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Jewish World Review July 22, 2002 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5762

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Sending the pregnant to fight Saddam (UPI) | America hasn't learned a thing since it last fought Iraq, when pregnancies played havoc with deployments. And now there are fewer people to shuffle to compensate for personnel shortfalls.

The parable of the frog probably doesn't hold up scientifically, but it's a vivid metaphor for the kinds of changes that worry conservatives. You remember: A frog jumps out of scalding water but swims happily in cool water as the heat is raised incrementally until it dies.

I couldn't help thinking about the frog when reading an essay by a young officer in the July issue of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. What Ensign Graham McAllister describes in matter-of-fact tones would have raised shrieks of protest in 1966, the year I was commissioned an ensign in the Navy. In fact, if the article could be magically teleported into the past, it would be taken for parody -- and a sick one at that.

Not that McAllister's heart isn't in the right place. On the contrary, he appears to be an earnest young man with a high degree of moral courage. He bravely states that, in terms of pregnant crew members, "the Navy has abandoned moral leadership and its responsibility to its young men and women by catering to personal desires. The Navy refuses to view pregnancy as a disqualifying condition for military action. It draws no distinction between married and unmarried servicewomen who become pregnant. It does not demand financial support and other forms of paternal responsibility, even though 70 percent of the fathers of military births are also in the military."

Perhaps the best way to make sense of things is to imagine a phone dialogue in which an American of 2002 tries to explain what went wrong to an American of 1966.

1966: "You said this ensign referred in his article to pregnant Navy crew members! What on earth are you talking about? Are we being defeated in World War III? Have we run out of sailors? Are all the men casualties?"

2002: "None of those things. It's a long story, but the most important element is that the Vietnam War didn't turn out well. In 1975, two years after the last U.S. combat formations pulled out, the Hanoi government conquered the South with a multi-division cross-border blitzkrieg."

1966: (Silence)

2002: "Hello?"

1966: "I suddenly have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach."

2002: "There's more. The protracted, inconclusive war tore the country apart. You've noticed that more and more sons of well-off Americans are ducking the draft with student deferments."

1966: "Yes."

2002: "Well, this became endemic, even though President Johnson eventually tightened up on graduate deferments, and draft resistance became respectable. Professors and celebrities began saying that the 'real heroes' of the Vietnam War were the young men who avoided it. In 1968, folk singer Joan Baez was photographed with her sisters to make a poster that read, 'Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say No.' Young women wore buttons with the slogan. Privileged young men gloried in their evasions, and privileged young Americans of both sexes reviled servicemen returning from Vietnam as 'suckers' at best and 'baby killers' at worst."

1966: "I can see the beginning of this trend already."

2002: "The prestige of the armed forces and the honor of uniformed service took a terrible beating. They started to recover among ordinary Americans around 1980, but remain low among intellectuals, real and self-perceived. Then in 1973 President Nixon --

1966: "President (pause) Nixon?"

2002: "Yes. Nixon initiated the abolition of conscription. Most people think he wanted to give the executive branch greater latitude in foreign affairs. Presidents could send relatively small expeditionary forces of volunteers to trouble spots without fear of social upheaval at home. As I said, the change occurred as the United States was disengaging from Vietnam."

1966: "I see."

2002: "The military went into a slough from 1973 to about 1980. Racial discord and drug abuse were rife. And not enough high-quality volunteers showed up. Working-class women were recruited in the absence of upper-middle-class men."

1966: "So that's how it started."

2002: "The idea of military service as an obligation of citizenship for males was supplanted. Instead it became just another career option in the marketplace. Demagogues charged that denying women the 'opportunity' to serve in combat or in mixed-sex ship's crews was the same as championing racial segregation."

1966: "It's not the same at all! And I can imagine the trouble this has caused."

2002: "That's just it. I don't have to spell it out for you. But making that case today is tough. Anyway, the percentage of women in the all-volunteer force has been creeping steadily higher. It's now almost 15 percent, with the Air Force's enlisted ranks running about 20 percent. And some 12 percent of them, more than 23,000 women, are single mothers."

1966: "SINGLE mothers? Divorced?"

2002: "Or never married."

1966: "Holy -- "

2002: "And, of course, many of the 200,000 women on active duty are married mothers."

1966: "These women are considered deployable? While young American men are asked to do nothing?"

2002: Yes. And you can't shame the men. Vietnam changed all that. Lord knows I tried back in 1991, during our first war with Iraq -- "

1966: "War with Iraq?"

2002: "Don't ask. The pregnancy rate jumped during the six-month buildup to the war -- "

1966: "We won this one, right?"

2002: "Sort of. And more women got pregnant in theater. This caused all kinds of problems, including damaged morale among the men, but the armed forces were big enough then to shuffle people around and fill some of the slots of the women who did not deploy or who were evacuated because of pregnancy. Now, with a much smaller force, that's become more difficult."

1966: "This brings us back to our young ensign."

2002: "Right. For years, women in sexually mixed ship's companies have been failing to deploy or have been evacuated because of pregnancy. Often they are not replaced right away, leaving their units shorthanded and less efficient. Sailors who have to pick up the slack become understandably resentful. Now another war with Iraq is on the horizon."

1966: "It takes guts for an ensign to criticize Navy policy."

2002: "It sure does. He writes: 'The Navy's pregnancy policy costs millions of dollars; it degrades a work culture devoted to the idea of personal sacrifice. Instead of raising its standards, the Navy accepts a lower state of readiness to cater to the whims of those who put their own desires before their commitment to serve their country and loyalty to their shipmates.'"

1966: "Bravo."

2002: "But do you know what one of his remedies is?"

1966: "I'm afraid to guess."

2002: "He thinks junior officers should distribute condoms and other forms of birth control to enlisted sailors."

1966: "Unbelievable! Good luck with your war."

2002: "Thanks, we'll need it."

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07/16/02: Talking back to Europeans
06/13/02: Is America ready for child enemy soldiers? They're on the way
05/24/02: Vietnam: The trail not taken

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