(Korean-American woman Marine and Korean orphan, Yechon, Korea, 1984)Preface: This one will jeopardize my standing as a card-carrying liberal. But I've always thought that Emerson was right: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
I’ve been following the consternation created by Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo III in threatening to court-martial female soldiers who get pregnant while serving in Iraq. It seems to me that all the people denouncing the general’s decision—including four women senators and the National Organization for Women—are missing the point. I’ve long been a supporter of equal opportunity for women in the Armed Services; witness my op-ed in the Seattle Times (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2004131071_edpalm18.html) . But along with equal opportunity should come equal responsibility. The tour of duty in Iraq these days is 12 months—for men and for women. The problem is that a pregnant soldier must be sent home immediately, leaving her unit short-handed.
A cynic might charge that female soldiers are getting pregnant on purpose in order to claim their “Get-out-of-Iraq-free (or early) card.” I doubt that many would go to that extreme. But the fact of the matter is that pregnancy is an eminently avoidable, combat disqualifying condition. And fair is fair. Male soldiers can be, and have been, punished for sustaining injuries or contracting illnesses while engaging in reckless behavior with reasonably foreseeable consequences. Hence, to my mind the matter is simple and the order equitable. Male or female, soldiers are expected to remain steadfast in the performance of their duty and to see the mission through until completion.
The argument could be made, of course, that pregnancy is hardly an injury or illness and that it results from the exercise of a basic human right. But the consequence is the same: a soldier goes home early, and other soldiers have to take up the slack. Again, the fact of the matter is that military service demands a certain abridgment of personal liberties and even human rights. The exigencies of operational deployments, moreover, have long demanded that men endure temporary periods of enforced celibacy. If that’s what it takes for men and women to cohere into an effective fighting force, so be it.
I hope General Cucolo doesn’t back down. He has made a decision whose time has come. He is striking a blow for gender equity through equal commitment. --EFP