Sisters-in-Arms: Women in Combat

News from America fascinates me. Living in South Africa affords me a vantage point of detachment from local US news. But I nearly choked on my newsfeed last week when I heard President Barack Obama commend the Pentagon for opening all combat military positions to women. So now my two little girls, who are US citizens, will one day in all likelihood be required to register for the draft. (If you don’t think that’s the next station this equality train is heading for, you’re not following its trajectory closely enough; see this New York Times article on drafting women)

Objections to the announcement that we will soon have lady SEALs à la GI Jane have focused mostly on pragmatics and physiology. For example studies have irrefutably proven that unit cohesion will be diminished, and that male platoons have 69% more success in completing combat tasks than their co-ed counterparts, and that the 40% less upper body muscle mass of women will impede their ability to drag 200 lb wounded men from a burning tank, etc, etc, etc.

The problem with that reasoning is this: we all know that some women can physically outperform some men. Anyone who has visited a Crossfit box knows that. I know gals who can clean & jerk not only their own bodyweight, but mine too.

The real issue isn’t can a woman cope with combat, but should she have to? Women can and do competently step in if and when men neglect their duties. But do we really want to make this the norm rather than a sad necessary exception?


And only in this crazy egalitarian culture can it be considered an honor and privilege for women to suffer and die to keep men safe. I’m reminded of comments I read of a survivor of the Titanic disaster who saw James Cameron’s movie. The one inaccuracy he found offensive was the scene where the crew fired warning shots to prevent men from scrambling into life rafts before women and children. The eyewitness reminisced how men used to gallantly accept their duty to die to keep women safe; and those women understood that chivalry wasn’t condescending, but honoring.


Students of African warfare can testify that even elementary school aged children can make effective warriors in rebel armies. Again, the question is not “Can kids be trained to kill?” but “What kind of people would encourage them to do so?”

I find it to be a quirky irony that the commander-in-chief of the US arsenal on whose watch this dependence on women in combat is occurring, shares a name with the only military leader in the Bible who refused to fight without a woman beside him. In Judges 4 a sheepish Barak agrees to fight the Lord’s enemies on one condition: that Deborah escorts him into battle.

Judges 4:8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” Not his manliest moment.

Deborah agrees to risk her neck on the frontlines, but appends to Barak’s condition a prophetic promise that he would get zero credit for the victory. All credit would go to a girl.

The honor of delivering Israel fell to the not-so-desperate housewife of Heber, a lady named Jael. She put a woman’s touch on the situation and drove home the point that women can be useful in war. Without any military training, armed with milk, cookies, and a mallet Jael used her tent-pitching skills to assassinate the enemy general.

This account, however, is not a biblical justification for us sending our daughters to sniper school.

The reason for Barak’s request didn’t belie a need for a woman’s military prowess, but rather affirmed a dependence on God’s guidance. Deborah was the prophetess through whom the Lord’s word was coming to Israel (Judges 4:4-5).


And Jael gets the glory because her husband had forged a traitorous pact with Israel’s enemy and immigrated to behind enemy lines. She submitted to her knucklehead husband and God honored her submission by using her as the lynchpin of his plan to deliver Israel from Sisera. Here a man had abandoned his responsibility and a woman stepped in.

So, it’s not that women can’t do the job, it’s that they only need to when men don’t do it for them. Deborah was an exception—the only female judge—not the rule. In the same way, there are women who are stronger, fitter, and more suitable for combat than some men.

But does this mean we should shunt them into military service while there is no shortage of male recruits?

I hope and pray that some sort of sanity returns to the Pentagon before my precious little girls grow up to be sisters-in-arms.


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