A friend, the mother of a West Point graduate, shared a link to a program at the military academy. The cadets were standing tall and straight, singing what I assume is a West Point song. It was heart-warming and lovely—and troubling.
What disturbed me was the very notable female presence. From statistics I saw, it seems that the incoming class this year included 77% male students and 23% female students. Since President Ford first opened the academy to women in 1976, the percentage of women has grown. In 2014, director of admissions Col. Deborah McDonald suggested that it might grow to as much as 22 percent considering proactive efforts to recruit and retain women. West Point has exceeded her expectations. That does not bode well for America’s readiness to fight.
Let me preface my remarks by noting that historically, Russian sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko is reported to have killed 309 German soldiers in World War II. The prophetess Deborah led the Israelites to great victory over the Philistines, whose general was murdered by another woman, Yael. Women in the American military serve with dedication and valor.
Most recently, there were numerous heroines in Israel on October 7, 2023. In addition to individual women who protected their families from within their homes’ sadly ineffective safe rooms (they were meant to protect from missiles, not murderous mobs) as Hamas and Gazans unleashed a pogrom in Israel, the day saw military luminaries as well. Female tank crews made history by coming to the defense of Israel’s citizens alongside their male counterparts. A 25-year-old security coordinator at Kibbutz Nir Am listened to her instincts and ordered the kibbutz’s arsenal to be unlocked and for its security team to arm and be ready. Unlike its neighbors, Kibbutz Nir Am sustained no casualties.
Women can, and have, fought bravely.
Based on the above, what is my problem?
With all the attention paid, and rightly so, to those Israeli female soldiers and civilians who responded on October 7, it is undeniable that the heartbreaking numbers of soldiers killed in combat inside Gaza since that day are males. That is who is going into this most dangerous territory. Lyudmila Pavlichenko’s comrades were mostly male. The army that Deborah led was a male army. And, to my mind, that is correct.
The goal of an army is not to advance psycho-social theories. It is not to break stereotypes. It is not to represent the makeup of a country. It is not to provide individual soldiers with the greatest amount of satisfaction and personal achievement. Its goal, at its root, is to defend a country and keep its citizens safe. An army whose country imagines itself safe can get sidelined and forget that primary aim. Yet, in the real world, steps that lead to achieving that goal are helpful; steps that impede that goal are not.
I have not been in the United States military or the military of any other country. Yet, this is how I see it. A healthy and necessary component of masculinity is wanting to protect women. There is a reason that the first Israeli and international hostages released were women, children, and the elderly. I do not believe that any young man tragically held in captivity would choose to leave a mother, grandmother, sister, or daughter behind so that he could go free. That is masculinity. The men fighting are motivated rather than demoralized by the gang rapes and torture of women that took place on October 7th. They want to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Worrying about a female comrade being captured and treated in that way would be extremely counterproductive. Aside from truly sick minds, of which there are too many in positions of academic and political leadership, everyone recognizes that subjecting women to grotesque sexual violations is an abomination. Wanting to prevent that is a robust part of masculinity.
Insisting that men see women no differently than they see other men is an academic pipe dream. Telling a male soldier that he should not feel or do anything more to protect a woman fighting next to him than he would do for a male comrade erodes and destroys masculinity. Introducing the potential for sexual tension damages a fighting unit. Limiting the potential collective physical strength of a ground combat unit so that women can be part of it puts lives at risk.
Israel’s government and military will need to face an intensely painful analysis of the fateful mistakes that led up to the catastrophe of October 7, 2023. One aspect of that may indeed be the need for more women’s voices in assessing risk and strategies. Women play vital roles in the functioning of the military. But a country that regularly boasted about women in the military is facing almost daily funerals of beautiful young men, men who stepped up to the plate when heroic masculinity was essential.
This Musing is dedicated in memory of nine brave soldiers killed in Gaza on January 8th, 2024:
Roi Tal, Roi Avraham Maimon, Ron Efrimi, Denis Veksler, Amit Moshe Shahar, Akiva Yasinskiy, David Schwartz, Gavriel Bloom, Yakir Hexter.
Their ages range from 19-35. Gavriel Bloom’s parents are close friends of two of our dearest friends. May HaShem comfort their families and avenge their blood.
With prayers for the rapid and safe release of all the hostages and among them, Danielle Gilboa, age 19, who was identified as being abducted in a Hamas video. Is she still alive? Being tortured? Raped? Somehow, that does not seem to register as a humanitarian concern.
BONUS: This week, we are opening the comment section to all readers.
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