There was a moment, during my second pregnancy, that I will always remember with enormous clarity.
It was just after I had gotten my amniocentesis results and had the joyous news that I was carrying a boy. I was substitute teaching in a junior high classroom, and the day’s activity was to view the film. “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Not far into the movie, I was struck hard with the sudden knowledge that this baby could someday be required to serve his country, and perhaps die for it. I stood in the dark in the back of the classroom and quietly cried for some time.
As the daughter of a career Air Force officer, it was quite a jolt to set aside my esprit de corps and cope with the much stronger urge to protect my child. I still struggle with it, as mothers have for all time.
One day, I joined a friend, a fellow mom with two daughters, as we left the school grounds. This woman has struggled to reconcile the needs of sustaining the family unit, as a wife and mother, with the needs of ridding the world of sexist expectations. We are also both at-home moms, by choice, and often discuss our very fuzzy place in the feminist/anti-feminist lineup.
She took her one daughter’s hand, turned to me and said, laughing tightly, “Well, did you hear that they’ve opened to doors for women to go into combat? My first reaction,” she said, “was to shout, ‘Yes!’” Her immediate second reaction was like a fist to her gut.
“This was the one problem I thought I didn’t have when I had girls,” she said.
I laughed, too, but wryly. I had an identical reaction to the news. It is the reaction, I suspect, of a whole generation of women with young daughters who have cheered and supported the growing freedom to choose our futures and now, more piercingly than ever, see the cost of that freedom.
I thought very seriously about joining the military when I was young. Having grown up within that structure, it was not such a foreign environment to me. In those salad days, full of the blind courage of youth, I might well have chosen to go into combat. I don’t believe, however, that I ever discussed this with my mother. I’m sure I would have remembered her response.
The idea of, now, both my children going off to war forces me to question the changes we have earned. Only the revulsion at having my or my daughter’s life choices narrowed and truncated, has sustained my faith that we are moving in the right direction.
“I guess,” I told my friend, “we will just have to stop having wars.”
Jean Gillette is a freelance writer still puzzled by war. Contact her at email@example.com.