By Aaron Gaglia
Last Thursday, Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta lifted the ban of women serving in direct combat roles. This ban will open up the opportunity for women to serve in higher risk roles traditionally reserved for men.
In the wake of this announcement, prominent evangelical leader and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler, commented on the lifting of the ban, framing this issue in moral terms.
“What we’re looking at here is a major moral revolution. When you talk about the relationship between men and women in a society, how a society orders gender difference, you’re looking at many, many issues, but one of them is inescapably moral.”
Though he acknowledges that there are utilitarian parts of the argument against women in combat, he argued that “the bigger issue is moral.”
He then went on to cite the major argument against women in combat:
“And without any embarrassment nor without any historical ambiguity, the major argument against that has been moral from the beginning. Not that it would be inconvenient to have women on the battlefield, not that it might be inefficient to have women on the battlefield, but that it would be morally wrong. Why would it be wrong? Clearly the gender difference suggested in that moral perspective is that women are to be protected rather than to be considered just like men when it comes to such high danger contexts as warfare.”
To drive this point home, he made an analogy to the sinking of the Titanic.
“Is the principle women and children first a legitimate and moral cause of gender difference? I think most people would still say so now. I think they would look to a man who took a space on a seat in one of those lifeboats at the expense of a woman… [as] unmanly and immoral. The same thing is largely true in terms of the moral instinct about prohibiting the service of women in infantry and other active combat units on the frontlines of battle. It says something about a society that it now officially forfeits any idea of gender difference that would include the responsibility of men to protect women.”
He then mentioned an argument put in favor of women in combat–the idea of autonomous individualism. “And according to that worldview people should basically be able to do whatever they aspire to do regardless of any kind of gender or ethnicity or any other kind of human condition.” This view advocates that if women want to fight in combat they should be able to fight in combat
By pointing to the fact that even advocates of lifting the ban speculate that only a few women will actually apply, he showed a limit in the idea of autonomous individualism.
“If equality is the issue, the only issue, the driving issue, then as moral philosophers have long understood, that should extend to an equality of responsibility not merely to an equality of opportunity. In other words, equality really isn’t achieved by saying men and women should both be able to enter to combat if that’s what they aspire to do. Real equality would only be achieved if persons are equally assigned regardless of their aspirations.”
He then ended his thoughts by commenting that the Pentagon and Congress will be further discussing and debating the lifting of this ban.
“And it will be very interesting how this very confused country tries to come to terms with what genuinely is a huge moral change by any estimation.”
You can listen to Al Mohler’s comments here (It is the first item covered in the briefing).