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Military leaders should rethink women in combat

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Updated: February 28, 2013 6:49AM



It must be true what they say about women — that they are smarter, stronger, wiser and wilier than your average Joe.

How else could one explain the magical thinking that apparently has prompted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to abandon all reason and lift the ban on women in direct combat? Methinks the boys have been outmaneuvered.

This is a terrible idea for reasons too numerous to list in this space, which forces me to recommend my 2008 book, “Save the Males,” in which I devote a chapter to the issue. The most salient point happens to be a feminist argument: Women, because of their inferior physical capacities and greater vulnerabilities upon capture, have a diminished chance for survival.

But first, let’s be clear. Arguments against women in direct combat have nothing to do with courage, skill, patriotism or dedication. Most women are equal to most men in all these categories, and are superior to men in many other areas, as our educational graduation rates at every level indicate. Women also tend to excel as sharpshooters and pilots.

But ground combat is one area in which women, through quirks of biology and human nature, are not equal to men — a difference that should be celebrated, not rationalized as incorrect.

We’re potentially talking about 18-year-old girls, notwithstanding their “adult” designation under the law. (Parents know better.) At least 18-year-old males have the advantage of being gassed up on testosterone, the hormone that fuels not just sexual libido but, more to the point, aggression.

Now, hold the image of your 18-year-old daughter, neighbor, sister or girlfriend as you follow these facts, which somehow have been ignored in the advancement of a fallacy.

The fallacy is that because men and women are equal under the law, they are equal in all endeavors and should have all access to the same opportunities. This is true except when the opportunity requires certain traits. Fact: Females have only half the upper-body strength as males — no small point in the field.

Further to the fallacy is the operating assumption that military service is just another job. The rules of civil society do not apply to the military, which is a top-down organization in which the rules are created to maximize efficiency in killing enemies.

The argument that women’s performance on de facto front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan has proved concerns about combat roles unwarranted is false logic. Just because women in forward support can return fire when necessary — or die — doesn’t mean they are equal to men in combat.

Unbeknownst perhaps to many civilians, combat has a very specific meaning in the military. It has nothing to do with stepping on an IED or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It means aggressively engaging and attacking the enemy with deliberate offensive action, with a high probability of face-to-face contact.

If the enemy is all around you — and you need every available person — that is one thing. To ask women to engage vicious men and risk capture under any other is beyond understanding. This is not a movie or a game. Every objective study has argued against women in direct combat for reasons that haven’t changed.

The threat to unit cohesion should require no elaboration. But let’s cross into enemy territory where someone’s 18-year-old daughter has been captured. No one wants to imagine a son in these circumstances, either, but women face special tortures. And, no, the rape of men never has held comparable appeal.

We can train our men to ignore the screams of their female comrades, but is this the society we want to create? Women’s ability to withstand or survive violent circumstances is no rational argument for putting American girls and women in the hands of enemy men.

It will kill us in the end.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.



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