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To prevent a war
On fighting machines, deterrence overseas, and good reasons to let sailors share their poetry with each other
Thanks to one particularly cantankerous member of the United States Senate, the concept of "poetry on aircraft carriers" has gained some currency as a shorthand way of decrying a perceived condition of softness within the American military. Once an abstraction of this nature takes off, it becomes hard to harness back to reality. Yet it shouldn't be allowed to slip the reins.
■ The story probably originates with a spat in April, when the Chief of Naval Operations defended a junior officer during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing against Sen. Tommy Tuberville's complaints. That junior officer was celebrated by the Navy's own public-affairs outlets for serving in the military under a non-binary gender identity, including a carrier deployment during which the officer had the opportunity to share a poem aboard the ship's PA system.
■ The Senator relies upon a shorthand description of the military as a "killing and fighting machine", holding that purpose as being incompatible with being an institution open to people of varying gender and sexual backgrounds or friendly to cultural events like spoken-word nights. In reality, the American military's openness to service from all kinds of people is a source of strategic strength. Yes, at some level, a military is a "killing and fighting machine", and under those circumstances, it is hard to see any evidence that gender identity has any effect on lethality.
■ But far more importantly, the armed forces of the United States act as a deterrent power, and deterrence comes from both practiced strength and adaptable thinking. It's far easier to deter an adversary when in possession not just of arms, but of ample brainpower. And anything that prevents a country from employing all of its best minds -- regardless of gender -- is a handicap against using all of its best thinking.
■ There should be no doubt that the United States today would be an even stronger country if the Founding Fathers had included an equal number of Founding Mothers in their proceedings; surely there was a woman of equal genius for every man in the room. But at least we know better today, and we should have the wisdom to assume likewise that for every great general like George Washington, there surely might have been an equal prospective leader who would have identified as Georgia Washington -- and, though fewer in number, at least a handful that would have eschewed a gender identity altogether.
■ The more we put to work the people best able to do their jobs, regardless of any other identity, the better we'll be able to fight and win the wars of the present and future. But even more significantly, the better we recognize the wisdom embedded in Dwight Eisenhower's advice from World War II: "[T]he American soldier, in spite of wisecracking, sometimes cynical speech, is an intelligent human being who demands and deserves basic understanding of the reasons why his country took up arms and of the conflicting consequences of victory or defeat." Purpose, intelligence, and creativity help us not just to win but to prevent wars. Those aren't soft spots, they're strengths, and it doesn't matter one bit in what bodies those strengths are contained.