A Soldier is a Soldier

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.
Do you have military experience? Loved ones who are serving? We look forward to hearing your thoughts on women serving in the military.

Scroll down to leave your comment below.

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6 thoughts on “A Soldier is a Soldier”

  1. Dear Susan,

    Thank you for opening the comments to non-members.
    You are 100 % accurate in your assessment in what a military militia should look like. I smile when I watch ILTV and think of your husband’s comment that Israel as a masculine army. They do! Although I saw fingernail polish on one of the trigger pullers, I am thoroughly convinced this was a woman soldier and not someone who was “gender-confused”. As a nurse I see security guards patrol the halls a night. Believe me, I feel much safer seeing a 6′ tall man with a no-nonsense look in his face rather than a 100lb female with a scarf on her head! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m glad that you commented, Bonnie. We try to open comments on one of our blogs each month though, of course, members can both read and comment on everything we put out. Your comment about the security guard is so true. There is a video of four policewoman trying in vain to subdue a tall, large suspect. It’s hard not to laugh watching him fling them away from him as if they were small kittens, but really it can make one cry when you realize that it is a step on the road to the destruction of a city.

  2. Thank you, Susan. You are so correct in your assessment of men and women’s role in the military. We are a family of four adult daughters and an adult son who all agree with you despite how unpopular it is to say so in the U.S. How sad that so many women don’t understand that a body needs both an arm and a leg and one is not of less value than the other, just different! My father-in-law was a veteran from WWII and my uncle served in the US army when I was young. I am so thankful for them and all the others willing to put their lives on the line for freedom and to protect us. My niece has just enlisted in the Army reserves. May she serve her country in a role that doesn’t further jeopardize the lives of the men serving!

    1. Laurie, I, too, wish your niece well and hope that she can serve well while doing good for her country.

  3. I was an AF combat rescue helicopter pilot from 1985 to 2005 and served through that change when women were allowed into direct combat fields. We had many women serving in support roles including maintenance, supply, medical, intelligence, etc., and they performed excellently and were a great service to the unit and the country. I cannot say the same thing though for many of the female combat crewmembers we had. With a few notable exceptions, they tended to be a sexual/social distraction to the men and in a few cases, were unable to complete missions due to emotional overload. Perhaps in the two decades since my experience they have assimilated better, but I suspect not. I would suspect if there is now better assimilation, it may more likely be that the men have assimilated down rather than the women assimilating up.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I did not mention this in the Musing, but I do remember hearing about how many active military personnel were out on maternity leave – or sent from an active position as soon as they became pregnant. Some of the pregnancies were not within marriages. Either way, having soldiers be sidelined cannot be a good thing for team building and efficient operation.

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