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GI Janes caught in culture wars crossfire

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Why did he do it? In mid-May, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sponsored an amendment to a defense appropriation bill to close the Army's Forward Support Companies to female soldiers. Had the House not abandoned the issue last week, the Army could have been forced to withdraw or reassign thousands of young women currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to one Hill staffer, "the adults" - presumably Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Army's senior leadership - got Mr. Hunter to dilute the amendment into a recommendation that the secretary of Defense review the issue. Others within the Beltway have taken to calling Hunter "American Taliban" for his opposition to American women going in harm's way.

This is unfair to Hunter, an astute and staunchly pro-military politician who is neither a child nor a terrorist. But the Army is increasingly and irrevocably dependent on women, who are now routinely serving - and serving well - in combat environments and situations. To remove them would be to cripple an Army facing a serious recruiting and retention crisis. So if Hunter did something so utterly at variance with military reality and necessity, there must be other motivations at work.

There are. The women-in-combat issue is now part of America's cultural wars as well as its shooting wars. But the real question isn't about women or war; it's about the 2006 election.

To explain, I borrow a bit from cultural historian Philip Gold, author of "Take Back the Right." According to him, Culture War I, a 1960s-to-1990s affair, ended in a conservative rout but also in the burnout of the left. This is hardly surprising. Most revolutions burn out, and the farther you advance, the more vulnerable you become to counterattack. And now it's Culture War II.

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