Women in combat a sign of national death wish?
by Melvyn L. Fein
Columnist
February 04, 2013 02:03 AM | 1727 views | 13 13 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The story came and went with nary a ripple. The Obama administration announced that it would be allowing women to serve in front-line combat operations and almost no one objected. Left, right and center, the public seemed resigned to the idea.

On the left, there was a sigh of relief. Why, it was wondered, shouldn’t women be allowed to function in any job that men could? The military was no exception. Women too were able to shoot a gun or drive a tank; there was no reason to treat them as if they could not.

On the libertarian right, there was likewise pleasure. These folks believe that everyone should be treated the same way irrespective of gender. Since the identical rules are supposed to apply to all, consistency demanded that this be the case within the military too.

As to moderates, some of them were not sure that all women had the capacity perform every military task, but if the army was careful and allowed only those women who were qualified for combat to participate in it, they were OK with it.

The feminists, of course, were overjoyed. They insisted that physical strength was no longer needed in combat thanks to modern weaponry. Power steering and push-bottom missiles made it possible for women to do what only men had once done. So let them!

To be sure, some military men argued that upper-body strength retains its importance out in the field. Others, however, maintained that since women are already being exposed to enemy action, it is reasonable to make their new roles official.

So what are we to make of this? Are women just as capable as men when it comes to war? Let us begin with upper body strength. Historically soldiers had to carry about 60 pounds of equipment into combat. This was why when I was in the military so much training went into physical conditioning. To this day, I remember all those push-ups.

But can’t women do push-ups? The answer is that many can. Some women are as strong as men. Nevertheless, most are not. The solution, say some, is to make sure the standards demanded of males and females are the same. The trouble is that the contemporary Army has lowered them so women can meet them.

What then of the other disparities between the genders? For years, feminists tried to prove there were none. Yet there are, in fact, average differences in levels of aggressiveness. Still, does aggressiveness matter in modern combat? No one is talking about that at the moment.

But there is a far larger issue. Allowing women in combat is being treated as a matter of individual rights. Military operations, however, are a team activity. They depend on groups of individuals coordinating their actions so that they can defeat other groups of individuals.

This means that group cohesion is essential during warfare. When morale is low; when there are frictions between fighters, there is a danger that solders will work at cross-purposes. Worse still, if they lose their élan, they may break and run in the face of the enemy.

Will women on the front lines cause men to loose their sense of comradeship? This is no idle question. One of the problems encountered in Vietnam was that men were rotated as individuals, rather than as units, and hence they lost the required cohesion. Are we now asking for a replay of this tragedy?

The United States has not felt in mortal danger since World War II. People therefore feel safe using the military for social experiments. But the military exists to protect us from external threats. It was never designed to be a laboratory for social justice.

Will we one day wake up to find that our lack of concern for sustaining a vigorous military has made us vulnerable to a less finicky opponent? Few people are even conjuring with this question; never mind answering it honestly.

Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Comments
(13)
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PleaseDon't
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February 11, 2013
If I have to read one more article or comment where people don't know the difference between loose and lose, I'm going to go crazy.

A Ph.D...........really?
idf?
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February 08, 2013
Women have served in combat roles in the Israeli Defense Forces for decades. Doesn't seem to have hurt their military readiness or quality.

Kevin Foley
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February 07, 2013
@ Middleton - Oh please. Have you seen the names your team calls me? FYI, redistricting is done every 10 years after the census. Duckworth beat Joe Walsh, who like his tea party pal Allen West, accomplished nothing in 2 years and was thrown out of office.

Laura Armstrong
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February 05, 2013
Just a comment as a Marine wife: the hardships are enough already, especially when one's husband/father serves in special forces where they are at very close quarters in very volatile situations and away training ALL the time, without knowing the team will be co-ed. I've known some awesome women Marines, aviators, support personnel and I've seen the challenges both sexes face during training and deployments. Most deal with it pretty well. But even the most secure family doesn't deserve to have to deal with the co-ed issue in battlefield conditions (SEALS, Force Recon, Spec Forces). We take comfort knowing our guys are with their team buddies, not team chicks. Not scientific, not pc, but wives have it hard enough with multiple deployments.

Would Michelle feel good about Barrack bunking with Beyonce for three months at a time, sharing every intimate thing? Really doubtful....
B D Lane
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February 05, 2013
But the Obama administration says it shall be so. Surely this means Beyonce would be treated exactly like one of the other guys as she carried a 240 pound brother-in-arms off the field--over her shoulders--because it would be her job to not leave anyone behind.
Kevin Foley
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February 05, 2013
@ Armstrong - Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth was a "team chick" who took one for the team when her Blackhawk was shot down in Iraq and she lost both legs. She ousted some tea party idiot in 2012 and now serves in congress.

B D Lane
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February 05, 2013
I don't think, Mr. Foley, that Ms. Armstrong was in any way questioning the valor of women in combat-support units in the military. Her point is that no one seems to be thinking about the impact of gender integration of combat units on spouses who already have a lot on their minds. So I'm confused by your comments.

Because one wounded veteran--whose service we all honor--happens to be a Democrat, are you actually dismissing Laura's sacrifices as a military wife? Are you trying to imply that the families who support those sailors/soldiers/marines who go abroad have no role to play in this latest change because they might not--though their spouses might--lose life or limb as they execute their duty? Spouses have no legitimate concerns about how a new military structure might impact both them and their children? Create even more distance between them and their loved one? Sailors/soldiers/marines don't care about how the women (or men) they married feel as they are left behind? That deployments don't put massive strains on even the most solid of relationships? That it's silly to think about how pushing together two genders in an infantry or special ops unit for months on end has sexual and emotional ramifications that might very well impact a man or woman's marriage in a new way? That military spouses don't make huge--HUGE--sacrifices for their country even though they don't take up arms themselves? That they don't even have the right to feel new fears about new levels of intimacy that will be experienced without them on the battlefield?

Wow, man. That's pretty insensitive.
George Middleton
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February 06, 2013
@Kevin Foley. Two things stand out about you, Mr. Foley. First, you probably cannot even write your name without adding an insult to somebody. "Tea party idiot" was hardly called for, as a description of a fomrer U. S. Congressman.

Secondly, you never tell the whole story. One of the primary reasons Col. Duckworth was elected was that she was running in a district where the lines had been redrawn to heavily favor Democrats.

Taking nothing away from her service and her great sacrifice, for which the nation owes her an eternal debt, but, "Who would vote against a Wounded Warrior war hero?"
Too funny
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February 07, 2013
My only criticism of Kevin Foley's assessment is that "tea-party idiot" is a redundant phrase.

anonymous
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February 04, 2013
With all of the news of the sexual assaults in the military why would a woman sign up anyway? If a female wants to serve, I have no problem with that as long as they can pass the same physical requirements of a male. As mentioned in the article, the military is a group effort and all must be able to complete the assignments equally.
Kevin Foley
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February 04, 2013
The far right noisemakers who never served made the same case for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. A couple years later and, guess what? Our military is still the most powerful in the world.

Don't look now, but women have been serving in combat. Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in Iraq when her Blackhawk was shot down and now serves in Congress, is exhibit A.

In your view, Doc, is there any progressive initiative that won't cause the end of American civilization as we know it?
B D Lane
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February 04, 2013
Katie Petronio, a female captain who led troops in two combat support units in Afghanistan and Iraq, wrote a very detailed and reasoned argument for the Marine Corps Gazette about why she felt that women serving in the infantry is a horrible idea. Anyone interested in this issue should read it.

As a woman with a son with every intention of serving in the military, I only care about troop readiness. If Captain Petronio is right, this will hurt the military in general... and women soldiers/marines in particular.
Samuel Adams
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February 04, 2013
Dr. Fein, one aspect no one has discussed is a surpreme court decision that set precedence for our young ladies, 18 and above, to register for the draft once they became eligible to serve in combat.

Watch for the public outcry when that occurs. There is acceptance of women in combat, when they WANT to be in combat, but ours is still a society that will not tolerate young girls being conscripted in times of the draft. Selective service for our young women will still not be acceptable.
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