This year the military may again find itself in the middle of another debate over social policy like last year’s debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal — that of women in combat.
Last week, as part of a draft report on diversity, a military advisory panel — the Military Leadership Diversity Commission — issued a recommendation to eliminate the restrictions on women serving in combat units.
“DoD and the Services should eliminate the ‘combat exclusion policies’ for women, including the removal of barriers and inconsistencies, to create a level playing field for all qualified servicemembers,” the report reads.
Much like the wrangling over the pros and cons of allowing gays to serve openly in uniform, each side has their argument as to why this is or is not a good plan.
Kingsley Browne, legal scholar and author of “Co-Ed Combat: The New Evidence that Women Shouldn’t Fight the Nation’s Wars,” told The Daily Caller that it all boils down to biology. Men and women are different — and in wars where carrying 100lbs is commonplace — women are ill equipped to handle the physical and emotional strains of combat.
“There are several different categories of problems. The obvious one and in a sense the easiest one to overcome is the physical difference between men and women. Men are considered stronger, faster, have more endurance than women,” Browne said. “[With women in combat units] you end up having a cadre of soldiers who are less physically able, it imposes more obligations on the men who have the physical ability to do things.”
Navy Captain Lory Manning, director of the Women in the Military Project, told TheDC that women should be able to serve in any capacity they want so long as they are “qualified.”
“The operative word is qualified….there are some women who have the endurance, physically, mentally, it takes.”
For those who say sex differences can become obsolete with gender neutral qualification tests, Elaine Donnelly, founder and president of the Center for Military Readiness, said not so fast — standards are diluted to meet desired outcomes.
“Every attempt to keep standards for men and women exactly the same, going back decades, has failed and drifted into various forms of gender-norming and DSIW (double standards involving women),” Donnelly wrote in an e-mail to TheDC. “This happens because the same [Equal Opportunity] ‘diversity’ crowd complains about physical and training standards that serve as ‘barriers’ to women’s advancement.”
The psychological differences between men and women are more difficult to surmount than the physical, said Browne. Men are more aggressive, prone to taking more risks and exhibit less empathy than women. Further, the shame of being seen as a coward is a more potent incentive for men on the battlefield than for women.
“Combat really is a different kind of environment, so one of the staples of combat literature is: ‘you never know who is going to be a good soldier until the shooting starts.’…. We know, because of the physiological sex differences, men are more likely to adjust well, perform well in combat,” Browne said.
“The number one thing that soldiers, men going into battle, especially ones going into battle for the first time, are afraid of is that they are going to be cowards,” Browne continued. “That kind of fear, fear of cowardice, is highly motivating…[the fear] that they would be disgraced as a men. Women do not have that.”
Manning said that women have served in combat capacities already and have proven themselves able in the current wars.
“What the time in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown us is that women do not interfere with male bonding, they just bond right in themselves. The American public does not go berserk if a woman is killed or injured,” Manning said. “I mean it is unfortunate, but they do not see it as a worse thing than if it were a man. They have pulled men out of danger on the battlefield, have been decorated for gallantly for protecting men on the battlefield. Most of the things we were worried about ten years ago have been proved not to be true.”
While Manning denies that women have any effect on male bonding, Kingsley noted that putting women in combat units can be harmful to cohesion. He said that adding a women into the situation brings a sexual element to what before was a singular mission. The addition of women — who will be significantly outnumbered by men — inserts an element of internal competition among the men for the attention of the few women.
“[Internal competition] is always going to be destructive to the cohesiveness of the group and all the things that come with it jealousy, frustration,” Browne said, noting that there is also a question of whether men will be able to trust women to be aggressive fighters as most men are biologically tuned to see women as the weaker sex.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Barbara Lee, from the Alliance for National Defense, responded to the concern that women represent a more compelling tool for the enemy to use as leverage against male soldiers, who are more likely to give into demands in order to save a woman, by saying the situation would be no different than when a man is captured.
“Bad things happen in war and bad things happen to men and they happen to women and I don’t know as though it really knows gender,” she told TheDC
According to Lee, the current policy restricting women from combat is outdated.
“Anything that adds emphasis to ‘let’s examine this policy, adjust it, get rid of it, whatever,’ it is long overdue. So from that standpoint, we are delighted that the commission arrived at the position that we have held for about ten years or so.”
The commission’s final report is expected to be on lawmakers’ desks by spring. While approval from Congress is not needed, Pentagon officials are required to notify lawmakers at least 30 days before a policy change.