Should women serve as front-line troops?

A grubby scandal involving Australian Defence Force cadets shows the danger of placing women in combat roles.
Bill Muehlenberg | Apr 15 2011 | comment  

The Australian government under Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard has an exquisite public relations sense. The media has been in a frenzy over lurid goings-on at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra. An 18-year-old female air force cadet had sex with an Army cadet, who broadcast this to six other cadets on a Skype webcam. Deeply humiliated, she went to Channel Ten with her story.

When ADFA’s head, Commodore Bruce Kafer, heard about this, he was upset. But, apparently, not over the sordid “fraternization”. Instead, he told the cadet that she had brought discredit upon ADFA by exposing her institution to public criticism. Then, oblivious to the media frenzy, ADFA hauled the young woman before a disciplinary hearing over unrelated allegations of drinking and being absent without leave.

"This is really a very serious error of judgment," said the fuming Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. "It was somewhere in the range between being completely insensitive and completely stupid and I could not be stronger on that." He demanded that the head of ADFA resign.

Nasty stuff.

Now it was the politicians’ turn to be completely insensitive and completely stupid. It was precisely in the midst of this sordid confirmation of how difficult it is to manage men and women in the military that Mr Smith announced fast-tracked plans for combat roles for women. "The only determining factor for a combat role should be physical and intellectual capacity, not gender," Smith says.

While women already serve in 93 percent of jobs in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), they are not involved in front-line infantry or in special forces units. They also cannot serve as mine clearance divers, the navy's special forces or as airfield defence guards.

"What we're looking at here are the last 7 per cent, which are all combat related and mainly in the Australian army," says Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the ADF. "If we're to be a truly women-friendly organisation we should have all positions open to women."

Yep, that should solve the problems of abuse, sexism and male aggression. Put women in foxholes and lecture men about “women’s career opportunities and advancement” and so on. Put women in a hormonally charged environment where the pressure to find sexual release is even stronger than normal, and see how much problems of sexual abuse are lessened.

Feminists have long argued for not just the right but the necessity of having women in combat roles as part of their push for a gender-neutral society. “Anything men can do, women can do” is their catchcry.

Feminist critic Carolyn Graglia says about the American situation: “Even if only relatively few women could meet the physical requirements of combat service, denying women exemption from that service serves feminism’s need to confute any perception of females as soft, yielding, potential mothers. Society must concede, say feminists, that the potentiality of motherhood is no reason for viewing a young woman’s remains in a body bag with any more horror than a young man’s.”

A man’s role as protector is under attack by the feminist movement. One of the strongest male instincts is to protect females, and all this is being undermined here. As US conservative writer David Horowitz notes, the feminists have “enlisted the military in a program to brainwash men so they won’t care what happens to women.”

And the feminists are trying to convince us that any woman can perform any combat task that a man can. Of course the only way this can happen is to dumb down all the various traditional military requirements - physical and otherwise – to allow women to be seen as equal.

This leads to one of the most important issues in this debate: just what is the military for, anyway? I used to think that it had something to do with defending civilians, fighting wars, and securing peace. Now politicians have added social engineering to an already busy agenda.

As another US feminist critic, Phyllis Schlafly, rightly states, “The purpose of the armed services is to defend the United States of America – not to create a tax-funded haven for sexually active young men and women, nor is it to serve as a giant social welfare institution.”

Has the military not noticed that men and women are different? As George Gilder remarks, “The hard evidence is overwhelming that men are more aggressive, competitive, risk-taking – indeed more combative – than women.” Even feminist scholars admit this.

One obvious difference is that women get pregnant. Tight confined spaces (whether in a barracks, a submarine, or a battlefield) will only increase sexual friction and tension, and pregnancy will be a common result.

So what happens then? “Er, sorry guys, but can you hold my rifle while I take off for nine months, and then a few more, to have my baby? I will then dump him or her in the nearest day care centre, and join you back in battle in a year or so.”

This is not exactly how wars are won. Indeed, the field of combat is already difficult enough without having these sorts of concerns to contend with. One woman veteran of Iraq put it this way: “It’s like this: I’m a woman and a mother before I am a soldier. Out here I think more about my family than my job, and, yes, that could affect my performance if things get intense here.”

Thankfully this soldier did not renounce her maternal instincts. No woman should be forced to do so. But her proper concern for her family meant she was less effective as a soldier, and could potentially put her comrades at real risk.

And of course any babies born will be greatly disadvantaged as well. Unless the military is willing to allow a female soldier a lengthy period of time off, the baby will grow up in child care, while mum seeks to do her national duty.

War is hell, and men are far more equipped for this – psychologically, physically, mentally, and emotionally - than women. Women should not be placed in such circumstances. One soldier puts it this way:

“I have personally participated in hand-to-hand combat and have seen men fight and die on the battlefield. The combat environment is an ugly one. For the ground soldier it is characterized by loneliness and terrible desolation, weary marches, at times relentless heat, bitter cold, torrential rains, filth, pestilence, disease, the slime of dripping dugouts, and the stench of human carnage, all coupled with feelings of depression which stem from fear, uncertainty, and long separation from loved ones. It calls for an antic toughness that women do not normally possess. The soldier’s feelings fluctuate from despair to extreme hate and bitterness, and these emotions tend to bring forth his most animalistic instincts.”

And the truth is, there is no advantage to having female combat troops. As Schlafly reminds us,

“There is no evidence in all history for the proposition that the assignment of women to military combat jobs is the way to promote national security, improve combat readiness, or win wars. Indeed, the entire experience of recorded history teaches us that battles are not won by coed armies or coed navies. Even Hitler and the Japanese, when they ran short of manpower, found it more efficient to use underage and overage men in combat than to use female troops.”

It is one thing to allow women to hold support roles in the military, but quite another to place them in the actual field of combat. This is unfair to women, unfair to men, and unfair to the nation which has deployed them. Social-engineering experiments should never be allowed to weaken the military. All we are doing is asking for trouble.

In any case, it’s good to see that Australia’s future officers are still being prepared to wage war. The government has wheeled out its heavy artillery. "I don't deny that I will find resistance and that there will be significant challenges," says Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick as she prepares for her review of how women are treated at ADFA. She sounds tough. She’ll whip those pockets of resistance into shape, all right.

Right attitude. Wrong war.

Bill Muehlenberg is a lecturer in ethics and philosophy at several Melbourne theological colleges and a PhD candidate at Deakin University.

Further reading about women in the military
Kingsley Browne. Co-ed Combat: The New Evidence That Women Shouldn't Fight the Nation's Wars. Sentinel, 2007.
Stephanie Gutmann. The Kinder, Gentler Military: How Political Correctness Affects Our Ability to Win Wars. Encounter Books, 2001.
Brian Mitchell. Women in the Military: Flirting With Disaster. Regnery, 1997.


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