Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo is in command of 22,000 American combat forces in northern Iraq. Unlike some high-ranking military men who demonstrate exemplary courage in the face of the enemy but collapse like paper umbrellas in the face of political pressure, Cucolo seemed ready for the political firefight he precipitated. At least at first.
Cucolo's provocation was as follows: Pursuant to his powers as a general officer, he issued regulations for soldiers under his command. Some dealt with Iraqi sensibilities (soldiers were forbidden to enter mosques except in cases of "military necessity"), and others with good order and discipline (no gambling or drug use). Additionally, the general directed that soldiers who become pregnant or impregnate someone else while deployed would be subject to courts martial. Uh-oh.
Cue the feminists. "How dare any government say we're going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant," fumed Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. "This is not the 1800s." Four Democratic senators dashed off a public letter. "We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child," protested Sens. Barbara Mikulski, Barbara Boxer, Jeanne Shaheen, and Kirsten Gillibrand. "This defies comprehension. As such, we urge you to immediately rescind this policy."
But Cucolo was prepared. Asked about the critical reaction, he said, "I appreciate the inflamed -- I got it. Here's the deal. I'm the one responsible and I mean this sincerely and I mean this with -- I hope I'm not sounding -- it doesn't matter. I am the one responsible and accountable for these 22,000 soldiers. The National Organization for Women is not. Critics are not. I appreciate -- I will listen to critics, and they add thought. But they actually don't have to do anything. I have to accomplish a very complex mission, very complex." Don't you particularly like the "I hope I'm not sounding -- it doesn't matter"?
It's true that United States senators don't really have to do anything. But it would be nice if they thought of themselves as representing the interests of the nation from time to time, and not just as compliant mouthpieces for interest groups. Do any of these liberal senators ever lift their sights enough to recognize that an army is not a social welfare agency?
Feminists, above all, should recognize that when a woman takes an oath as a soldier, she has freely undertaken extraordinary responsibilities. If she becomes undeployable and has to be sent home, (the unavoidable consequence of becoming pregnant), someone else must serve in her place. The Army loses a valuable investment, and the unit is left vulnerable. As Cucolo explained, "I need every soldier I've got, especially since we are facing a drawdown of forces during our mission. Anyone who leaves this fight earlier than the expected 12-month deployment creates a burden on their teammates. Anyone who leaves this fight early because they made a personal choice that changed their medical status -- or contributes to doing that to another -- is not in keeping with a key element of our ethos." That ethos -- and forgetful senators can look it up -- includes the following creed: "I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values. I will always place the mission first."
The general's order was evenhanded. The same punishment applied to men who impregnated someone (though, clearly, it is easier for a man to escape detection if the woman conceals his identity) as to women who became pregnant. It would not apply to pregnancies that were the result of rape.
Though knee-jerk senators and professional feminists would probably faint at the suggestion, there are actually women soldiers who purposely get pregnant to escape service (with an accompanying depressing effect on unit morale). And there are others who are a little careless. Their commanding officer was reminding them (and their boyfriends) to behave as responsible adults and loyal soldiers.
After taking fire, Cucolo clarified that he couldn't imagine putting a woman in prison for getting pregnant. But let's hope the headlines calling this a climb down are overblown. His order was sensible and in a saner world would have been utterly uncontroversial.
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