If readers will excuse me, I would like to take advantage of Memorial Day to air a pet peeve. Since it’s a “peeve” with roots in a broader problem, here goes.
Over the last two decades it’s become commonplace, in praising the military and military history, to refer to the sacrifices of “our men and women in the armed forces.” On Memorial Day, which is specifically ordered to remember those who have fallen in battle, count how many times you hear “men and women” perhaps even referring to conflicts as far back as the Revolutionary War. My problem with that: The wording implies that women contributed equally in giving the last full measure on the battlefield, which, of course, they did not.
As politically correct historians will quickly remind me, a handful of women disguised themselves as men and fought valiantly in our domestic wars. That’s true. But compared with men, they represented a very, very small fraction and shouldn’t be included in the men-and-women meme, especially for historical wars. Thousands of women served as nurses and auxiliary in World Wars I and II and in Vietnam, and many of them came under fire, sometimes at the cost of their lives. They deserve to be honored for that sacrifice. But when talking specifically about combat and battlefields, the honor goes to men, behaving as men.
There’s a tendency in our culture that would plaster all men with masculine vices—James Lileks writes about that here. But when it comes to masculine virtues, women want to claim an equal share. To praise men as “brave” does not imply that women are cowardly—any more than to praise women as “nurturing,” “relational,” and “cooperative” implies that men are cold, solitary, and antagonistic. Men and women display the same virtues, but usually in different ways that are meant to complement each other. When shots ring out in a public place, women will instinctively shield their children. But men are more likely to attack the attacker. Women will always protect their own, but men rush to the defense of total strangers.
Of course, there are exceptions, like Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who helped take down the 2009 Fort Hood shooter. As women move more and more into combat roles—not a wise move, in my opinion—there will be more exceptions. I’m just saying that when general praise is given, it should go to whom it’s generally due. Men have always made up the bulk of combat forces and battlefield dead, and unless the day comes when both sexes are drafted equally, they always will. This Memorial Day, let us praise valiant men, doing what they were designed to do.