Grieving Nichola

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The Article

I have been grieving for Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian woman ever to die fighting in battle. For some reason this struck me as more than the death of someone who was clearly a wonderful person and a highly capable soldier. Like many Canadians, I am intensely proud of her and the life she gave for me, my family, my children, and my people. She is a hero in my mind. Nevertheless, I will always believe that no matter how good they may be, to send women to battle in place of men is wrong, and the fact that we do so makes me feel a little guilty and even shames me as a man. I can’t help that. It is what I feel, and deeply so. And it has left me angry at my country. But how does it make sense to be so proud of her soldiering, yet so upset that we sent her off to die?

Call this a knee-jerk, dinosaur emotion of an unrepentant male reactionary, if you like. That would be the expected and simplistic response. But I ask: How can it be right for a country filled with strong and vital men to send women into battle to die in their place? In their place you say? She chose that life! She loved what she was doing! True. All true. But while an individual’s choosing something, if it is good, makes it good for that person, it does not follow that somebody choosing something good for themselves makes it good, or right, or the best choice for society as a whole. Why do I and so many others feel this way? Why has every Canadian man worth the name felt an inner twinge of conscience over her death?

Well, for starters, women have a unique role in society that men can never fill: they give birth to other human beings and nurture human life in ways that a man cannot. All men know that. And most of us grow up with an inbred awe of, and respect for that natural fact of life. That is, for the intuitive knowledge that civilization comes to a grinding halt – we all die – if women, the mothers of us all, die out. So, it seems (again so strongly intuitively) that although it is a noble tragedy for a nation to lose a single life in battle, it is a kind of double tragedy to lose a woman’s life. For a young woman who dies in battle loses her own life and also the lives for which she was a living proxy-in-waiting. That is because all women hold in biological potential as many lives as they care to create. That is the deepest mystery of the female, and it is why to lose a woman in war is rightly felt as so costly to all. It is this that fighting men know in their hearts, and to deny this truth is to undermine what is sometimes called the life force, and therefore the very fabric of society.

For just as there is nothing higher or nobler for women than to create human life and nurture it, there is nothing nobler for men than to love and protect their women and children, and if necessary to die for them. All manly men feel this call deeply. It is strange to say, perhaps, and against all common sense, but many men love war precisely because it provides them with the opportunity to be heroic, to be wholly altruistic, to answer a higher calling of a kind that all women feel naturally in creating life, but that is not an inherent part of a man’s biological nature. So men must seek out the equivalent. So deeply do most men need and long for this that they will unhesitatingly face terrible odds in battle and willingly die to protect their fellows. Call it a guy thing. But this is why I say there is something deeply amiss with the values of our society when Nichola is killed, and the same day back home a few hundred thousand very tough men go to work, play their sports, then go out at night to drink and dance, and then go home for a good sleep. It is the truth of this stark contrast that hit me like a body-blow against the manliness of our country as a whole.

For just as it would be wrong and cowardly, and would instantly and naturally incur loathing in any manly man to watch another man beat up a woman for the last space on a lifeboat, it is wrong and incurs a silent shame in most men to see women go to battle in their place. Especially against a Muslim enemy they know is outraged to be fighting against women in the first place, and so is very eager to target them first. And what real man would argue that if we had two platoons of Canadian soldiers, one all-female, and one all-male, both equally prepared to attack the enemy, that it would be right or natural to send the women’s platoon in first? No. That would be against nature and against all manliness, and against the deepest male instinct and desire to fight and protect.

For these reasons, and so many more, I fear we are putting women at risk in war to satisfy a strangely powerful but misguided ideological craving for equality in all things. Indeed, it seems we crave such equality in inverse proportion to our loss of confidence in the great and natural truths of human life. So strong is this pathetic public ideal that we now demand that all things male and female that are clearly and naturally different must be officially denied and made the same at all costs, and we are prepared to fudge the truth and at great expense to change all social reality to make them so. Nichola died for her country. But she also died, whether she knew it or not, in the name of a stridently radical ideology that has been corrosive of the social and family fabric of Canada for more than three decades, and in the name of which she got to the front lines. She chose this because it was available. And it fulfilled her as an individual. So we have to believe she died happy. But as a society it is we who chose to make that choice possible to her, and I do not think any life, male or female, should be sacrificed to an ideal so clearly wrong-headed and against natural truth.

William D. Gairdner
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