By Rachel Brody |
The decision to open ground-combat positions to women is seriously misguided, as evidenced by the fact that the policy decision precedes the feasibility assessment. A senior Defense Department official announced that the goal is "to provide a level, gender-neutral playing field," when the goal should be to have the most effective war-fighting institution possible.
The physical differences between men and women are obvious, as few women have the strength, speed, or aerobic capacity of even the average man. The British military determined that only 1 in 100 trained female soldiers had the physical capacity to function in infantry and armor units. Then, of course, there's pregnancy, which leaves women three to four times as likely as men to be unable to deploy and leads many, once deployed, to be medevaced and thereby lost to their units.
Beyond individual sex differences are the equally important effects of adding women to male combat groups. Combat units are intensely cooperative and placing a scarce resource (women) within them creates a disruptive competition. Moreover, trust is the foundation of cohesion, and men are disinclined to trust women in dangerous situations, worried that they will lack either the will or the wherewithal to back them up. The rough camaraderie that men engage in to build cohesion will lead to sexual harassment charges by women, so women will be excluded from these important activities.
Women are now promoted as fast or faster than men. Although there are relatively few female admirals and generals, there are also relatively few female CEOs in the private sector. Sex differences in intense career commitment are more important than the combat exclusion. Men join the infantry to fight, whereas we hear now that women want to join the infantry for their careers. This decision will impose new pressure on the many career military women who do not want to serve in combat, likely discouraging many women from entering the military. Although women have been involved in combat skirmishes, ground-combat service requires sustained combat, sometimes over the course of days or weeks, often under loads substantially exceeding that of the soldier of World War II.
This is a disastrous decision made by people (a re-elected president and an outgoing secretary of defense) who will not have to bear its consequences. Instead theywill be suffered by the soldier on the ground, and in some cases they are likely to be fatal.
About Kingsley Browne Professor at Wayne State University Law School
Ariela Migdal Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project
Rachel Natelson Legal Director of the Service Women's Action Network
Loretta Sanchez Democratic Representative from California
Michael O'Hanlon Director of Research for Brookings's 21st Century Defense Initiative