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Why men fight

Will women in front-line combat duty change the way men behave in combat?
Robert R. Reilly | 26 January 2013

Men fight to protect their women. Or, at least, that’s the way it used to be.

On Thursday, however, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, "Today Gen. Dempsey and I are pleased to announce that we are eliminating the ground combat exclusion rule for women and moving forward with a plan to eliminate all gender-based barriers to service." This, in effect, voids the 1994 rule that mostly excludes women from units below the brigade level when the primary mission is direct ground combat.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, proclaimed that, "The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service,"

Why is this necessary? How did such a “time” arrive upon us? According to the Wall Street Journal, “last February, Mr. Panetta ordered US military service chiefs to find ways to expand the role of women.” In other words, the military chiefs did not go to the Secretary of Defense and say, “we need to place women in combat units in order to fulfill our military mission.”

Had they said this, it could have been for two possible reasons. One is that there are not enough men willing to serve in combat. Or two, women are demonstrably better in combat than men. The first is clearly not the case, as the military is cutting back on personnel. The Armed Forces have more men in combat units than, according to President Obama, they need. Two, there are no studies demonstrating women’s superiority or even equivalence to men in combat. In other words, this came from the top – the political top. It is ideological pressure that created this requirement, not military necessity.

The rationalizations for it are almost amusing in the distance they have achieved from reality. One of the women who filed a lawsuit to challenge the combat ban, Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt, who was injured in 2007 by a roadside bomb in Iraq, said, "Right before the IED went off, it didn't ask me how many push-ups or sit-ups I could do." Yes, indeed, an explosive can rip right through a woman as well as a man. It does not discriminate. Death is an equal opportunity killer. Usually, that would be a reason to keep women out of harm’s way, not put them in it.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D. Ill), a former Army pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq when her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, said the decision will allow the "best man or woman on the front line." Absolutely, if a woman can kill men more effectively than a man can, why not let them? Women killing men is an essential part of equal opportunity.

Sen. Jack Reed (D, RI) said that on the current battlefield "all who serve are in combat." Absolutely, the person who cuts his or her finger at the company mess hall slicing bread should get a purple heart just like the infantry man who is shot by an enemy soldier. All wounds are equal. If we define everything as combat, then there are no obstacles to women in combat.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama thinks that the end of the combat exclusion is "appropriate." Appropriate to what? Apparently to removing "unnecessary gender-based barriers," as Mr Carney said.

Here is evidence of the barrier. Since 2001, 152 women have been killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 946 wounded. Considering that women make up some 14 percent of the active duty military, the killing is obviously not proportional to their participation. It only represents .019 of US fatalities in these two wars. Clearly, this must be the result of discrimination. To make sure women are given a fair shake in their new roles as front-line fighters, perhaps the fatality figure could be brought up 14 percent. In fact, this might be the new metric of success for the integration of women into ground combat.

There is another serious problem that requires no sarcasm. According to John Luddy, in a 1994 backgrounder for the Heritage Foundation, “History shows that the presence of women has had a devastating impact on the effectiveness of men in battle.” Why? For example, “a review of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War… revealed that men tried to protect and assist women rather than continue their attack. As a result, they not only put their own lives in greater danger, but also jeopardized the survival of the entire unit. The study further revealed that unit morale was damaged when men saw women killed and maimed on the battlefield.”

According to the late Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, women reduced the combat effectiveness of Haganah units because men took steps to protect them out of “fear of what the Arabs would do to [the] women if they captured them.” In other words, men will behave like men, nowhere more so than in the presence of women. This is why Israel barred women from direct combat until 2000, when the so far only mixed gender infantry battalion was organized to patrol the relatively quiet borders with Jordan and Egypt.

There is another less appetizing way in which men will be men in the presence of women. General Dempsey, apparently with a straight face, suggested that allowing women into combat units may alleviate the military's serious problem with sexual harassment: "I have to believe, the more we can treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally." In other words, if we pretend that women are just smaller men, sexual harassment will go away.

Here is the political program: Inject sexual tension into combat units by mixing genders, which results in an explosion of sexual harassment; then blame the military and insist that it transform itself – not to fight the enemy and win wars – but to fight sexual harassment.

A rare voice of sanity was heard when Rep. Duncan Hunter (R, Calif) said, "The focus of our military needs to be maximizing combat effectiveness… The question here is whether this change will actually make our military better at operating in combat and killing the enemy, since that will be their job, too."

Should it be their job to kill or to be killed? Retired four-star general Volney Warner said that, “I remain convinced that women are better at giving life than taking it.” What kind of society seeks to put its women, it’s life givers, directly in harm’s way – to endanger that which is most precious to it? The answer is a society that no longer knows what women are or why men fight to protect them. In turn, it asks men not to be men – not to be protectors. What is there left to defend in such a society?

President Obama said, "Today, every American can be proud that our military will grow even stronger with our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters playing a greater role in protecting this country we love." Instinctively, one feels that this sentence should say the opposite – that we can be proud that our military is protecting “our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters” by keeping them from harm, not by placing them in it. One reason this is a “country we love” is that we can keep our women safe here. Obama brings us only one step away from the idea that “our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters” should be the ones protecting our military. This is a proposal that the ancient Greek playwright and satirist Aristophanes could have had great fun with. “Honey, tell the kids that mommy will be late tonight. I’ve still got some killing to do.”

If you want men to have nothing to fight for, this is the way to proceed.

Robert R. Reilly is a member of the board of the Middle East Media Research Institute and the author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind. He has served as an officer in the Armored Cavalry.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | ethics of warfare, women in military
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