Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Women in Combat?

You might have missed it but recently two female Army reservists decided to sue to have combat operations opened to women

Command Sergeant Major Jane Baldwin and Colonel Ellen Haring, both Army reservists, said policies barring them from assignments "solely on the basis of sex" violated their right to equal protection under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.  "This limitation on plaintiffs' careers restricts their current and future earnings, their potential for promotion and advancement, and their future retirement benefits," the women said in the suit filed in U.S. District Court.
I thought this was interesting because it appears at first glance that the women are more interested in their personal career options and monetary gain than they are in a supposed class based grievance. Of course to be fair, their personal interests and the larger class based unfairness would be congruent in this case if you buy their argument, which I don't. However, I am fascinated by hypocrisy as you probably can tell by now and this entire issue is full of hypocrisy on all sides.
I think the differences between races are usually small and often caused by environmental factors.  "Race" itself is often something which is ill-defined and somewhat arbitrary and can change in meaning from time to time or society to society. What is "white" or "black" in Latin America or the Caribbean or the Middle East may not be so in the United States. The racial biological differences simply don't exist to the level some think. But the biological differences between men and women are real. They are also shaped by environmental factors of course as none of us grow up in a vacuum but there are some very obvious irreducible differences between men and women. In a wartime/combat situation this comes down to the fact that men are stronger and more aggressive while women are simply worth more to their society reproductively. There have not been, as far as I know, any successful societies that routinely sent women marching off to war while the men stayed home.  No one ever says "save the men and children first" or angrily points out an enemy's perfidy by claiming "they killed innocent men".  No parent ever asks a prospective daughter-in-law how she will provide for and protect their son.  Men are, by and large, the replaceable gender when it comes to such things. That's not a complaint. It's just a fact.

Now in the modern feminist world we are not supposed to notice such things and if we do notice them we are supposed to believe that they are only and always the product of invidious discrimination. Well maybe. Maybe we really can go against thousands of years of evolution and turn the gender with seven times less testosterone into soldiers and warriors that are just as fierce as their male counterparts. After all, war has changed as the women litigants point out. A roadside bomb doesn't care what gender you are. And considering some of the people we're fighting against or for that matter allying with these days a captured male soldier might be in just as much danger of rape as a female one.
The problem though is that at the very same time that some women are chafing at the bit to be formally assigned and not just attached to combat units, we are also told that violence against women is the worst thing that can happen and therefore we need the Violence Against Women Act, tons of spending on domestic violence and anti-rape programs, etc. In fact the military itself has a big problem with rape. So I have trouble understanding, how if violence against women is such a horrible event, why we would want to place more women into an arena of organized brutal violence. 
The other issue is of course one of standards. Women soldiers do not have to meet the same physical standards as men soldiers. Some of them could no doubt but most could not. Do we believe that the standards are specifically designed to give a soldier and his unit the best chance to survive in combat operations ? Or do we think the standards are created for other reasons. If I were in combat I would want to know that the person beside me could carry their own load and if need be pull, carry or lift me out of harm's way. If I had good reason to doubt that would the unit be as cohesive? 
These pics of Air Force reservists are somewhat NSFW.(nursing mother and partially visible chest) These are not combat troops. But the pics exemplify my worries about women in combat. These images are simply not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of US combat personnel in particular or soldiers/warriors in general. In fact they are virtually the antithesis of what I think soldiers are about. There were no new mothers landing on the beaches of Normandy or making the last stand at Thermopylae. There have been about 1.3 million US military personnel killed in all US wars since the Revolutionary War. From what I can tell somewhere between 1000-2000 of those people were women. Now you will often hear women talk about all the male presidents or CEO's or other people at the top of the heap while intimating that women need to have an equal number of those positions for the next millennium or so. But it's quite rare that you would see women clamoring to make up an equal number of those killed, wounded or maimed in war so perhaps I should applaud the women litigants. Equality and all that.
I believe in legal and actual equality between men and women. I supported the Lily Ledbetter Act and oppose discrimination in hiring or promotion.  I think that every man and woman has some characteristics within that are stereotypically associated with the opposite gender. And I think that by and large women and men are more alike than different. But equality does not mean that men and women are identical. Because we aren't. To quote Meg from Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle In Time, "Like and equal are not the same thing at all". Women do not currently play in the NFL because they are not capable of doing so. There's no shame in that. The vast majority of men are not capable of playing in the NFL (or dare I say of being a combat soldier). But in the NFL, as dangerous as it is, usually your life and the lives of those around you are not at risk. If women don't play in the NFL, which is after all a sport, why would we want women in the exponentially more demanding and dangerous combat arena. It doesn't make sense to me. The military is there to kill people and blow stuff up. It is not there to provide day care, career advancement, nursing stations or anything else along those lines. There are ways for women soldiers to serve their country proudly and with distinction without being in direct combat.
The obvious parallel of course is between the opening up of formal combat roles to black men and the desegregation of the US military. I don't think that's a good analogy. Even before Truman's order to desegregate black men had fought and died in every war America ever had. The battle to lift formal combat restrictions was based on the black male desire to prove themselves as men, get rid of segregation and discrimination in the larger society, including but not limited to voting rights. The lawsuit about women in combat seems to be as I wrote a more personal selfish desire for career advancement and perhaps a larger activist desire to blur or eliminate differences in gender roles.

Well to each his/her own but I actually like distinct gender roles and don't feel that they are automatically oppressive. But as you've probably figured out by now I am not a feminist. Not even close. I do believe in equality and if the women could meet the exact same standards as the men I would tell them to rock on with their bad selves and cheerfully send them off to combat. Yeah right. But I am no military expert and have no military experience. These are just my ramblings.

What's your take?

1) Should women have the right to serve in combat?
2) Should combat groups be gender segregated?
3) Should physical standards between male and female soldiers be made the same?
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