Congress has cleared the way for women to fly in combat missions, and there can be little doubt that approval for the use of women in ground combat is not long in coming. If there are many who are disturbed by this aspect of the New World Order, they are remaining quiet. Apparently, most Americans have learned what the media call one of the “major lessons of the Gulf War”: that women can perform in the military every bit as well as men.

The problem with restricting women from combat, we are told, is that it unfairly hinders their ability to ascend the military career ladder. Concerns for national defense, the needs of young children, or the protection of feminine virtues are of no great matter compared to careerism. An exchange reported in a recent issue of Newsweek between Major Kathleen Shields, a 17-year Army reservist in the 70th Division, and Representative Patricia Schroeder, a cosponsor of the House plan to remove women’s barriers to combat, illustrates this nicely. Major Shields is quoted as saying, “Tell Pat Schroeder to get out of my boots. She’s never been in the service and doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” to which Representative Schroeder responded, “I’m not getting in her boots and I don’t intend to. I’m ensuring her equality and removing barriers to her opportunity.” It is clear that Representative Schroeder has a tin ear: can’t she hear that Major Shields appreciates the barriers to her opportunity, and thinks there are damn good reasons for those barriers to remain?

But, it will be pointed out, there are many women who are not like Major Shields, who do not appreciate but resent these barriers. And so we have Representative Schroeder, one of the most shrill proponents of the notion that the 1980’s and Reaganism were marked by greed and avarice and concern for career over all else, defending the rights of women in the military to put their concern for career over all else.

Clearly, something has changed over the past decade. One of the arguments that killed the passage of the ERA was based on the premise that the amendment would overturn the barriers that keep women out of combat. Now those barriers are being removed with hardly a shudder of trepidation. What else has been lost over the past decade? Perhaps this: when in 1948 the Israelis experimented by placing women in direct combat, the main reason the experiment was considered a failure was that the men were demoralized by seeing women killed in combat; the men began placing themselves at higher risk in an attempt to prevent further female casualties. Now, would men still react this way? Perhaps so; perhaps that is not yet lost. But what is lost is the notion that such gallantry is admirable. A male soldier who expressed more concern for protecting women than for protecting men would be sent to sensitivity training to ensure that the blowing to bits of a woman would not bother him any more than the death of a man, that the thought of a motherless child would not be any more disturbing to him than the thought of a fatherless son.

And what of the effect placing women in combat would have on national defense? I have little to say about that, and the reason for this is simple: I doubt that a nation that can so blithely discuss sending women to die for their country is a nation that is any longer worth defending.