Women in combat

So, I should’ve written something about women in combat before, but, nothing I read quite inspired me to do so.  Until the Kathleen Parker column about how it is such a bad idea:

This is a terrible idea for reasons too numerous to list in this space, which forces me to recommend my 2008 book, “Save the Males,” in which I devote a chapter to the issue. The most salient point happens to be a feminist argument: Women, because of their inferior physical capacities and greater vulnerabilities upon capture, have a diminished opportunity for survival.

More on this, but first let’s be clear. Arguments against women in direct combat have nothing to do with courage, skill, patriotism or dedication. Most women are equal to most men in all these categories and are superior to men in many other areas, as our educational graduation rates at every level indicate. Women also tend to excel as sharpshooters and pilots.

But ground combat is one area in which women, through quirks of biology and human nature, are not equal to men — a difference that should be celebrated rather than rationalized as incorrect…

The fallacy is that because men and women are equal under the law, they are equal in all endeavors and should have all access to the same opportunities. This is true except when the opportunity requires certain characteristics. Fact: Females have only half the upper-body strength as males — no small point in the field.

Further to the fallacy is the operating assumption that military service is just another job. The rules of civil society do not apply to the military, which is a top-down organization in which the rules are created to maximize efficiency in killing enemies. It is not just another job that can be managed with the human resources department’s Manual on Diversity and Sensitivity.

If I’m understanding what DoD has said, Parker is just flat out wrong in her presumptions.  Women in combat units are going to have to meet the same standards as the men.  Therefore, it matters not one wit that the average woman has half the upper body strength of the average man. A woman in an infantry, etc., unit is going to have way more upper-body strength than the average man– she’ll need to have the minimum that the Army has already designated for men in that role.  Also, fair to say that the average woman is less aggressive than the average man.  Suffice it to say that the type of woman who volunteers for duty in a combat unit is probably not lacking in aggression.

My understanding is that very few women actually want front-line combat jobs and that while many (though far from all) join the military for the warrior ethos, the vast majority of women do so for far more pragmatic reasons.  That said, a woman who has the physical and psychological toughness to join a Marine Recon unit, or something similar, is going to be an incredibly kick-ass woman who you don’t want to be against on the battlefield.  I think that when all is said and done this won’t be a very big deal because there won’t actually be all that many women who want front-line combat positions.  But I strongly suspect that the ones that A) are physically capable; and B) want to do this, will make extremely excellent soldiers that will only strengthen our fighting forces.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

7 Responses to Women in combat

  1. Bob Andron says:

    I dunno. While I’m all for equal opportunities and equal rights, this doesn’t sit so well with me. A woman captured – is in danger just as much as a man. The man may be tortured; but what about the woman, given the nature of any enemy (from time immemorial)? Is it different? THEY’re sure not interested in equal rights!

    Finally, what if the woman is injured, bleeding, etc. and needs quick physical medical attention to attend to the wounds? I am at a loss for words to describe my queasiness – and maybe its just me – and maybe its just my age – but I don’t think it’s a good idea – and I don’t think that my thoughts will make any difference whatsoever! But I voiced them. So there!

  2. Mike from Canada says:

    All these ‘attributes’, if not already present are trained into people. If you can’t pass muster, then you can’t pass, male or female. Men and women who want to join the Canadian armed forces must pass a physical and be able to do a minimum number of certain exercises. If they pass they are built up even more to the standards needed. If they don’t, they don’t pass.

    Aggressiveness is trained into people. People are taught to kill without hesitation. It’s not innate for people to want to kill, and the armed forces doesn’t want extremely aggressive individuals. They want well balanced people who can be trained to respond in different ways in different situations, not to just kill everything in sight. Because killing everything in sight is bad, as the USA has found out in Iraq, and Canada has found in Afghanistan. It causes hatred for generations, often exactly the opposite of what you want.

    Women often are able to far exceed mens ability to withstand harsh environments and pain. There is plenty of studies to show this. They have a higher pain threshold.

    Males and females have almost all the same anatomy except for a few parts. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with this during medical emergencies in hospitals and the emergency room. Women don’t get women only emergency room nurses or doctors. They get what they get. Almost any one of them would be damned glad just to be taken care of by anyone when in need.

    Torture is torture, it doesn’t matter if it’s done to a man or woman, it’s still torture. And men can also be raped. Or degraded while naked. Are American memories so very short? It wasn’t too very long ago an American armed forces woman was photographed denigrating a number of naked male prisoners. It’s not OK to torture men or women. It will happen occasionally and the result will be the same on a man or a woman.

    It may be fact that most women don’t have as much upper body strength as most males. Yet women tend to have more lower body strength pound for pound. This seems to be a plus for an infantry ‘person’. They don’t walk on their hands, they walk on their legs. Their packs are designed to distribute weight to their hips and legs, not their arms. There are a wide range of men in the armed forces and not all of them are Goliaths. Some are small.

    Modern armies are not about human strength, they are about using tools and human endurance. Tools are designed to be used by people, not eight hundred pound gorillas. Armed forces tools and equipment are generally designed to be used by almost anyone. If there is a special need for a large individual, it will rule out some men as well as women. I imagine such specialist positions would be rare because most tools and equipment are designed to be used by anyone in the forces.

    Equipment is being created by the DARPA that allows soldiers to carry more equipment, such as mechanical dogs or horses.

    Women have proven themselves in both the Canadian and Israeli armed forces. Probably others. In the US armed forces women already serve in combat positions and are put in front line areas. They have been tortured, killed and blown up. They have experienced hardship and had to carry large packs over long distances. But they don’t get the same recognition or ability to advance in the ranks. They don’t get postings because they don’t get recognition of combat work. And they quit because their careers are dead ended. The US armed forces lost good people for stupid reasons, like don’t ask don’t tell, and not allowing women to move up in the ranks. It’s crazy to spend large amounts of money training people, then lose them because of outdated thinking.

    I’ve also heard some US politicians say that the men might try to save women soldiers. I say they are trained to try to save each other no matter what their sex is, or what sex they prefer. This isn’t a downside, it’s the goal of every unit to care deeply about the survival of every other man or woman in that unit.

    Another complained that there may be sex or rape. There already is sex and rape in the US armed forces. The first is natural, and some commanders give out condoms and ensure they are available to all personnel. The second should be stamped out no matter where it occurs, be it in Fort Bradley or in Iraq. Be it to US women service people or to women in populations on foreign soil. It must be stopped.

    And yes, women get pregnant. But they don’t have to get pregnant and can be taught how to prevent that if they don’t already know. This happens to women all over the world and is no reason to prevent them from serving in dangerous places now, so it’s no reason to prevent them from serving in dangerous places in the future.

    Finally, no woman in the USA would find themselves in the armed forces against their will. It’s a volunteer armed forces. It’s a dangerous occupation no matter where you serve. Plenty of people die or get maimed in all armed forces in boot camp or training.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Great reply, Mike, I agree wholeheartedly with all your points.

    • Emily Garner says:

      i appreciate so much, all of the points you just made Mike. as a female in the armed forces, who has a great appreciation for how the armed forces once were ( a solidly male environment of warriors) its a difficult thing to find the balance in what we can give, and what we can learn, and also how to be aware of the environment we work in. i have afeminist streak a mile wide on a clear day, but ther eis a lot to be said for the strictly male sense of comraderie. and YET, we’re women, and we can still do this? there is no reason to not achieve everything within our reach, and to remember that when we conduct ourselves with the honor, dignity and Grace of a woman, then we are in no way the weaker sex. simply the opposite sex.

  3. Deborah Ferry says:

    Right On!

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