Sadie Hawkins is dead. She was Killed In Action in 1968 while on patrol in the Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. That same year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11375, which expanded his Affirmative Action Policy of 1965 to include discrimination based on gender. The mandate required federal agencies and contractors to implement active measures to ensure that women and minorities enjoy the same educational and employment opportunities as white males. Two years later, Motown recording artist Tammi Terrell died tragically and Marvin Gaye found the inspiration to write the song, "What's Going On?" Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced that women would be allowed to serve in Infantry units, prompting many Americans to ask the question, "What's going on?" -- and some have included a choice expletive.
We should all applaud the decision to allow women in combat units. For far too long, they've been afforded childish protections from such service. Those protections were based, in large part, on misguided notions that they are not as strong as men. For far too long, they've had to wait for an invitation to dance, or for a marriage proposal -- except, of course, during those special activities designated as a "Sadie Hawkins" event. What's going on with the change in military service is merely the tip of an iceberg that is truly unknown. But we needn't concern ourselves with the identity of that iceberg nor its social ramifications, at least not yet. For now, let's marvel at our nation's practice of equality.
Much to their credit, women throughout the world have fought side-by-side with their countrymen. For decades, women fighters have served honorably in the Israeli Army. In World War II, the German Army suffered heavy losses, thanks to the skills of Female Russian Snipers. The Armies of North Vietnam and the Vietcong employed women in similar tactics, and even added children (boys and girls) to their killing force. Borrowing a favorite phrase of our Commander-In-Chief, "let me be clear": The servicewomen of the United States have a truly distinguished history of valor on and off the battlefield. Whether or not they wracked up confirmed kills (and many of them have) is not as important as their courageous choice to serve. Still, the fact that men have a longer history of such acts of valor comes more from being relegated to such roles, just as women were once relegated to roles of domesticity. Now, in their quest for the privileged title of "Battle Commander" or something similar, the so-called smarter sex has fallen in the trap of male follies, a trap that men, once upon a time, sought to avoid by way of Canada. If a military draft is ever needed again, Panetta's Pandora Box will not be closed. Then, women will have another choice -- namely, that of the Conscientious Objector.
I agree that women should have the right to choose service in the infantry. That service, however, is not always a choice. Remember Corporal Upham? It should be noted that the successful rise to command combat units has been, for many men, a case of making the best out of a bad situation. One such situation was tearfully expressed by Zack Mayo-naise (Richard Gere) in An Officer and a Gentlemen when he said, "I got nowhere else to go!" Like many I know, some joined to blow stuff up. Still others, like Zack and me, joined because they had nowhere else to go. Of course, such situations are not exclusively male, but the same society that delayed civil rights for women gave men the choice to "go to war or go to jail." John F. Kennedy said, "War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today." Clearly, in an effort to create jobs and expand career options for women, we've decided to create more warriors. The tip of that iceberg is coming into view as Sadie's name and her conceptualized purpose are now officially obsolete.
The development of a professional soldier begins long before Basic Training, and requires more than the willingness and ability to pull a trigger. So, let's get Barbie a new wardrobe, adjust those Girl Scout activities (that should have happened years ago) and get ready for the resurrection of ancient debates about sex, showers, toilets, the nurturer, etc. Remember, the U.S. Military seldom practices the democracy it defends. It's a brave new world, and that's what's going on.