One of the books I read over the holidays was Anthony Esolen's Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Culture. This 357-page book is a delightful guide to western culture from its beginnings in Greece through Rome up until about the 19th Century. At that point about two centuries ago, Esolen thinks our culture went off the rails. The book continues through the time just before the Great Recession began at the end of the Bush administration in 2008.
This is the fourth book I have read by Esolen. The other three I read in Iraq: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, Esolen's excellent translations of the three sections of Dante's Divine Comedy.
Throughout the book Esolen makes points for the Conservative view of politics and rarely concedes its excesses. He does at one point admit Senator Joseph McCarthy might have been a bit much, but the entire right wing talk radio universe gets not a whisper of criticism.
Although Esolen is pro-military, he throws scorn on women soldiers. He said that any "Private Benjamin" would be crushed by a third-string, bench-riding high school football player. That may be true, but the modern military is not all about brute strength and Esolen, along with most leading Conservatives in America, helped to create the circumstances that made women an integral part of the modern volunteer Army.
When I enlisted during the Viet Nam War in 1972, the draft still technically existed but it was clear that suburban boys like me from the Northeast were not getting drafted. Women were a small part of the military.
When I enlisted, Mitt Romney and William Kristol were deployed at Harvard University seven miles from my home town. Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly and thousands of other big names in the Conservative movement got deferments and let poor kids serve in their place. After the draft was over and military service was optional, Esolen and other men younger than draft age did not serve. Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck or most other Conservatives in their 50s fall in this category.
Now you could say that those who did not serve had every right to avoid the draft by legal means, or choose not to enlist when the draft was over. And you would be right. But when draft evasion is the norm someone else has to serve. Women stepped up while Esolen got a PhD. And in his book, Esolen admires the Athens of Pericles where all the men were required to be fit and ready to defend their city.
In 2007 I was able to re-enlist at 54 years old after 23 years as a civilian because the Army had temporarily raised the enlistment age. I was too old to re-enlist when 9-11 happened, but I got in with a waiver six years later when the law changed. Why did the law change? Because right when The Surge was in full swing in Iraq, a country that claims to have nearly 100 million Conservatives could not fill its recruiting goals. So old men like me and women filled the of the places left vacant by those who did not serve.
When I was in Iraq, I saw women take off in horrible dust storms to rescue soldiers attacked on the roads and at Forward Operating Bases around Camp Adder.
Until that bench-riding football player flies a Blackhawk Helicopter into a sandstorm to rescue fellow soldiers or jumps out of that helicopter and runs to care for that wounded soldier, like the female pilots and flight medics I knew, the fact that he could possibly beat one of them in a school-yard brawl means nothing.
Esolen and Limbaugh and other Conservatives can make fun of women in the military, but that bench-riding football player will most likely get a college education and never serve while a women steps up and takes her place in the military.