Yes, Women Can Fight. No, They Should Not.

I’m not always a supporter of tradition. I believe that each tradition should be examined upon its own merits to determine if it is still worth following. The tradition of having men fight wars while women do not do the fighting is worth following.

It would be nice if we didn’t have war. Nice, however, is not and will not be the reality in this world.

We have both myth and history which speak to women in combat, but until very recently women who participated in wars were in support roles–and largely insulated from the brutality of the battlefield. Yes, there were those women who disguised themselves as men so they could fight, in many cases, alongside their men or while in search of them. Again, these were a minority.

If they did fight in any numbers, it was often because their very homes were being overrun by the enemy and it was a question of fighting for one’s life and property. This type of defensive fighting was a part of a number of engagements on the North American continent from the 1600s into the 1800s.

Traditionally, women have not fought (on the ground as infantry) for several reasons, most of them related to the fact that women are wired different than men both emotionally and physically. Since they are, as a group, physically weaker, allowing them into infantry combat roles will require some serious changes. P&R (who unlike me, benefits from having been in the US miltary) speaks to this:

I have no doubt that there are women who could perform well as infantry in combat. I have significant doubts about the military’s willingness to hold women to the same standards as men when it comes to that performance. And I am absolutely certain that the issue is not a matter of women’s “rights” because no one has the right to be combat infantry. Nobody has the right to be an F-18 pilot, either.

He goes on to say that when women were first permitted to fly combat aircraft, they got a break on the rules. Why? Well, because they were women and the military tried to take that into account. That changed when it became apparent that different rules led to dangerous situations for both crews and aircraft. P&R’s concern is that the same thing will happen if we will allow, nay, encourage women in infantry combat roles.

I would add that I see the whole issue of women in combat infantry roles as an answer looking for a question. What issue would be solved by taking a high-stress, physically demanding situation and making it more difficult? As Major Judith Webb, herself a veteran of the military (though the British one) explains:

And the consequences to a fighting unit which must be tightly focused are potentially catastrophic. The mere presence of women also has a dramatic effect on the ability of men to be combat soldiers, as has been proved in those situations around the world where female soldiers serve on the front line.

For example, when a soldier sees a female colleague lying injured, he immediately feels his first duty must be to protect her rather than to stick to the military plan.

We must also accept, as we do in the world of sport, that women’s bodies are engineered differently and this puts us at a disadvantage in a situation which can test you to the limit of your physical endurance.

This is coming from someone who says at the start of the article that:

As the person who in 1982 became the first female army officer to lead men into the field, you might think I would be the last to say the front line is no place for women. But my views have changed since the 19 years I spent in the Army, first as an ambitious second lieutenant and later as a squadron commander.

So even though I was as pleased as anyone to see the pictures of Faye Turney reunited with her small daughter and husband, my first thought was that she should never have been put in the position from which she was captured in the first place.

Men and women really are different.

I noted the other day in a comment that employees benefit their employers by exchanging their labor for payment and the employer benefits by exchanging payment for an increase in the value of the product or service.

Similarly, the US military does not exist for the benefit of the enlisted personnel or even the officers. They are all there–wherever there is–to do an oft-times brutal and messy job. Whatever rules and regulations exist with regard to women serving in the military must not detract from the goal: winning wars–not making people feel good about themselves at the expense of reality and more human lives.