Should women serve as front-line troops?
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Muehlenberg is a lecturer in ethics and philosophy at several Melbourne
theological colleges and a PhD candidate at Deakin University.
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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