On The Relevance Of Celtic Christianity To Today

I have always had an interest in Celtic Christianity.  What is that, you ask?  Well, it’s what people like St. Patrick practiced, before Rome ordered them to fall in line with the official way of doing things.  Here are some of the tenets they followed, as described in a great post at the Celtic Voices blog by Cindy Thomson:

“· A genuine love of nature and a passion for God’s creation, coupled with a sense of closeness between the natural and supernatural.

· A love of art and poetry, seen within surviving illuminated Gospels and other works.
· Although they seem to have been theologically orthodox, there was a distinct emphasis on the Trinity, respect for Mary the Mother of Christ, the Incarnation and the use within worship of early forms of liturgy.
· Within their religious life we see an emphasis on solitude, pilgrimage and mission, sacred locations and tough penitential acts.
· There were few boundaries between the sacred and the secular
· We see an emphasis on family and kinship ties.
· There seems to have been greater equality for women than we see generally in the Church today.
· A generous hospitality was an important part of everyday life.”

Should Women Fight in Combat?

I’m stepping on a hornet’s nest with this post, and butting heads with Dr. Megan MacKenzie, a professor at the University of Sydney and who has published a large body of literature – whereas I’m just a keenly interested amateur (although I hope to become a professional at some point!).

Dr. MacKenzie has published a book, Female Soldiers in Sierra Leone: Sex, Security, and Post-Conflict Development, and has a twitter account at @meganhmackenzie.  She’s worth a follow, especially if you have any interest in gender and international security.

Today, Dr. MacKenzie has a post up on the Daily Beast regarding women in combat.  This will also appear in longer form in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs.  She and I have differing views on this and we engaged on twitter.  She accused me of stereotyping, which I thought was unfair, and since it’s hard to argue in 140 word bytes, I thought I’d post more here on my blog.

In her article, Dr. MacKenzie writes,

Yet the U.S. military, at least officially, still bans women from serving in direct combat positions. As irregular warfare has become increasingly common in the last few decades, the difference on the ground between front line and support roles is no longer clear. Numerous policy changes have also eroded the division between combat and noncombat positions. More and more military officials recognize the contributions made by female soldiers.

She then notes some of the major objections:

Unsubstantiated claims about the distracting nature of women, the perils of feminine qualities, and the inherent manliness of war hardly provide a solid foundation on which to construct policy. Presumably, some levels of racism and homophobia also persist within the military, yet it would be absurd, not to mention unconstitutional, for the U.S. government to officially sanction such prejudices. The U.S. military should ensure that it is as effective as possible, but it must not bend to biases, bigotry, and false stereotypes.

The whole thing is worth a read, so check it out.

My objection to women in combat is different.  I want to note that I firmly believe that women can fight as well as men.  In my experience (yes, it’s anecdotal) women are often better shots than men, and although I am in pretty good shape I’ve met women that are faster and stronger than I am.  Obviously, physical differences are not a good argument against including women.  And as far as constitutionally being able to fight, women have fought everywhere from the ancient Celts to Iraq.  Women in the Israeli army, and the female Russian snipers in Stalingrad were good soldiers.

My concern is demographics.  If we look at the experience of England in World War One, they lost a good portion of their “best and brightest” men on the battlefield, which had severe repercussions for the future of the Empire.  Granted, the United States hasn’t been involved in a major war since World War Two.  But if the US were to be drawn into one involving, say, China or a resurgent Russia, then we could be facing the loss of a generation of men AND women.  To put it crudely:  One man, twenty women can still produce twenty babies.  One woman, twenty men, gives you one baby.

Note that in an essay in Contemporary Security Studies, Dr. Caroline Kennedy-Pipe addresses my reasoning and says that States may force women to be “breeders” because of demographic demands.  Specifically, she states, “Arguably the most intimate of human activities for women were less important than the demands of male political and religious elites that women provide a functional and biological service to the state. This role of women as ‘breeders’ remains imperative for the health of many wealthy industrialized societies.”

Perhaps she’s right.  But if your country no longer exists, than your values may be overtaken by those who defeat you.  Without children to carry on your civilization, you’re in danger of losing it.  This isn’t a polar issue – there are shades of grey, and I think it’s worth exploring.

Still, there are women who are determined to fight, who feel called to that career.  Is there a way to allow them to participate?  I don’t know.  That may be a slippery slope.  I suppose a compromise would be to allow women to fight in combat that want that duty, but not to include women in a general draft.

What are your thoughts?



Mini-Reviews: Ralph Peters and More on linguistics

A couple of mini-reviews…
The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way
I don’t what it is about books on linguistics but I have had a terrible time finding books that do what they purport to do.  For example, it seems my quest for a good history of the English language continues.  In The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson takes the English language and describes it ad nauseum – he covers all the major periods of history but not in a coherent fashion.  Instead, this book reads more like a collection of entries on various facets of the language.  He provides plenty – and I mean plenty – of examples of different ways that words were formed, where they came from, and the differences across regions. He covers everything from naming conventions to pronunciation differences to swear words, and he covers the difference between British English and American English.  It’s great if you’re looking to win a trivia contest, but not so good for tracking the history of the language.
Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World

This weekend I read Ralph Peters’s book Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.  In the tradition of Robert D. Kaplan, he combines travel writing with political commentary.  The major part of the book is given over to his travels through the former Soviet Union in the mid-90s, and includes insight into Georgia,Azerbaijan, and Armenia.  His prose is beautifully written, and his insights into the situations there, although influenced by hindsight, are thought-provoking.  Later he recounts his involvement in the drug war in South and Central America as well as Thailand.  The book ends in 1998, when he retires from the army and becomes a civilian.  I’m hoping there will be a sequel.  Peters is a commentator on Fox news, and it should be noted that he has very strong opinions about things.  Overall, I think it’s worth a read for anyone interested in travel, COIN, or international security.

(Peters review originally posted at http://macengr.tumblr.com/ on 17 July 2012)

Books I’m reading

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by John Nagl

I’m filling in a gap by reading this book.  It’s referred to in a half-dozen counterinsurgency books and on of course on COIN blogs as well.  I’ve read Kilcullen and other’s, and I figured it’s about time to read Nagl’s book too.  It’s interesting, reading it from the perspective of the course of events in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is the paperback edition from 2005, and Nagl does have a foreword written that notes some of the lessons he learned serving in Iraq and where he got it wrong and right in the book.

Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen's Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, Revised and Expanded 

Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En

Traditionally security is evaluated from the vantage point of military force, and maybe less often economics.  Two areas that I’ve been reading lately are financial security (which is different from economic, and which I’ll touch on later) and food security.  My family joined a CSA this year, and it’s opened my eyes to the problems with our food system in the United States – everything from long supply lines to the health of our people, things that directly impact our security.

I’ll dig more into all three of these topics in future posts.