In our day young women are encouraged to reach out and fulfill their potential in many ways. But it is important that they also do some very careful thinking about how they will spend the years ahead of them. Used wisely, these years of preparation will fill their minds and hearts with eternal perspectives of the gospel. The Church cannot afford to waste any of its precious human resources; neither can our nation. Both must use human resources in ways that will be in keeping with true values and divine principles.
Women should approach their options and choices thoughtfully and prayerfully. When they choose to rear children, and thereby build strong family units, women should realize that such a choice is filled with challenge and fulfillment. It cannot be a “spare-time” option if we are to give our nation strong, stable families that are our society’s hope for survival. No society in history has survived the breakdown of the family.
So it must be with thoughtful hearts that we hear and heed our prophet’s present-day counsel to strengthen family units. The choices made in planning any career, occupation, or vocation should be those that will have the strongest influences for good on family units.
As a leader of nearly a million Latter-day Saint women in the Relief Society organization, I would use my full influence to persuade every young woman to accept with joy the opportunities of her divinely given role as a woman. Whether a student, homemaker, mother, wife, teacher, or whatever her chosen profession, a woman can stand for high ideals that will be an inspiration to all about her. She can be a guide to others and thereby help build strong characters, without which we can never have a strong nation.
The Lord has told us that men and women are not to be the same. We are of equal worth in his eyes, but we are not the same. So there are some activities for which women are better suited, and there are others better suited for men.
I’d like to give you an example. I would not encourage any young Latter-day Saint woman, especially one just out of high school, to go into the military services. Lately I have received inviting brochures designed to persuade young women to enlist in the military. I know that many factors, including the extremists of the women’s movement, have compelled the government to encourage and actively recruit women into the services. As I have looked at the thrust of their appeal, I see page after page enticing young women to sign up. The promotions for enlistment come in very appealing packages. The emphasis is on personal opportunities, travel, challenges, training, and money.
The success of this strong recruitment effort for women is dramatically apparent in the statistics. In 1975 nearly half of the freshmen in ROTC classes were women students. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense reports that “great strides” have been made in increasing the number of women in uniform. The number of women serving in the military increased from 55,000 in 1973 to 97,000 in 1975. The planned goal is 120,000 by 1977. This gives some idea of the appeal of the recruitment program. One recent article called it “The Latest Military Invasion—Women.”
I feel that the regimentation of military life places a great strain upon most women who enlist in the military services. It is difficult for them to live under the pressures of putting their lives so completely into someone else’s charge, resigning their actions to others’ disciplinary actions.
A recent letter from some concerned parents is typical. It illustrates some of the problems facing LDS women:
Dear President Smith,
Sometime ago we received a phone call from our daughter. She is in the army. She was crying over the phone; in fact, she was almost hysterical. She felt she had not one friend on earth. Those she thought were her friends had deserted her and were, in fact, persecuting her unmercifully, for one reason because she is a “Mormon.” To say we were in despair is an understatement. …
A second letter was enclosed with this letter. It read in part:
I am your daughter’s Relief Society visiting teacher. My companion and I were at first unable to locate her. When we did make contact, we found a depressed and mixed-up young lady. I’m not connected with the military, and I soon had my eyes opened to the unfortunate circumstances in which girls in the military may find themselves. How very difficult it would be to keep gospel standards in mind when one is continually subject to the rowdy, cigarette-filled barracks, and the regimentation of a job for which one is neither suited nor trained.
Since that initial visit, and on following visits as she became aware of the Church here, a distinct change has come over her. As far as her work permits, she attends ward functions, and everyone is aware of her friendly presence. One could almost measure the light that came back into her lovely eyes. She began to smile as she realized that people cared. You’re going to be welcoming home a very special daughter. I shall miss her because she is my friend. I shall always be grateful to her for showing me the change that can come into a life when you firmly grasp the iron rod.
I would hope that all Latter-day Saint women would think long and hard about the regimentation of enlistment in the military services, for our experience with women in the military is very disappointing. A career military officer, who is a good Latter-day Saint, observed, “I have seen both sides of the story: clean, wholesome, young ladies who have lived their religion and who have anxiously and effectively shared it with others; and then I have sadly witnessed some of these young ladies become engulfed in mire and filth. Unfortunately, the majority of the cases fall in the latter category.”
Very little moral guidance is provided in the military. Each person sets his own values. The result is consistent with current trends in society.
As Latter-day Saints, however, we are committed to live according to a God-given set of values. Moral integrity is not just what we say is right. Moral cleanliness and integrity will always be that which God has revealed. Whether we live them or not is a personal choice.
The special conditions of regimentation and assigned living quarters make it difficult to remove yourself from unwholesome environments and their consequent pressures and temptations. We must do our best to keep ourselves free from situations that might cause us to compromise our standards.
I raise my concerns about military service for you young women because I want you to make knowledgeable choices. At the same time, I recognize the great good of the military. I know of the good accomplished throughout the world by Latter-day Saint military personnel, both men and women. I have seen their good influence as I have traveled through the Far East with the General Authorities for the area conferences. Many people have accepted the gospel because of the teachings and examples of outstanding Latter-day Saint military men and women. I pay them high tribute. I know that we need such leaders who give their lives and their fortunes to protect our country, who will keep alive the ideals of morality, freedom, and Christian living. They are a strength to our country and to our church throughout the world.
I know that a dedicated, strong, and trained military is vital to maintaining a free society. Since its founding, however, this country’s freedom has been won and maintained largely by a male military. This force has been supported by wives, mothers, sisters, and sweethearts equally dedicated to the principles of freedom but, in my judgment, making their contributions to its cause in ways best suited to women.
I hope women will do in the future as they have done over and over again in the past—save families! I remember with pride the women who have been willing to help when the need arose. In the Revolutionary period, most of the women maintained the homes and families while their men were at war. But some of them, like Molly Pitcher, fired cannons when needed. Pioneer women built great, strong homes, but they fired guns when they had to.
In periods of national emergency, women have always been able to rise to the need. During World War II many thousands of women gave valued service in the military. But even in times of war, the homefront is at least as vital to victory as is the battlefront. Without it there can be no victories on any front, in wartime or in peacetime. Whatever else we do as women, we need to remember that God has given us the homefront to defend against all assaults.
There are many options open to us today. As Latter-day Saints we are caught up in the challenge of this change in society. We cannot with conviction turn our backs on the divine counsel that women are the homemakers of the world. As we build a strong homefront, we provide a supporting line of defense in times of war and peace that is absolutely critical and irreplaceable.
Even America’s national anthem reflects this thought. In the last stanza we sing:
America is the great on-going dream of liberty and democracy. The nation deserves our commitment to maintaining this dream. Our country’s essential ingredients are morality and integrity if we are to preserve this land. It is a land of personal choices and responsibility.
Nobody can tell you what the years ahead will hold for you. You can be sure there will be happy and tender moments. You can be assured there will be exciting achievements. You can be certain there will be down days and problems you cannot anticipate. It is the nature of mortality. Your real job is to meet whatever comes and refine your souls as you do so.
But you can map out a general path. You can commit yourselves to living the truth as you know it. You can, through your actions, tell the world that you are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, wherever you are and whatever you elect to do, you will be building his kingdom and preserving this great land for your children and your children’s children.