Leon Panetta announced today that he is lifting the ban on assigning women to direct combat units. As a Navy vet who has served on a mixed ship, I can’t tell you just how bad of an idea this is.
But I’m going to try.
First of all, this is not about whether a woman is capable of performing the job. I know several women who I firmly believe could handle combat every bit as well as a man. In fact, a couple of them could certainly handle it better than I could. Second, it is not about whether a man can function in a combat unit with a woman beside him. Again, I am certain that there are men who can adapt to just about any condition or handicap and still perform their duty.
The problem comes from the incredible costs that will accrue, not just to the military, but to our society if we truly want to make this work. To see what I’m talking about, let’s just start with a few basic propositions and see where they lead us.
First of all, let’s consider the draft. Historically, only men have been eligible for the draft, based on the now outdated notion that soldiering is a man’s job. If women are eligible for all roles in the military, then there is no real reason to exclude them from the draft, or from registering for Selective Service. So my first question to you all is “As parents, do you want your daughters to face the possibility of involuntary military service in times of war?”
Next, consider the fact that traditionally, men have not been able to selectively choose non combatant roles. Sure, you can ask for those duties, but the military places you where they need you. Again, until now, women have had to push to get assigned to combatant roles. Now, there’s no reason why they can’t be assigned to those roles, whether they want them or not. It’s the exact same scenario men face when they volunteer. So my second question for you is “As parents, are you comfortable with the idea that your daughter may be assigned to a combat role, even if she doesn’t want that?”
Finally, consider training. Up until now, women have been assessed at lower physical performance standard than men. For example, men aged 17-21, the minimum number of pushups is 42. Women in the same age group only have to complete 19. This difference was based on the recognition that women as a rule have less upper body strength than men, but also on the acknowledgement that women were not going to be in direct combat. Since the latter is no longer true, it would not be fair to the men on the front line to have to rely on a platoon mate that could not meet the same physical standards. So my final question is “Are you as parents willing to accept that your daughters will have to meet the same physical standards as men in order to join the military, no matter how difficult that might be?”
Now, as you read through the above points, I am certain that some of you came up with all kinds of reasons why my points shouldn’t apply, which brings me to the next point. What do you think the effect on the men will be when they are forced to go into combat with women who can’t measure up physically, who aren’t required to make the same sacrifices, who are treated as ‘more equal’ than they are? A unit is built on trust; then you know you have a weak link, how can you build that trust? The true answer is that you can’t. Not only can’t you build trust, you have created a breeding ground for resentment.
I know what I’m talking about because I’ve seen it in action. I spent nearly three years on a support ship. the USS Shenandoah. As a non combatant vessel, the Shenandoah had a mixed crew and I saw first hand the corrosive effects of a unit where there were different standards for men and women. I can only imagine how much worse those tensions will be in a unit facing actual combat.
But let’s assume for a moment that none of this matters, that all of these problems can be overcome through mandating equal physical standards and intensive training and conditioning of our soldiers. Let’s consider the cost to our culture.
It may not be politically correct today, but I was raised to celebrate the differences between men and women. I was also raised to believe that men have a responsibility to use our greater physical strength (Yeah I know. Some women are just as strong or stronger than the average man. See my first point above. But the fact is that on average, men are larger, stronger, and more aggressive than women.) to protect those who are weaker than us, and that includes, on average, women. In fact, I believe the best parts of our culture are based on the idea that the strong act to protect those who are less strong.
It’s the whole Camelot ideal.
What happens when we lose that ideal?
And sure, there’s a pride component to this. I will not have a woman fighting my battles. Call me a sexist or a chauvinist and I won’t disagree with you, but the fact remains that there are some very sound evolutionary reasons why I feel this way, not the least of which is that, speaking strictly in terms of species survival, men are more expendable than women. One man can produce a virtually unlimited number of babies in a very short period of time, meaning that our survival requires more women than men.
What happens when we mortgage that survival by sending our women to fight?
One last thought and then I’ll go. Why is domestic abuse considered so heinous? When two men fight, strangers, brothers, friends, whatever, we see it differently than we see a man beating up a woman. Are we wrong for doing so? Is there no difference between a man beating another man and a man beating a woman? If women are capable of holding their own in combat along side of men, then why should assaulting a woman be any different than assaulting a man?
And make no mistake, as we send women into combat, that idea is going to permeate our society. How many ideas that we now take for granted will disappear as unintended consequences of this action?
UPDATED!: In the comments below, one person suggested that since I was on a ship at sea, and not on the front lines, I probably shouldn’t be sharing my thoughts on this issue. While I disagree with her premise completely, and explain why in my reply, I thought I’d add this link to the post, demonstrating that my observations are shared by other military veterans. The author, Mackubin Thomas Owens, served in Vietnam, and was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. His reasons for saying putting women on the front line is a bad idea?
First, there are substantial physical differences between men and women that place the latter at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to ground combat. Second, men treat women differently than they treat other men. This can undermine the comradeship upon which the unit cohesion necessary to success on the battlefield depends. Finally, the presence of women leads to double standards that seriously erode morale and performance. In other words, men and women are not interchangeable.
Sound familiar? (Hat tip to Powerline Blog)