A major detail of the Fort Hood horribleness has escaped comment, insofar as I can tell. I'm going to comment, therefore -- with no expectation that many if any will note the civilizational shift it connotes.
The detail is this: Of the 13 who died, three were women soldiers: Sgt. Amy Kruger, 29; Pvt. Francheska Velez, 21, who was pregnant; and Lt. Col. Juanita Warman.
I raise the point as a shivery indication of how different our human understandings of the male and female roles are from what was the case not long ago. Yes, I hear the answering cry: Hooray, hooray, high time!
Are we sure? Really? Maybe we'd better look before we venture so far down the road we can't turn back. We've decided that it's fine and fulfilling to expose women to strains and dangers once considered wrong for them. I'm not talking of porcelain-smooth Victorianisms: fans, laces, downturned gazes. I speak of vital distinctions for which we no longer have eye or interest.
Post-World War II America has devoted itself pretty successfully to the annihilation of differences and distinctions. Everybody identical: that's our creed: you, me, everybody alike. No "socially conditioned" roles such as tending home and hearth: on the one hand, fighting for it; on the other hand, making it flourish.
We don't believe that old stuff anymore, which doesn't mean it wasn't true. We just quit believing it, under prodding by the overseers of our culture. That nature might have carved out distinct identities, instincts and life roles for men and women -- bah! Just old-fashioned rubbish, you bet. Professional opportunity was what counted, not rusty old notions of what was "right" for women according to their nature and men according to theirs.
Let men nurture; let women fight. Let anyone do anything. That was the stuff. And so it comes to pass, which is why 11 percent of the U.S. armed forces is female -- as were 23 percent of the Fort Hood casualties.
Eleven percent representation in the armed forces, that traditional preserve of males, hardly amounts to takeover, but it smoothes away the old, carefully preserved distinctions: man as protector of life, woman as its bearer. No part of this understanding vitiated women's courage or men's role in generating life. The old notion was that particular people did particular things more naturally than other people. We know why that notion died: it fell under the reproach of "male chauvinism" and the war cry of "equal rights for women." Which cry, as we now see, can get you killed. On the other hand, projection of life into the future -- the old female specialty -- doesn't seem an overriding concern today. Pvt. Velez, who was just back from Iraq, carried someone's child in her womb.
The armed forces claim to need the breed of women who join up today (not excluding Fort Hood Police Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who, whether she brought down Maj. Hasan in the way originally reported, must be leather-tough). Society needs protection, undoubtedly, but it may need other things as well: recognition that complementary roles in life are morally equivalent; that appreciation of the natural -- in religious terms, the God-given -- helps people travel farther than do objections that if Up isn't Down, we can sure change all that!
I expect little assent to the proposition that we're getting pretty far in over our heads, pretending that no useful distinctions and contrasts exist between men and women, any more than they exist among creeds and outlooks and tastes (save those derived from "outdated" authorities).
I hope all the same we know what this ultra-modern culture of ours has gotten us into, inviting women to risk life and limb as a matter of course, instructing other women and, naturally, men to view the invitation as no big deal. It used to be a big deal. At a minimum, might we not start to ask how come it's not now?