- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Generally I concur with pro-lifers, but like the ubiquitous American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), they missed the mark on the issue of dismissing pregnant cadets at Virginia Military Institute (VMI).

Military academies, be it VMI, the Citadel, or West Point, exist for only one reason: to build an honorable, dedicated, and competent fighting force that will put the defense of our country first. This means the criteria for success are going to be different. It means students will be held to a higher standard. It means following rules, many of them arbitrary. It implies stipulations that would be challenged under different circumstances.

Strict rules are part of the learning process at military schools. If cadets are overly sensitive, if they cannot control their impulses, cannot abide by the decisions of their superiors, subordinating their personal wants to the needs of the country at least for a finite period of time, then maybe they aren't cut out for a military career. Better to find out sooner than later, when people's lives are on the line.

Prospective cadets know when they apply to VMI and similar institutions that the priorities are going to be different. Strictures against fraternization, and other constraints not applicable to a civilian setting, exist for a reason. The decision to dismiss pregnant students at VMI, as well as their partners, if discovered, is not about undermining families or encouraging abortions. It's about obedience, dependability. It's about the capability to go into dangerous situations that military personnel often must face. Most importantly, it's about propriety.

Not everyone is suited to a highly disciplined lifestyle indeed most are not. But if one is attracted to military service as a career choice, then it is necessary to have a highly developed sense of propriety a virtue that gets short shrift today. For a career officer, there is a time and a place for courtship and family, and status as a student in a military academy or as a conscript in a bootcamp aren't it.

Propriety is central to many issues today school dress codes, First Amendment rights, sex education, professionalism in the workplace. Yet, it is rarely mentioned. It's hardly surprising, then, that recent controversies surrounding the various facets of military life from women in combat, to integrating females into all-male military schools, to pregnant enlisted women on naval vessels fail to address propriety. We hear about soldier morale, creating team players, building trust, and even military preparedness, but the thread running through them all is propriety.

Propriety encompasses more than mere convention or tradition. It means certain actions are appropriate in certain times and places, but not in others. Propriety was my husband quietly telling my father 33 years ago (when he was still my fiance) that if he got drafted prior to the wedding, given the probability of service in Vietnam, it might be wise to postpone the wedding until the threat of armed combat there was over to ensure that he could provide for me and any children. Consider instead the soldiers who impregnated civilians in that country. They typically created terrible situations for their offspring, and in so doing diminished our nation's reputation to that extent.

VMI neither stated nor implied that families are bad, that pregnancy or sex is wrong, or in the words of National Right to Life spokeswoman, Laura Echevarria, that "young women are being punished for being pregnant." What VMI did say, in effect, is that starting a family is not appropriate while you are a cadet. If pro-lifers charge that VMI's position encourages abortion, it's a fallacious argument. Self-indulgence promotes abortion.

An institution has the right to set its own standards, and having done so, to enforce them. It's time to stop tearing down all our institutions in the name of this or that cause. If we continue to do so, we risk forcing our most cherished icons to accommodate the strait-jacket of political correctness. Such shackles are an affront to our way of life no matter which side does it.

Beverly K. Eakman is the author of "Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education."

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