The ridiculous spectacle of rescued POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the feisty, ballyhooed warrior of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, which was butchered early on in Iraq, occasioned the usual war whoops. Yet no one asked a simple question: What in heaven’s name was a hundred-pound girl, barely out of pigtails and high school, doing in a combat zone?
The more cosmic abstraction of woman in combat evokes little if any debate these days, and what little debate we hear isn’t loud enough. Other women have been killed and captured, including at least one single mother, and it’s all just part of the modern military. As one lady columnist for the Washington Post triumphantly pronounced, the debate over women in combat “is over.”
How many Americans knew that?
Whatever the answer, a few days ago in this corner of cyberspace, this writer suggested a fine way to stop American wars of conquest: Conscript the sons of politicians and bureaucrats who start them. Nearly three dozen letters came in, almost every one posing this question with the corollary mandate: Why are you excluding the daughters? Let Bush send his daughters to war.
It’s a passionate and in some ways understandable reaction.
And most likely, it won’t be long before women, along with young men, are required to register for the draft; the explanation for that observation appears below. But first, an answer for those correspondents: The debate over women in combat turns on two questions: whether women can do it (handle the rigors of combat) and whether they should do it (is it morally acceptable and socially desirable).
In a word, no. It is un-American, un-Christian, and immoral.
The Practical Question
As a practical matter, 99 percent of women are unsuited for combat, and that includes flying combat aircraft and serving on combatant ships. That women do these things doesn’t mean they should; it just means the military has been feminized and civilianized, as any military man will admit after a few shots of Jack Daniels at the Officers’ Club, and of course, after his commanding officer leaves.
In the early 1990s, I was a staff member on the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. The evidence the commission gathered was clear on one thing: Women don’t belong in combat.
The evidence showed women lack the necessary physical prowess. The strongest woman recruit, generally, is only as strong as the weakest man. Given that the services try to weed out the weakest men, it’s counterproductive to recruit even the strongest women. And our volunteer military, remember, doesn’t get the strongest women; it gets average women.
As well, women suffer higher rates of bone fractures, and other factors such as menstruation, pregnancy and aging militate against recruiting women as combat soldiers. The 20-something woman, for instance, has about the same lungpower as the 50-something man.
Well, that might be true for ground combat, the feminists insist, but surely they can fly jets and bombers. It’s all just a Nintendo game up there. Again, untrue. Flying high-performance jets requires incredible conditioning and strength, particularly in the neck. Top Gun fighter pilots told the commission (and news reports later confirmed) that unqualified lady pilots routinely passed Naval flight training. At that time at least, officers were rated on the number of women they promoted. The result in one case? Kara Hultgreen, the first woman to “qualify” flying an F-14, was killed when her jet crashed because she couldn’t land it on the carrier Abraham Lincoln.
But let’s suppose women fly jets as well as men. What happens when one is shot down? The safety of the high-tech cockpit is gone, and she is alone on the ground, trying to survive. She is another Jessica Lynch.
As for the ships, consider the obvious: You don’t send a few nubile sailorettes aboard Navy ships with 1,500 horny sailors, no matter what the Navy says about its “leadership” correcting carnal temptations. As well, the strength deficit surfaces again in many shipboard tasks too numerous to mention here.
Military training is another area where the women fall flat; they cannot survive the same basic training as men, so it is “gender-normed.” That means the services (and military academies) have different standards for women than for men, and not just for hair length. If women were held to the same standards as men, more than 14 percent of our armed forces would not be women; they could not attend the academies. Oddly enough, the feminists aver that scrapping the double standard would be discriminatory! So much for judging someone on her true merit.
In the decade since the commission heard tons of testimony on these points, nothing has changed unless women have evolved markedly improved muscle and bone.
In reply to these unassailable facts, some suggest some women can meet the same standards with the proper weight training and physical-fitness regimen. That’s a stretch, but let’s say a few can. That takes us back to the weakest man vs. the strongest woman. What standard would these few meet? The lowest among the men? Even if they fell among men of medium strength, consider the prohibitive cost of selecting these Amazonian anomalies from among general population. And finding them assumes they want to be found.
A friend of mine, a former Green Beret, suggests an experiment: Let’s train two squads, one all women, the other all men, to peak physical and combat-ready condition. Then drop them in the woods for a war game and see who wins.
Point is, women get by in the military only because of men. As one Internet wag observed, the equipment one man carries into combat is nearly as heavy, perhaps heavier, than Jessica Lynch. Lynch and women her size do not have the strength to carry a fallen 200-pound comrade out of harm’s way. Forgetting about combat, some women aircraft mechanics need men to lift their toolboxes. Without men, the armed forces would collapse, and the more women the military enlists, the weaker it becomes.
As one commissioner remarked in exasperation: “Women are not little men, and men are not big women.”
The Moral Question
That leaves the moral and social questions, which commission member and Vietnam War hero Ron Ray addressed with this remark: “The question isn’t whether women can do, it’s whether they should do it.”
Women should only be used in combat, Ray argued, if national survival demands it; i.e., when the Indians are circling the ranch and the men are dead and wounded. Even then, using women would be a last resort. It would not become a policy. Such an emergency isn’t likely to happen here unless Saddam Hussein’s vaunted Republican Guards make a spectacular comeback and march into Jonah Goldberg’s and Sean Hannity’s neighborhoods. In that case, we know all the women will be fighting.
The kidding aside, the moral and social argument is one of “rights” vs. what is right. The feminists claim combat service is a “right.” Nonsense.
A battlefield is not a boardroom, a courtroom or an operating room, and the contrary notion is hyperegalitarianism rooted in feminist fantasies that women “will have made it” when they have commanded troops in battle. Women do not have a “right” to serve. Military service for volunteers is a privilege; for draftees, it is a duty. No one has a “right” to serve, a civilian idea equivalent to having the “right” to be a doctor or lawyer that has no place in the military, whose principal purpose is to kill the enemy and destroy his capacity to fight.
In “Crimson Tide,” Gene Hackman’s submarine skipper explained the point: The armed forces defend democracy, they do not practice it.
So much for “rights.” Now, as to whether women in combat is right:
At one commission hearing, Col. John Ripley, one of the most famous Marines who fought in Vietnam, explained combat for the largely civilian audience. A good picture of real combat, he said, is walking down a path to find your best friend nailed to a tree, or his private parts in his mouth. The feminists and military women in the audience gnashed their teeth.
Then again, they don’t understand that until Bill Clinton’s war minister Les Aspin changed it, the law excluding women from combat was always considered a privileged exemption, not sex discrimination. It was the thoughtful recognition that women should be spared the carnage and cruelty of war.
Because turning a woman into the kind of person who views such gore without blinking an eye, or who participates in the wanton killing war requires, is a step down to pagan barbarism and cultural suicide. In some sense, given what we’ve seen in the Gulf, we’ve already taken that step. But the feminists won’t quit until they get women into ground combat units. As recent events prove, no one seems to care what all this means not only culturally but also psychologically.
It will require training men and women to regard the brutalization of women, and a woman’s brutalization of others, as normal and acceptable. To train the men properly, a woman commissioner observed, we must erase everything their mothers taught them about chivalry; i.e., that a real man protects a woman from harm. Instead, they must be trained to brain a woman with a pugil stick in training. This truth raises two paradoxes.
On one hand, to completely desensitize the men, such training would be required. But the feminists don’t want that because women can’t meet the same standards as men; they won’t survive it. Yet how are these women to survive combat if they cannot survive real, not gender-normed, basic training? The men would have to protect them. Successfully integrating women in combat means this: A soldier must ignore the screams of a woman POW being tortured and raped.
On the other hand, while the feminists never stop the finger-wagging about “domestic abuse,” they importune us to inure men to the wartime abuse of women. Again, to some degree, we’re already there. The capture and torture of Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson, the single mother, was just another day in the war. But then again, the society that sent these young women to war is the same one that has steroidally-fortified men and women bashing each other senseless in television’s faux wrestling, which presents the illusion that women really can fight against men, as well as preposterous movies about women Navy SEALS, or women who receive the Medal of Honor while the men cower in fear.
Lastly, assigning women to combat, or even combat support units like the 507th, purposely subjects them to trials and tribulations for which nature has not prepared them. Such assignments endanger not only the women but also the men around them, who will redirect their attention from fighting toward protecting or helping the women. Men will do that because they are men, because regardless of feminist propaganda, good parents teach their sons about chivalry and honor. The Steinem brigade doesn’t like it, but it’s true nonetheless. Thus, men will die unnecessarily. That is immoral and unjust, as is ordering married men and women to live in close quarters where they are tempted to adultery. Some observers even question the legality of orders sending women into combat. But that is a debate for another day.
Ray’s point? Civilized Christians don’t send women and mothers to fight the wars. Chronicles editor Tom Fleming has observed that our nation has become anti-Christian. The saga of Pfc. Lynch and other military women proves him right.
The Final Answer
Back to that draft.
Don’t be surprised if women are required to register. Legally speaking, the draft exemption for women is tied to their exemption from combat. Now women serve in aerial and naval action. And given the proximity to combat of women in “maintenance” and other units, it won’t be long before the politicians, and bemedaled generals in the Army and Marines, hoist the white flag and put women in ground combat. Then, some young man will file the inevitable “equal protection” lawsuit and the exemption will fall, its legal rationale having been dropped.
Oddly enough, the silly clamor for women in combat assumes most military women want combat assignments. The commission found that they don’t. Only a few aging feminists do, and of course, they won’t be subject to the combat assignments or the draft. When you join the military, you join voluntarily, but you go where they need you. When women get their “right” to fight, they won’t have the “right” to refuse. And why would they? After that, again, comes the draft for women.
The answer to the many folks who suggest conscripting women is this: Real Americans don’t send women to war. Neither do real men. A genuine Christian wouldn’t contemplate it. The story of Jessica Lynch reveals an awful truth: All three are in short supply, particularly among American political and military leaders.
April 11, 2003
Syndicated columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send him mail] served on the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.