The furor over a recent Pentagon proposal to merge Army support units — which include women soldiers — with front line combat brigades continues. In my last article (Women Warriors and the American Empire) I expressed dismay that the American people were seemingly willing to feed their daughters into the morass of the Iraqi quagmire.
That last article prompted numerous emails which raised a variety of questions and accusations concerning these issues which I will herein attempt to address:
Point #1: Does my opposition to women in combat mean that I value the lives of women more than those of men?
If one accepts the egalitarian premises which currently dominate our culture, then the reluctance to utilize women in combat roles does, in fact, smack of "sexism". No parent wants to see his son come home in a body bag, so why should there be any increased worry for our daughters? What is good for the goose, as the saying goes, is good for the gander.
My answer to this question lies in my rejection of egalitarianism. The fact is that women do not have the same level of strength and endurance as men. I don’t say this because I dislike women (quite the contrary, I love and respect women), but rather because it is the simple truth. For those who disagree on this point, I would respond that your quarrel isn’t with me; your quarrel is with reality.
The presence of women in ground combat units will have numerous terrible repercussions. First, they will die in numbers far in excess of men. They will not generally have the strength and stamina necessary to function in a manner that maximizes their chances of survival on the battlefield. Second, since combat is a team effort, their presence will imperil the success of their units’ missions and will unnecessarily endanger the lives of their male comrades. Various nations over the past century have tested this premise (the most recent example being the Israelis). They all discontinued the policy when these facts became evident.
By way of analogy, one could ask if the life of a child is inherently more valuable than that of a healthy 20-year-old man. Philosophically, I suppose it is not. The death of any human being is a tragedy and all human life is equally precious. But any sane person would regard the idea of sending children into combat as an outrage.
Watching our young men die in an unnecessary war in Iraq is offensive (which is why I have opposed this war from the very beginning). Sending women or children into the fray would be an absolute atrocity.
Point #2: Shouldn’t women be allowed to continue in military support roles based on their individual abilities?
For the Army and Marines, my answer to this question is "no". This may seem somewhat arbitrary, since a woman can certainly perform as a truck driver or a recruiter just as well as a man.
So why not continue to allow women in these roles?
While this attitude may seem fair, it arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which the Army and Marines function.
First of all, given the above-mentioned physical limitations of women in combat, utilizing women in support functions limits the potential overall size of the combat force. While women can certainly perform as truck drivers or recruiters at a level equal to men, the reverse is also true. Men can function in these roles the same as women…and men have the added benefit of being available for quick redeployment to combat brigades should the situation warrant. All active duty enlisted personnel have gone through boot camp, and most have some higher level of combat instruction. In an emergency, these male soldiers in support units can quickly be given refresher training and sent to the front. Women can not. As a conflict progresses and the front line units suffer attrition, support units with large numbers of women cannot function as sources of replacement manpower (unless women are sent into combat).
Second, this egalitarian attitude towards support roles does not take into account the rigors of long-term assignments to combat brigades (even in peacetime). A career soldier spends 20 (or more) years in the Army. Over that time, he is rotated between high-stress combat units and other, less grueling back-up jobs (such as recruiting). A two or three year stint in an airborne division, for instance, demands a great deal of arduous training, numerous deployments, and a lot of physical wear-and-tear. These soldiers need to "take a breather" periodically and are thus assigned jobs such as recruiting for this purpose. Asking a soldier to remain in a combat unit for twenty years is like asking an NFL team to play a 52-week season. It simply won’t work.
If support jobs are filled up with women soldiers, there will be a shortage of these positions available through which men from front-line units can be rotated.
Thus, the presence of women has a ripple-effect which harms the overall effectiveness of the force. (I should add that this analysis does not really apply to the Navy and the Air Force. Combat roles in those services are different, and don’t generally involve ground combat. As such, women should be permitted, in my opinion, to serve in support roles in those branches of the military. But as far as the Army and the Marine Corps are concerned, the only women in those services should be in areas considered by the Geneva Conventions to be "non-combatants" such as the medical corps and the chaplain’s corps).
Due to the preponderance of women in support roles in the US Army, the Pentagon now faces a grim choice. As attrition takes its toll on combat units and the Iraqi insurgency grinds on, we are confronted with a serious shortage of infantrymen. The Army must now either begin rotating women into support units collocated with combat brigades, or compromise the mission entirely.
The chickens of political correctness are about to come home to roost in the form of a wave of female casualties in Iraq…all because the brass didn’t have the guts to stand up to the feminists back in the 80’s and 90’s when pressure was exerted to allow women into continually expanding support roles ever closer to the front-line troops.
Once again, we will see tragic proof of that old paleoconservative dictum: ideas have consequences. And the consequences of this particular idea are going to be very tragic indeed.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.