not able to fulfill a very important role. We worked at an entry control point to a major base. There was a great deal of local civilian traffic here. Everyone who came an went had to be checked, including the women. Do you think the U.S. government wanted those dirty male Marines all over the local populace? No, we needed females to do it. And many times we had to call in just to have someone check if someone had a weapon under their clothing. Ah, SOP how I miss you.
This wasn’t an isolated issue either. This freak epidemic of mass pregnancy happened throughout the squadron both times we were deployed. I liken it to a college where you don’t have to take finals if you are pregnant and then two weeks before finals you have 5 of 9 women in a particular class (and more than 20% overall) of the women show up pregnant. Would you think it was an accident? Would you think they were all accidents? Others were sent home in the middle of an Iraq deployment because they became pregnant in Iraq (please trust me when I say that it is not a romantic place, so it is curious to me that this could happen at all.) Female Marines who are or were recently pregnant are also given different standards to uphold than their non-pregnant counterparts. This makes sense with limits, being that there is some point where they must be deployable at some predetermined point in the future. For example I had a Sergeant who was very much overweight and never took part in scheduled physical training. The reasoning, she had had a kid. “But wait, her kid can talk.” Where is the line? When are we supposed to start upholding standards?
As for me, I don’t think it is that hard not to get pregnant. With today’s health care and knowledge it seems impossible to me that this many people could accidentally become pregnant preceding a time of great personal struggle. My wife and I agreed long ago that we would not have children until we were in a house, graduated from college and both had good jobs. It has been nearly eight years and we are still not ready, but we are also not pregnant. I think for that reason I have little sympathy for those who become accidentally pregnant. I feel that having children is never truly an accident and the fact that when this happens it leaves a lot of good people, men and women, down a (wo)man.
In my mind there has to be some sort of accountability in the military community to combat this growing form of malingering in the ranks. The civilian population also needs to see that this is indeed a problem and an epidemic for the military. Efforts to address this evoked civic outrage two years ago when Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo threatened court martial for four soldiers who became pregnant, as well as the male soldiers who fathered the children after disobeying expressed orders to avoid such happenings. The National Organization for Women (NOW) said the policy to reprimand them was “ridiculous.” “How dare any government say we’re going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant,” NOW President Terry O’Neill said. “This is not the 1800s.”
I would like to agree with Ms. O’Neill. In the civilian world that I now enjoy and that Ms. O’Neill seems to be only experienced with, someone telling Jennie and I we can’t have children is unacceptable. But in the military it is different. It may seem draconian, but that life is much more extreme. It’s more violent, dangerous, harder and we need each other more. We are Marines (soldiers, sailors, airmen, coasties.) We aren’t accountants, teachers or postal workers. When we lose a person we can’t hire someone on for a few months until Sarah is back. When we lose someone it is a loss, and to those who are left to complete the mission, it might as well be a casualty.
In conclusion, I feel that women in the military have outstanding potential. I have seen some of the most amazing feats of excellence performed by female Marines. My conclusion however, is that the achievements and virtues of these and many other individuals, do not represent the whole. As a whole, they aren’t ready for the responsibility of combat MOS’s. When 1 women is unable to deploy it’s a tragedy for it’s unit, when 60% are unable to deploy it’s a statistic, and a damning one. For as long as women in the military can not accurately be relied upon to deploy in sufficient strength and readiness, to complete the mission through the course and then to return home to their family life as men do, they as a group are not ready for the difficulties and responsibilities of combat warfare. In such theaters when you lose someone, it isn’t just a burden, like it was for our platoon, it places everyone else in danger. It leaves open the likelihood that others will never see their families so that some could start one of their own. When there are women who choose to use pregnancy as a tool to avoid duty they do a grave disservice to the Capt. Dienharts of the armed services, who have earned the right to serve in any manner they should wish. When this pattern ceases to be a problem, I will be one of the first ones cheering for some more fresh boots in the thick of the fight.
I have tried to provide links to both parts of the debate so that you can make up your own mind on where you stand on the issue. If you know of another good link to either side of the debate, please post it in the replies. Any retaliatory remarks will not be posted as I tried to be fair. And please, let’s not make this about rape. People love to site that “what-if” because of it’s moral impossibility to judge, however rape accounts for such a low amount of pregnancy cases be they civilian, military or otherwise that I will not justify it as a meaningful addition to this debate.
Remember also that my personal point of view is currently more against a change in the current system. This is mostly due to my personal experiences and for that reason I admit that I may have some biases preventing me from fairly showing both sides.