Context is everything. So is perspective. The same set of facts within a different context, or from a different perspective, can lead to an opposite conclusion. Such is the case with women in the military. My co-blogger, Steve Clark, has written a factually accurate and passionately felt post regarding the pending inclusion of women in combat within the U.S. military. As a former Marine and member of a family that has seen its share of men go off to war on behalf of their country he sets forth a compelling argument why he opposes the decision and why he intends to never see his daughters in combat.
I, on the other hand, just today hugged my daughter goodbye at the airport in Austin, Texas as she ended a five-week visit home. Home for us is where I live yet my daughter is a Commander in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). She is currently serving in a combat Search and Rescue Unit as an out-of-country volunteer. She began as an American citizen but, as a result of her service, now has both U.S. and Israeli citizenship. She carries two passports.
I agree with everything Steve wrote in his post. Within the context of U.S. politics and U.S. military history, we have too often sent young men to die to satisfy the recklessness and excesses of politicians who never see combat while reaping the luxuries and financial rewards that so often accompany the buildup and execution of war.
So why am I so proud of my daughter? Why do I bid her goodbye with both a mother’s tears of anxiety for her safety as well as an indescribable parental pride?
We are American Jews. Israel, twenty-four miles wide at its widest point, has been a nation under relentless siege for its entire existence. For 68 years, the tiny nation has never known peace or its citizens the luxury of personal safety. Israel does not have an offensive military agenda. It does not seek to nation build. It aspires to no conquest. It seeks only to live in peace on a sliver of land granted to it following the nightmare known as the Holocaust when the world turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to attempts at a systematic and barbaric genocide aimed at annihilating an entire people because of their faith.
After my daughter graduated high school in New Jersey she spent a gap year in Israel. I was not opposed to her taking a year off prior to college but I made it clear she had to volunteer someplace in the world to give that year meaning. She chose a nine month program in Israel designed for exactly such a purpose. When she returned home to begin her freshman year, she informed me that she “had a plan.” She was going finish her freshman year then volunteer for a combat unit in the IDF. She would then finish college after her service.
I was shocked and deeply concerned but felt I had a year to either talk her out of it or witness her enthusiasm waning. Neither occurred. As I observed the commitment to her decision deepen as her freshman year progressed, I realized she was responding to an inner calling that I had no right to impede. She is now two years and two months into her three year commitment.
Yes, I lost a lot of sleep during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer. Yes, I often worry about her well-being. Yes, I often wish she was not so readily in harm’s way. (It was her base outside of Gaza last year where several terrorists emerged from the Mediterranean in scuba gear intending to kill soldiers only to themselves be killed before they could kill).
But in a world of young people who have no sense of history or purpose, who live vicarious lives on the internet, who indulge themselves when not being indulged by their parents, who turn to drugs and pornography to escape reality, who think friendship is how many people “friend” them on Facebook…I take pride in the fact that my daughter has purpose. I take particular pride in the fact that she is helping keep safe a nation and a people that desire only to live and let live.
When I visited my daughter last year in Jerusalem where she lives when off base, I was truly amazed by the love and pride expressed to her everywhere we went by Israeli citizens. When I would introduce her and say “this is my daughter” the response was invariably “here… she is everyone’s daughter.” Volunteers who have died in service to the IDF have had funerals attended by thousands of Israelis who never met them yet walk hours to the grave site to pay tribute. Young men as well as young women have died in such service.
When you walk the streets of Israel, a common sight is young female soldiers in shorts having lunch or even sunbathing on the beach in bikinis with an M-16 or M-4 slung over their shoulder. (IDF soldiers are subject to incarceration if their weapon is stolen or lost and so they never part with it unless staying in a private residence and, even then, it must be broken down and its parts stored in multiple locations within the home). No one wants to see a woman go to war. Not as Steve eloquently laid out in his post, not any Israeli, and certainly not this mother. But when it’s a matter of existence, not politics or nation building, then everyone, regardless of gender, who can serve…should serve.
If that service is an inner calling then ultimately, and more importantly, it’s a matter of heart not gender.