April 2 2013

Strong Women and Combat: Is There a Catch?

Charlotte Hays

The respected military historian Max Boot has an interesting take on putting women in combat.

Unlike Diana West (and me), Boot has no cultural qualms about placing women in combat. But he is adamant that standards of physical performance not be lowered to accommodate women. In a post over at Commentary headlined “Life the Combat Ban, Keep the Standards,” Boot writes:  

The endurance test is no anachronistic remnant of a sexist culture—it is the closest approximation possible in training conditions of the kind of stress and challenges that infantry marines will encounter in battle. Those who cannot pass the test in training should not be allowed to lead marines in battle: lowering the standards endangers lives on the battlefield.

Theoretically, Boot has a point. If only the rare women who can do all the things that men can do are in combat, they won't endanger lives. But I think Boot is being naïve. He is quite right that, if standards are maintained, few women will be in combat units. But he doesn't take the next step.

How long does Boot think it would be before feminists were suing because women weren’t better represented in combat units? Boot concludes with a little pep talk aimed at Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, urging him not to “knuckle under” on changes to the physical requirements. Good luck.

But it’s too late. The move to change physical standards has already begun:

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.

The standards—as Mr. Boot noted—are that high to save lives. It shouldn’t comes as a surprise that 17 percent of male Marines said in a survey that they will leave the service if women are put in combat.

 

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