The case against women in combat
As the Islamic State group amped up attacks around the world, the Pentagon responded by bravely announcing that American women will now be put in direct ground combat.
Whereupon “military intelligence” secured a permanent place in the Encyclopedia of Oxymorons.
The new decree opens 220,000 military jobs to women — including Army Special Forces and the Navy SEALS.
“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat ... and everything else that was previously open only to men,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Commander in Chief Barack Obama promised an even stronger military, as “our armed forces will draw on an even wider pool of talent.”
Notably missing from the historic news conference was Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Marine commandant. Dunford, apparently unwilling to ignore experience and empirical evidence, had recommended that infantry and armor positions remain closed to women. The Marines were the only service branch to request the ability to make exceptions to the new rule.
There’s plenty of evidence that women and men as groups aren’t equal in the demands of combat, even if some women may be and some men may not be. The few and far between shouldn’t be the basis for institutional overhaul, though this seems to be our template for mandates these days.
Among the evidence ignored by Obama, Carter and others are the results of a nine-month field test by University of Pittsburgh researchers who found that all-male USMC units outperformed mixed-gender units in 93 out of 134 (69 percent) ground combat tasks.
This observation is no criticism of military women, who are just as determined, courageous and committed as their male counterparts. But contrary to what our government seems to think, the requirements of combat can’t be compromised to meet social goals of gender equality.
Likewise, proud assertions that allowing women in combat is yet another advance for equality akin to racial integration and acceptance of gays is nonsense. Gay men and black men are still men — and the vast majority of women in close combat will never be their equal.
Because of physical differences, including the fact that men have 40 percent more upper body muscle mass, women are at a disadvantage in combat, which often requires long deployments of deprivation and hardship, including toting 60 to 100 pounds of equipment.
It also means fighting close up — aggressively pursuing the enemy with the expectation of possible physical contact. Plainly put, women do not have an equal opportunity to survive. If this isn’t a feminist argument, I don’t know what is.
But many feminists don’t recognize it — or refuse to — for reasons that are understandable, if misguided. Being blocked from combat prevents women from rising to the highest ranks. Rather than tweak the rules of promotion, a more sensible approach, the military is placing women where they don’t belong and risking military effectiveness.
Although Carter said that women won’t likely qualify for many of the jobs and that posts will be assigned based on merit not gender, only a fool believes this will last for long. How soon before men begin complaining that women are given special treatment? Furthermore, once women are assigned to combat, there will be no argument against drafting women.
The catechism of choice suddenly means no choice.
Arguments for women’s inclusion in combat, meanwhile, are far from convincing. Often cited is the fact that women found themselves on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan — against military rules at the time — and were killed and maimed the same as men. This seems hardly a case for assigning a job title to justify a mistake.
Other problems will present themselves in time, but we already know what they are. When women are treated differently or aren’t up to the task, men will resent it, damaging the unit cohesion that’s crucial to survival.
As a Marine combat veteran who commanded both an infantry platoon and a rifle company in Vietnam wrote me in an email, “It’s hard for me to imagine how women ... under heavy fire and carrying 60 pounds of equipment, would have survived.”
Another veteran of the same war summed it up, if indelicately: “There is a difference between a bunch of candy-ass officers trying to get promoted for being politically correct and a combat battle-ready Marine unit in the field.”
What he said.