This is a canard, and has been a long-running liberal theme in regard to the military; the notion itself indicates how little our liberal leadership understands combat. Indeed, this is another classic example of textbook versus real-world Smart Thinkers.
The Czar will confess he himself was turned around on this issue decades ago. When this became a brief talking point in the Carter administration, the Czar was all for it. Heck, yeah—let women serve. If they can prove they have the strength, aggressiveness, and discipline—and remember that many men do not pass these criteria—then they should be given a chance to fight for, kill for, and possibly die for their country.
During the Clinton administration, though, the argument for women serving in active combat roles came back in vogue. The Czar noticed that most opposition came down to these two arguments:
- Women are not stronger than men, so it is a waste of time to talk about it. The Czar however notes that the incredible demands on strength and stamina and combat accuracy required by the military are always far in excess of what the typical combat soldier experiences. Women do not have the upper body strength of men, but they have enough to kill, even in hand-to-hand combat. Interestingly, most women in favor of combat roles tend to focus on this point more than the next one.
- Women are a distraction; they break up discipline and unit cohesion. And, the Czar notes, this almost always descends into a discussion about fraternization or sexual assaults, or what horrors will be inflicted upon captured women. The Czar counters that this is a problem regardless of gender, right? As a result, this seems like a cop-out argument. Men tend to focus on this point more than others.
But it turns out the Czar was completely, 180° wrong on this issue, and the two points have merit when explained much more carefully.
Certainly is was decades ago that the Czar, who has met many military personnel in his life, had a chance conversation on the topic during the early years of the Clinton administration. In chatting with an Army Ranger, the discussion turned toward women serving in more active combat roles. And the Ranger presented an argument for which the Czar not had no answer, but realized that nearly everyone is misunderstanding the two points and that women serving in active roles is a disastrous idea for any military.
All right—he conceded that if a woman can carry 30 kilos of weight on her back and schlep a rifle for 30 miles, that would be most of their combat weight-lifting duty. He further added that two hours of labor alone exceeded the physical stresses that most men endure in combat. And he concurred that probably the same percentage of women could qualify for realistic combat loads as men—but that isn’t the point, and it never has been.
Whether or not that women are physically capable of serving in combat roles isn’t the issue—it is that they are not, pound-for-pound, as strong as men. And that creates a social dynamic. He asked how often the Czar has seen a woman struggling to lift something or carry something, and the Czar instinctively runs over to assist. Nearly every time, right? Not that the woman couldn’t manage—the instinct to help is thousands of generations old.
Second point: he agreed that a disciplined, tightly integrated unit functions without distraction. But that was exactly the problem: in a squad, if not a full platoon of men, they become brothers. Each man fights extra hard to keep his brothers alive and safe, and knows full well that his brothers have his back as well. It works well, and has for centuries.
But if you add even a single woman into the platoon, the social dynamic changes. She becomes your sister. And there is a huge difference between a bunch of brothers beating the boogers out of each other and a family of brothers protecting their sister.
So he said it goes like this in the real world: a woman joins a platoon. The men are excited about it, and welcome her in. They give her plenty of space, are impressed by everything she can do, and even note that she (like most women) can instinctively outshoot the men with a weapon. Having a woman around the barracks is pretty cool.
But then they deploy. The orders are clear: take out an enemy position. The platoon is tasked with clearing some barbed wire out so the second platoon can pass through with heavier weapon. The team divvies up their tasks accordingly and move forward. Rather than climb up the first fence, the brothers stop, instinctively, to ensure their sister makes it up and over.
When the reached the barbed wire fence, the platoon moves in, rifle bullets whizzing past them. Rather than fan out and hit the fence in multiple points, the brothers cluster and tell their sister to stay behind them. She cuts her hand on a section of barbed wire. Rather than focus on their tasks, two of the guys crawl over to make sure their sister’s all right.
Okay, they got the job done, but do you see the differences? Add up these little “distractions” (which are not sexual but social) and the efficacy of the platoon is compromised. In an even more critical situation, it can be counterproductive.
Then consider what the Ranger called the Dry Creekbed scenario, which he personally experienced in Desert Storm.* Pinned down by Iraqi troops and low on ammunition and on rescue time, the men had to individually battle their way out—each would sequentially run out under fire while the others distracted the Iraqis with return fire. He said that each man knew that if they didn’t do this, they would be killed or captured, and if captured they would be tortured badly. But the bounding overwatch technique worked, and they got out in one piece.
Had one of them been a woman, he said, the plan would have been rejected: at least five guys would cluster around their sister, because there was no way in hell the enemy would capture and abuse here—even if it meant most of them had to die.
That’s a hard-wired instinct folks, and the enemy knows it. Only a textbook reader would falsely conclude that “Well, the stats show women can do it; the men will just have to get over their antequated notion of chivalry.” The Czar, whom you will remember from many posts has little problem with gays serving in the military (provided they do so on absolute military terms and no exceptions are expected or granted), now understands that the weakness isn’t with the women—it’s with the men; specifically, their general inability to treat women decently.
So both objections are correct, but not for the pop culture ones. They are valid objections when you look at people not as genders but as a species.
*Incidentally, this guy was a character in Black Hawk Down, although his character’s name was changed. And that wasn’t his worst experience, either.