A friend of mine in Texas wrote recently to let me know my silence on what’s happening in our modern military is deafening. My pal happens to be a female Marine, so she was urging me to share some of my thoughts on the recent broad-brush edict by outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta which directs all military jobs—including direct combat billets—be opened to qualified females. I’ve been chewing on this latest distasteful ration long enough, I guess, so here are my thoughts.
One of the bigger arguments in favor of this latest experiment in social engineering using the military as lab rats is that given our most recent battlefield experiences in the Middle East, it’s a fait accompli. Granted some facts are not in dispute. Over the past decade of active combat—mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan—there have been 6,437 U.S. military people killed in service to our nation as of January 2013. Of the KIAs 144 were females, representing two percent of the total.
Yes…but: Seventy-two of the female deaths—or fifty percent—were from non-hostile causes. The other half of the total females killed were in combat-related incidents such as IEDs or long-range indirect-fire attacks on Forward Operating Bases. Fewer than 12 females were killed in combat involving direct combat with the enemy such as firefights where small arms fire, RPGs, mortars or other direct-fire attacks caused most of the damage. Do those deaths—sad as they are—justify opening direct combat billets to females on the basis that a relative handful has been involved in firefights in the past? I’m not buying it.
As a two-decade veteran of military service in both peace and war who has both commanded women in uniform and been commanded by them, I’ve got a dog in the hunt but my concerns go beyond the superficial elements of physical demands or qualifications. I’ll assume we’ve still got enough brains beneath the brass hats who will not allow physical standards to be lowered arbitrarily to appease outside meddlers. And yet, amid all the furor and breast-beating—no pun intended—over the opening of direct combat roles to American women, I find myself pondering larger issues that I believe are at stake here.
Regardless of training and indoctrination, people who enter military service ultimately are—from beginning to end of their time in uniform—products of the society they volunteered to defend. It’s that society that concerns me most right now and I find myself asking questions like these: What sort of people in what sort of society blithely send women off to kill things and destroy stuff which is the bottom-line mission of our direct combat units? What kind of man in that society tolerates—much less encourages—that sort of thing when not faced with a shortage of qualified males to do the heavy lifting? And what sort of society says on one hand women are being disrespected or short-changed and on the other hand can’t understand that respect for women is predicated on the very specialness of females in our human condition?
Those questions need to be pondered and answered before we get too much farther down the road leading to full gender integration in our military. I’ve always believed that traditions in the American military and in American society generally are damaged if not destroyed when women are placed in direct combat roles. I like to think that a significant part of my maleness is a desire to defend my mother, wife, sister, and other females who bear so much responsibility in our societal structure where it involves child-bearing, family life, and nurturing of the next generation. And I like to think most men in our American culture share those sentiments.
As a more practical matter and based on personal experience, I find myself wondering why no one involved is pointing at the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Said simian is right over there in the corner wearing a sign around his neck that says “Teenagers = Raging Hormones.” If you toss him a banana, the gorilla will reverse the sign to one that reads “Humans Are Sexual Creatures. It’s What They Do!”
Various ideologues confronted by this concern of natural and inevitable sexual attraction between young, healthy men and women insist that both males and females can and will resist temptation. Those ideologues have either somehow forgotten their teenage years altogether or they have never been in close quarters for long periods under the stress of long deployments or combat situations. Likely both apply to people who insist that putting females in testosterone-drenched front-line combat outfits will have no effect on unit cohesion or efficiency. That’s horse manure of the most redolent variety and shows a lack of common sense that borders on the delusional.
I would refer those gorilla-ignoring idealists to any of our major college campuses today where it’s blithely assumed that young men and women will have sex during their time in college. Many schools provide free condoms or access to other forms of birth control as a matter of course. If students are not going to have sex on a fairly regular basis, why bother? But we’re not talking about college campuses here. We’re talking about combat outfits full of young men at a peak of sexual obsession in which we propose to introduce young women who have a similar hormonal overload. Does that sound like a situation in which we can expect them to overcome it all by sheer force of will and thus avoid temptation? I don’t think so and my experience in mixed gender outfits tells me I’m seeing the gorilla even if others do not.
What’s the potential damage to unit cohesion and mission focus here? What happens when two people in uniform fall in love and then have a spat or major falling out with all the emotional upheaval such things bring? How about rivalry for affections when one person or another of either sex becomes an object of desire? Is anyone who has ever been in competition for affection from a member of the opposite sex ready to say jealousy is not as powerful an emotion as love? And what about the pregnancies that will occur—planned or unplanned—despite the birth control efforts that units will have to exercise whether they like it or not? Do you allow an otherwise physically fit pregnant soldier to risk not only her life but that of her unborn child?
All these things will happen if we continue down the current politically correct path and ignore the inevitable consequences of trying to fool Mother Nature. You’re fooling yourself if you think they won’t.