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Letter to Jay

5 Oct

Last Thursday one of my absolute favorite political writers, Jay Nordlinger of National Review, wrote a column in which he touched on women in combat.  I decided to write him a letter about my experience as a female naval officer and Iraq war veteran.  A few hours later I got a text from my friend William asking if that was me that Jay had quoted in The Corner (nationalreview.com’s blog).  It turns out he did quote me, quite extensively.  I was super excited and very honored.

Here is a link to his original article, and here is the relevant section:

I must say, I find it very hard to argue about women in combat. This is bad news, because I’m supposed to be an opinion journalist, whose business is persuasion, right? But either you find the idea of women in combat appalling or you don’t.

Many regard the issue as a matter of women’s rights, even civil rights. To them, a woman in combat is like a black citizen in a voting booth. Hurray, progress!

Other people think that women in combat represent some kind of civilizational breakdown: Our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, and nieces in combat? What kind of monsters are we? It runs against nature, it cuts some kind of vital cord.

As I say, I find it hard to argue about women in combat. Either you feel its wrongness in your stomach or you don’t. I know a conservative intellectual who said, “The day they try to draft my daughters is the day I divorce my country and take to the hills.”

(The matter of individual choice — “Do you want to serve in the Army, miss? Would you like to serve in combat?” — comes up in this discussion too, of course.)

Here is my entire letter:

Dear Jay,

Loved your column today, as always.  I would like to comment briefly on women in combat, if you would be so kind as to indulge me.

I graduated from the United States Naval Academy with the great class of 2005.  In plebe (freshman) Western Civilization we discussed women in combat.  I was the only girl in the class (a common occurrence) and the professor put me on the spot.  I hadn’t given it much thought but rather lamely defended the idea.  I don’t remember my exact argument, but I do remember one of my classmates, who was also in my company and a close friend, saying that he was against the idea.  As a chivalrous southerner, he just could not fathom the thought of my suffering at the hands of the enemy, and would go to extraordinary measures to protect me.

Fast-forward almost seven years.  I am now the navigator  on a guided missile cruiser, and my ship gets tasked with providing an officer to spend nine months in Iraq augmenting the Army as an electronic warfare officer.  Immediately I volunteer because I feel compelled–called, really–to go.  Nobody else volunteers.  Not one of the men.  They are all extremely happy to let a girl go in their place.

I get stationed at COB Speicher in Tikrit with the 101st Airborne.  The closest I ever come to combat is when the convoy I am traveling with is targeted by a very small IED.  No one is hurt and we just keep rolling along through the Iraqi countryside.  I serve my time (July 2008-April 2009, so we may have overlapped), come home safely, get married, and have a baby girl of my own.

Surprisingly this is one political issue that I just do not feel passionately about, one way or the other.  In theory I contend that women being mangled, killed, or taken prisoner in combat is particularly terrible, not because our lives are worth any more than those of our make counterparts, but because it goes against our most primal instincts as human beings.  However, in practice, I think that it is becoming a necessity.  Women are still barred from infantry or special warfare, but we do operate with those units as support personnel, and in many other capacities that put us in harm’s way, and have for years.

Here is the rub: who else will do it?  In general, men of my generation are not chivalrous and many are too lazy to work, let alone serve in the military.  Most simply do not care who defends their right to live in their parents’ basement and play video games all day.  My chivalrous southern classmate is far and away the exception rather than the rule.  Our society has changed so quickly in such a short time that those basic primal instincts are being drummed out with political correctness and this issue is becoming obsolete.

This was less brief than I had intended, but your writing always inspires me to think more deeply, and for that I thank you.

Cheers,
Sarah Shellock

This is the link to his blog post.  Here is what he said specifically about my letter:

We could talk about this all day, but I’d like to cite one more letter, from an American veteran, a woman, who served in Iraq. It’s a fascinating letter. I’ll give you some of the beginning and some of the end. She says,

“I graduated from the United States Naval Academy with the great class of 2005. In plebe (freshman) Western Civilization we discussed women in combat. I was the only girl in the class (a common occurrence) and the professor put me on the spot. I hadn’t given it much thought but rather lamely defended the idea. I don’t remember my exact argument, but I do remember one of my classmates, who was also in my company and a close friend, saying that he was against the idea. As a chivalrous southerner, he just could not fathom the thought of my suffering at the hands of the enemy, and would go to extraordinary measures to protect me.”

By the way, don’t you love that she used the word “girl”? Anyway, after graduation, she went to Iraq. And she discovered some things there. One of those discoveries was that the men were perfectly happy to have the women do dangerous work, including in their stead. At the end of her letter, she writes,

“Here’s the rub: Who else will do it? In general, men of my generation are not chivalrous and many are too lazy to work, let alone serve in the military. Most simply do not care who defends their right to live in their parents’ basement and play video games all day. My chivalrous southern classmate is far and away the exception rather than the rule. Our society has changed so quickly that those primal instincts are being drummed out with political correctness and this issue [women in combat] is becoming obsolete.”

Hard to talk about, women in combat, at least in my experience. Either you feel it in your stomach — or you don’t.

So there it is: my brief moment of conservative fame!

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