A reader writes:
One of your readers wrote: "Despite the amazing progress that women have made in many fronts on equality, they are still physically smaller, slower, and weaker than men." Audie Murphy, Medal of Honor recipient and the most decorated U.S. soldier of all time, was only 5'5" tall and weighed a scant 110lbs. He was initially rejected by the Navy, the Marines, and the U.S. Army paratroopers for being underweight. Yes, sheer brute strength and speed matter. But not so much as grit.
Murphy seen below. Another reader:
As a male veteran and someone who used to teach this debate to future military officers, I've always found such arguments very easy to counter (as did my former students). The physical differences between the genders the reader points out are undeniable. But, of course, they are not universal. There are some women I served with who are stronger than me, faster than me, and could kick my ass. (And that's saying something: I was a wrestler in college.) So the answer to this is simple (and every man and woman I served with agreed, as I can recall): Figure out what the physical standards for combat are, and then just have that one standard for men and women both. If most women cannot meet those standards, so be it. Many men won't be able to meet them either. But some people will be able to meet those demanding physical standards – and some of those people will be women. Why is this so hard? One physical standard for both men and women. Whoever meets it can go to combat. End of story.
I notice that the writer left out endurance. Women have greater endurance than men, which is why far more women than men complete ultramarathons. No doubt speed is important, but endurance is equally so.
Another expands on that point:
Combat also involves going long periods of time without sleep, something the typical woman tends to be better at than the average man; reacting properly in stressful situations, again something the typical woman tends to be better at than the average man; working well as a coordinating group is also something the typical woman tends to be better at than the average man. Pick any small range of characteristics and one can bias the results to favor any group. The way to judge is someone is able to perform is to test them, not the particular subgroup they belong to. Some women are vastly more ready for combat than some men. Some men are better at combat than some women. The goal is to get the best at combat, regardless of their sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other irrelevant factor.
Chris Bodenner wrote: "In fact, given the rapid dominance of women in higher education, the battlefields of the future – reliant on robots – could be dominated by women as well. … Despite all the reader's objections, he still doesn't seem to reject the idea of women in combat units."
While I don't reject the *idea* of women in combat either, all it would take is one Blackhawk down-type engagment where a small force with women in the ranks is overrun or nearly overrun to end that experiment. Luckily, those sorts of things are huge outliers in today's combat situations. But in the future, as we rely more and more on small scale operations with just a few boots on the ground working with irregular or inexperienced troops as allies, I can see close combat becoming more of the norm. In the above type scenario one can only imagine the media hand-wringing over the women casualties in addition to the male chest thumping that the women's inability to cope in close combat endangered their male counterparts or "caused" further male and/or female casualties.
I don't think this is a valid argument against women in combat. I'm just saying be prepared for the inevitable.
An email that is sure to ruffle feathers:
I'm a straight 46-year-old male. I grew up as women became settled into workplaces and two-working-parent families became the norm, and by the time I was in college the old '50s stereotypes of "a woman's role" were so irrelevant as to be laughable. I think women make great CEOs, great mathematicians, great chefs. I was angry at the treatment of Anita Hill, Lily Ledbetter, and the millions who were discriminated against by Wal-Mart. I'm rabidly pro-choice. And I think the military should reflect society; I was shocked and disappointed when Clinton kicked off eight years of mincing triangulation by acceding to Sam Nunn's and Colin Powell's grudging offer of DADT. I'm sure women can do as well as men at carrying rifles, shooting off howitzers, patrolling dark streets in night-vision goggles. Probably better: they have more common sense, more patience, less testosterone coursing through their veins demanding that they do something stupid. I'm as feminist as they come.
And yet the idea of women in combat appalls me.
I don't think this is just me – I think this is something deep in our psyches. Asking someone to fight and possibly die on behalf of their community is strange, dark, mysterious, well beyond the simple axioms of tolerant liberalism. In almost every place and time (except perhaps for some very desperate places and times) it's been the preserve of young men. Sociobiology might explain it: if you want to keep the population going, a sperm-producer is more or less expendable, while a fertile womb is a precious resource. But whatever the source, for thousands of generations we've watched men going to war to protect women. The reverse just seems … wrong.
My generation grew up viewing the idea of women serving in the armed forces, as they might serve in any other profession, as natural and normal. But a woman on the battlefield somehow still seems to me like a crime against nature. Women are to be protected and cherished, not tossed in front of tanks to satisfy one general or another's strategic conceits. Perhaps I have this strong reaction because the Iraq war has already confronted us with some of the consequences. Are we really ready to accept women coming home (as many already have) in wheelchairs, with prosthetic limbs, untreatable burns, PTSD? Are we really ready for large numbers of women POWs? We have always grimly accepted the tragedy of children made fatherless by war. But are we really ready for children made motherless?