January 31 2013

Dempsey: Yeah, We May Have to Change Physical Standards

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“Women may be ready for combat, but Republicans aren’t,” the editors of National Review write this morning.

It may be that the GOP is simply weary of being vilified. It was portrayed as anti-gay during the struggle over homosexuals serving openly in the military, and we all know how effective the spurious “war on women” rhetoric of the Obama campaign was.

But the issue of women in combat is more important than gays in the military. This is because women, not to put too fine a point on it, tend to be less strong than men. Those who would ordinarily oppose the dilution of military strength are being told that women will have to measure up to the same standards as men.

Don't believe it. National Review calls this one of the “naïve assumptions” on which support for women in combat rests. The editors explain:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has already breached that defense: “If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?” Thus were the Armed Forces welcomed to the world of disparate impact that corporate attorneys have already come to know so well.

A second naïve assumption is that women, unlike men, will have a choice as to whether to go into the thick of combat. Retired Colonel Martha McSally, the first female fighter pilot and a supporter of putting women in combat, has said that opening combat to women will enhance recruitment. I agree with the National Review editors that there is a more likely outcome:

Many women who have volunteered to serve our country in the military do not wish to play a combat role. As people come to see that a woman who joins the military may be effectively signing up for the possibility of combat, the number of female applicants may actually decline. The military bureaucracy will presumably see that as another reason to lower standards.

Mackubin Thomas Owens has a good piece on “Coed Combat Units” over at the Weekly Standard. Owens makes many of the same points the editors make. He also points out that women are more injury-prone than men and that at any given time anywhere from 10 to 17 percent of women in the military are pregnant.  He also makes this compelling observation about unit cohesion:

The glue of unit cohesion is what the Greeks called philia—friendship, comradeship, or brotherly love. In The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, J. Glenn Gray described the importance of philia: “Numberless soldiers have died, more or less willingly, not for country or honor or religious faith or for any other abstract good, but because they realized that by fleeing their post and rescuing themselves, they would expose their companions to greater danger. Such loyalty to the group is the essence of fighting morale. .  .  . Comrades are loyal to each other spontaneously and without any need for reasons.” 

The Greeks identified another form of love: eros. Unlike philia, eros is individual and exclusive. Eros manifests itself as sexual competition, protectiveness, and favoritism. The presence of women in the close confines of a combat unit unleashes eros at the expense of philia. As the late Charles Moskos, the great military sociologist, once commented, “when you put men and women together in a confined environment and shake vigorously, don’t be surprised if sex occurs. When the military says there can be no sex between a superior and a subordinate, that just flies in the face of reality. You can’t make a principle based on a falsehood.” Mixing the sexes and thereby introducing eros into an environment based on philia creates a dangerous form of friction in the military.

We have heard lately a lot about the heroic Israeli female soldier who stopped a suicide bomber at the border. We have heard less about the woman in the same unit (the Caracal unit) who hid behind the wheel of her vehicle and refused to fire. I mention this not to be cruel to the woman who didn’t engage in combat. I say it only to call your attention to the one-sided reporting on the issue in the mainstream media.

I’ve been brushing up on the arguments concerning women in combat and have come across Martin van Creveld, a writer on military strategy who was formerly at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He debunks the notion that the IDF has fully integrated women into combat. He also makes this point:

Last not least, as figures from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show, relative to their number military women are 90 percent less likely to be killed than military men. In other militaries around the world, incidentally, women’s share among the casualties is much lower still. Uniformed women, in other words, are not pulling their weight. Whether this is because public opinion will not stand for large numbers of dead servicewomen or because the women themselves have found a thousand ways to avoid going where the bullets are is immaterial.

Probably both factors play a role. Instead of fighting, women get all the cushy jobs. For anyone who serves in the military, or whose livelihood depends on public approval, the prevailing climate of political correctness makes it impossible to mention the problem even in a whisper. Obviously, though, it is bound to have some effects on the morale of male personnel.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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