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
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
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.