Friday, February 12, 2010

The Army vs. Alexis Hutchinson

There's been a lot of attention paid to the case of Spc. Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother who resisted deployment to Afghanistan because she had no child care. Much of this writing has slammed the Army for threatening to court-martial Hutchinson. Instead, the Army instead demoted her to private, gave her an "other-than-honorable discharge" and took away her benefits.

I almost fear wading into this mess, but I've found a lot of progressive writing about the case deeply problematic. In general, the left has slammed the Army for prosecuting Hutchinson. The Army clearly deserves a share of blame here, but I don't think it's one-sided. Ultimately, the military serves a function. It's quite clear when soldiers sign up that they will likely be moved around the world. This is a stated part of Hutchinson's job. We hope it's not Afghanistan or some other war zone she and other single parents in the military are assigned to, but it happens.

So what is the Army to do? Can the military create multiple standards for how it deploys soldiers depending on the soldier's family situation? Is that tenable at all? I tend to think it would create logistical nightmares, divisions within the ranks, and at least the possibility for people who don't want to go to risky places to use these loopholes in the favor.

On the other hand, it's clear the military needs to think through these situations more clearly. There are about 10,000 single parents on duty overseas. Using Hutchinson's case to crush their dissent is unlikely to work and doesn't solve any problems. Rather, it seems the military needs a more concrete policy. Should it allow single parents to serve at all? Should parents be allowed to take their children with them, particularly in cases where an alternative caretaker is not a good option? Should the military run schools and childcare in relatively safe places so children could be in closer contact with their parents? I'm sure the military would balk at these ideas, but I think they should also take them seriously.

As a nation, we have huge problems collectivizing childcare among us. Conservatives attacked Hillary Clinton when she said it takes a village to raise a child, but of course she is correct. If we had national childcare policies, with good, safe, and loving options for children, perhaps we could deploy their parents overseas without these problems. Lacking that though, and since Americans seem adverse to any kind of social planning, regardless of the proven massive benefits it has brought in Europe, we are likely to see more families suffer in this way.