Feminists and equality critics will have reason to rejoice on Thursday, January 24th, 2013. Military women will, for the first time, be permitted to partake in direct combat roles (DCRs). This dramatic change warrants as much celebration as precaution.
Historically no institution has been so hostile to female inclusion as the military. The initial reasons were probably more a matter of sense than politics. Blame nature: men were (and still remain) the globally superior sex in physiological terms. For example, the world record time in the 100m dash favors men by nearly a second—which is no small margin in that event. More than a meter separates men from women in the long jump; more than a minute for the 5000 meter run.
Track and Field records permit rather objective comparisons of the sexes, but they fail to elucidate differences of intelligence. Psychology meanwhile has its hands full in merely trying to define “intelligence,” so perhaps the best that can be said is that men and women demonstrate different patterns of thought. Nonetheless, women consistently perform as well any other commissioned officer, suggesting aptitude presents no necessary bar to front line action.
But entertain the following verity from Achilles: “There are no faithful oaths between lion and men, nor do wolves and lambs have any oneness of heart.” The notion of men morphing into animals on the battlefield is nearly as old as battle itself. The Iliad features dozens of scenes in which men act as wolves, such as when Hector and Ajax fight over Patroclus’ mutilated corpse or when Achilles’ men defile Hector’s. If women are to be welcomed on the field, they too risk the threat of violent death, which may alter the dynamics of modern combat. The following questions address some concerns given our current military operations.
1) Fundamentalist Muslims support the death penalty for minor infringements such as adultery. They also subscribe to conventional guerilla tactics that emphasize wielding fear as a kind of weapon. Torture, beheadings, and public suicide bombings comprise the bulk of their fright inspiring arsenal. Don’t think for a minute that they would hesitate to add rape to their list of atrocities. Are we ready to accept the potentiality—or perhaps inevitability—of this added dimension?
2) Fundamentalist Muslim men are essentially tyrants of their own household, and their wives submit to them with unquestioning obedience. No insurgent would therefore take kindly to a Western woman who shoots and kills his brethren. Are we willing to accept the fact that US platoons may be targeted on the sole basis of gender?
3) Women’s unique hygienic requirements suggest a need for, at minimum, separate bathrooms. While a minimal burden, are the US military’s forward operating bases equipped with such? If not, how long would a conversion take? How expensive would it be?
4) What are the social consequences? Military units must operate cohesively, and emotion cannot become an impediment to duty. Would fraternization be allowed for off duty hours? Would “couples” be allowed in the same unit? What would the penalties be for violating any of the associated regulations?
5) Only a few countries allow women in DCRs. The cultural component therefore cannot be ignored, especially when coalitions are formed. Saudi Arabia comes to mind as a nation who may be hesitant to participate in military missions where women are integrated into squads. Has this been accounted for in the decision?
Australia began to permit women in DCRs in May of 2012. Anticipating some bumps in the road, they will integrate women gradually over a 5 year period so as to minimize the shock of the change. So the last question is obviously the most important: Does the United States have a similar phased plan for the integration of women? Or are the plans simply being thrown together as we surge forward in the name of progress? I acknowledge that the dream of gender equality would remain incomplete if men and women were not permitted to fight for their country alongside one another. I only hope we have carefully planned the implementation.