The ancient Greeks were usually at the forefront when it came to fundamental knowledge. “War is the father of all things” said Heraclitus, for example, and essentially nothing has changed in the two and a half thousand years since then: The military is the most important driver of innovation in human history.

Many things that were originally conceived for defense have eventually left their military niche and brought epochal benefits to civil society. The internet for example. flying drones. Penicillin. And: really good childcare.

The latter applies at least to the USA, a country that otherwise does not exactly stand out for its progressive family policy. The care facilities on the military bases there are among the best in the country today.

Behind this is of course no coincidence or a sudden discovery of a love of children in the Pentagon officials, but the hard-hitting realization that a country, even an entire society, simply falls short of its potential without reasonable, reliable childcare. And in an emergency is not able to defend himself.

In the 1970s, generals in the US Army faced massive recruitment problems. Conscription had fallen, and as soon as soldiers entered the parenting phase, they threw in the towel. Soldiers didn’t have to do this in the first place: they were simply released if they became pregnant. A personnel policy catastrophe, especially after the Vietnam disaster.

The better-qualified candidates wanted to be retained, but the women among them could not and would not do without. So the Pentagon pragmatically set up a new, nationwide childcare system. The US Army’s personnel problems were solved.

The generals had simply recognized that a society in crisis cannot afford to bind women to looking after their own children. It’s always like this: when mothers are needed elsewhere than at their children’s side, childcare suddenly works.

In Germany, of course, this was recognized. As Minister for Family Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen made the big political promise of reconciling family and work: the legal entitlement to a daycare place for children under three, the expansion of crèches and kindergartens and parental allowance for mothers and fathers.

That should pave Germany’s way into a family-friendly republic. That worked a bit, the birth rates rose again recently. The birth deficit alone is not compensated by this.

The reality, however, lags far behind the political promise. The two years of the corona pandemic have now revealed the abuses even more clearly.

The care of the children is inadequate, the shortage of skilled workers is very real. Up to 230,000 educators could be missing in German day-care centers in the next few years, the city council has extrapolated. A fairly recent survey by the German Kita Management Congress shows that the situation has worsened drastically in the past year alone.

Around 9,000 facilities were only able to meet their requirements for supervision on almost half of the days. This means that these facilities were only able to maintain operations on average more than every other day at risk to the safety of the children. A system that is constantly on the verge of collapse.

This is a heavy burden for families. However, there is no relief, on the contrary. The legal entitlement to a crèche place for children from the age of one suggests that parents would be available for the labor market again at an early stage. Almost everyone who puts a child in a day care center knows that this is nonsense.

And yet, in more and more partnerships, both parents work. Incidentally, not for reasons of self-fulfillment, but out of economic necessity. High housing costs and inflation add to the bill here.

Studies have shown that those who compensate for this system are the mothers. They (and we’re talking about much of society) pay for it with more part-time work arrangements, lower pay, lower career prospects and often measly pension entitlements.

A society can only afford poor childcare if it believes that women can be dispensed with in other areas. It won’t survive a real crisis like this.