Women in Combat

Women in Combat February 7, 2013

Frances L. Clayton was a woman who, dressing and acting as a man, served in the Union Army during the Civil War under the pseudonym of Jack Williams. Handwriting on the back of the card indicates that she served in the 4th Missouri Heavy Artillery, Company I, and the 13th Missouri Frances Clalin Clayton was a tall slim housewife with 3 children when she did the unthinkable. Frances disguised herself as a man, and using the pseudonym “Jack Williams” enlisted with the Union alongside with her husband during the fall of 1861. Both Frances and Elmer were born and lived in the North, but despite living in the state of Minnesota they enlisted in a Missouri regiment. Frances as “Jack Williams” was fighting near her husband Elmer when he was struck and killed. Reports are that she stepped over his body and continued the charge as that was the order. She drank, smoked, chewed, and gambled along with the men, none of them ever suspecting she was a woman. After being discharged Frances tried to get back to Minnesota, and then decided to collect the bounty owed her deceased husband and herself, as well as to get some of Elmer’s belongings. Some thought that she may have wanted to reenlist, but she was unable to. Her train was attacked by a Confederate guerrilla party, and she was robbed of her papers and her money. 

She then went from Missouri to Minnesota, then to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and on to Quincy, Illinois. In Quincy a fund was created to aid her quest for payment by former soldiers and friends.



The morning the flu did a U-turn and came back at me with the fury of a lover spurned I was interviewed about this matter of women in combat.

Where did I stand on it?

Was I concerned that having women in combat would confuse gender roles?

What did I think as a Christian about having women in combat?

First of all, let me say I’m not all that articulate at 7 a.m. even on days when the flu isn’t in a fury. I should take my own advice and never agree to an interview until after lunch. But living on the West Coast can complicate East Coast deadlines. 

That said, here’s what I told them:

– Women have long had a role in combat. As Americans we hate the reality of that because we have this mythology we cling to — one that says we are the nation that doesn’t arm its women for war. It’s an archaic myth and never was true.

– All we have done now is bring the policy in line with the reality. As long as we continue to deny that we have women in combat we are able to marginalize women. Deny them combat-related promotions, etc.

– Embedded in the question of doesn’t this muddy the lines between gender-role is a troubling bias. One that says women in combat is going to effeminate men. Insert eye role here. I don’t believe in pre-ordained gender roles. Men and women are different, yes. But if you buy into pre-ordained gender roles then you have to revert to a culture that boxes people in. I happen to believe that part of a faith is being set free from all that nonsense. I have always been thankful that my mother-in-law taught my husband how to sew, how to iron his own clothes, how to care for children. (Now if only she could have taught him to cook!) And when you grow up in a household where men are pretty much non-existent as I did after Daddy died, you come to realize that there’s no such thing as a man’s role and a woman’s role. Everything in the household fell to us girls to do.

– Instead of asking what God thinks of women in combat, shouldn’t the question be what does God think of any of us in combat? I asked the interviewer. Because I’m pretty sure our faith compels us to love our enemies, to pray for them, to turn the other cheek. Oh. Yes. I know, you are rolling your eyes and thinking how foolishly naive I am. I just don’t understand that war is necessary evil. Well, you are right about that. We have yet to go to a war in my lifetime that was necessary. We don’t even try to implement what the Bible says about our approach to our enemies. Instead we get out the black paint and write God Bless America across the side of the bombs we drop. Does that make me a pacifist? I hope so. If I am wrong I want to be on the wrong side that says Jesus meant what he said when he told us to pray for our enemies and those who do us wrong. I happen to align myself with the poet William Stafford on this issue. It was Stafford who said,  Every War has Two Losers. 

It matters not whether it is their mothers or their fathers who march into combat, the children of heroes have glory for breakfast.

I know that all too well.



And you? What do you think?



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  • AFRoger

    The “what does God think of any of us in combat” question is spot-on. And careful exegesis of the Greek text behind the woefully inadequate “turn-the-other-cheek” rendering reveals it to be anything but an invitation or direct order to become a doormat. It’s a call to not respond in kind by being way smarter than that.
    Stafford’s analysis was low. Every war has three losers. Can’t leave creation out of the picture. Name me one war that has not been fundamentally destructive to the soil, air, water and living systems of the planet on which we all depend for life.
    Women in combat… Yes, perhaps it’s time to be more honest and more realistic about that. I’m not hopeful that we will be. After all, if we can’t be honest with ourselves about the monetary costs of war–and therefore agree to pay as we go (or at least a plan to finance it in the near term)–that pays the actual price, not a fictitiously low price, how can we be honest about the human, moral and spiritual costs of war?

  • It is as if the Old Testament has no relevance. There is nothing new about war. As long as humans inhabit this earth, there will be war. Too bad many use it for to push their agendas and points of view, and also to approach it in a manner that isn’t befitting the task. I don’t have any problems about how our Judge sees me, as a Christian, involving myself, by choice, in war. I don’t understand how pacifism gets any merit in our faith, as we know that evil will never retreat, and that governments on this earth do indeed bear the sword, not the individual. Also, what type of culture will send women into combat as infantry or combat arms when we still don’t allow women to compete against men in the Olympics or Martial Arts. Why not, since we are talking about sending them to fight and kill a man face to face? Does it make more sense to send them into filthy environments with very limited to non-existent bathing facilities with poor logistics? Do we ignore the sexuality between young men and women? Do we ignore the dynamics of male and female relationships and foist that on young men and women to sort out in some of the worst places on earth? I have been in the infantry at war 2 seperate times, and am also a father of a young woman and a husband for 21 years. Noone can say that women cannot do the job, but the real question is should they? To ignore our differences is to look GOD in the face and say that “HE should have just made 1 kind”. I would never want any woman to serve alongside me in those environments, would never want my little girl to be there. It is brutal, ugly, and is nothing like a stupid video game. No, war is no game at all. I would also ask that you re-think your assessment that none of our wars have been necessary in “our” time. I believe you are terribly wrong and many people this day now have the option to be free now that we helped them. Shipping lanes could not be free to navigate so that you and your culture could enjoy the goods we consume every single day. The global energy sector would be crippled by warring factions if not for our presence. We cannot do it all, they have a responsibility to make a correct choice. Too bad they choose to embrace the things they do.

  • valerie rhodes

    You had me until the silly peace lala land…..”coexist and tolerance” my words inserted, dangerous fantasy part.

  • Anitra Duke

    Have you, Karen heard of the documentry “The Silent War”? I have not seen it yet but did see parts of it on Katy on February 12. It is about women that have been raped while in the military and the horrible response our military has had for these women. I have to say that after hearing their stories, my veiws on this issues have changed. If our military refuses to take these attacks and do what is nessacary to keep these lady’s safe. HOW on earth can we ask these women to go into combat? How can they feel the needed trust for their fellow solders that is nessary for both men and women in battle. I am not by any means saying that all solders would rape their fellow solders but one is too meny. And at this point the military is not prepared to deal with this issue.