Given the current zeitgeist, that all-consuming vigilance by the Politically Correct for any perceived infractions of equality, the fact that women are now being considered for the infantry should come as no real surprise. Though current social and political trends have already laid a firm groundwork for such an effort (e.g. the recent repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy), it is nonetheless remarkable.
The Marine Corps recently asked the female lieutenants of a graduating class from The Basic School for volunteers to attend the Infantry Officer Course. Of the eighty eligible females, two stepped forward and were promptly admitted into the extremely rigorous course. The first lasted a single day; the second was dropped for medical reasons after about two weeks.
I have met one of these two brave women, and of the soundness of her motivations and determination I have no doubts; neither do I doubt her capability as a leader. Indeed, her willingness to even step into such an environment is worthy of admiration; for it is no secret that men in the infantry are largely hostile to the notion of women joining their ranks. It is not like stepping into a den of lions; it is like stepping into a den filled with men who kill lions for a living.
But this hostility is not unfounded, and I would count myself among the detractors from this new attempt at inclusiveness. There are reasons in principle against it, but having served in the infantry, I have also witnessed firsthand some practical reasons why the admission of women into the infantry is in my estimation unquestionably foolish.
The first is perhaps the most obvious–that of sexual attraction–which involves more broadly the issue of unit cohesion. This could be more generally be called the sexual dynamic. On my first deployment (Iraq, 2007-08), while stationed with about a dozen or so male Marines at a small Entry Control Point (ECP), teams of female Marines (Female Engagement Teams or “Lionesses”) were brought daily to our outpost to aid in searching the Iraqi women who passed through the checkpoint. For obvious reasons, men are not generally permitted to search Muslim women. The Lionesses’ ability to conduct the job assigned to them and the degree of their work ethic were, as is the case with Marines generally, very high.
However, I began to observe Marines, primarily those in the higher echelons of the pecking order present at the ECP, who were otherwise very professional, begin to act like utter fools in a very primitive and obvious attempt to impress the only American women they had seen in months. The constant attempts to woo female Marines were so blatant as to be almost unbelievable. In one particularly puerile case, a team leader deliberately threw a bottle on the ground within sight of some of the female Marines sitting at an outdoor table and ordered one of his subordinates to pick it up, presumably to demonstrate his qualifications as the alpha male.
While one might be tempted to dismiss this debacle as being only a personal immaturity on the part of certain Marines–which is certainly true, to a degree–the point is that these antics were simply the unrestrained result of an unavoidable biological attraction. As has been the case since the beginning of time, men and women are attracted to the opposite sex; and no amount of training, classes, protocols, nor professionalism can ever hope to change this fact. One may certainly be able to behave professionally in spite of a sexual attraction, but one cannot change the propensity to attraction; and it is the energies that must be expended to exercise such discipline that are potentially problematic, given the nature of the combat environment. To use a vulgar and admittedly imperfect analogy: one may train a dog not to eat a treat, but one cannot without great difficulty (and harmful consequences, besides) train a dog not to want a treat. Any readers tempted to complain that I have just equated men or women with either “dogs” or “treats” have missed the point entirely.
In speaking of the sexual dynamic, one need not think only of the explicitly sexual kind of behavior. Even if treated well, men and women naturally treat each other differently. It is important to note in stark contrast to the shrillest voices of the feminist movement that “differently” is not synonymous with “badly”. Men are naturally disposed to be protectors–specifically, protectors of women–just as women are naturally disposed to be protectors of children. In this regard, the presence of women on the battlefield inevitably produces an unhelpful dynamic, since men rightly experience a strong desire to protect women from harm. Thus, this predisposition would potentially result in a male Marine treating a female Marine differently than his male counterparts in the heat of combat for her sake; and in combat, one is rarely aided by additional variables.
This dynamic is especially aggravated in the types of environments inherent to the job of infantryman, where one is often forced to live in close quarters with very little personal space (if any) and at great length. This is a difficult environment in which to operate, and is only made more so by the introduction of the sexual dynamic. For example, when men living in such circumstances inevitably become irritated with one another, the most effective and efficient solution is sometimes the physical one; namely, a solid blow to the face. Two Marines may engage in a heated argument, come to blows, then in five minutes’ time resume their friendship, or at least a working relationship. Such bouts are infrequent and rarely personal. This is a relational dynamic unique to warrior cultures, one that has always struck me as both amusing and profound. Introducing women into this brutish but effective system is to beset it with unnecessary complication. A male Marine would not wish to strike his female counterpart, even in extreme anger; but he would wish that she were male so that he might. Interpersonal conflict resolution among infantrymen is usually of the more diplomatic sort, but women are (and ought to be) exempt from the possibility of this violent avenue of conflict resolution. Moreover, I seriously doubt any women seeking to join the infantry would even wish to be admitted into the full range of barbaric practices that come with the territory. Responding to a female interlocutor’s question, “Do you believe in the comradeship between the sexes?”, G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Madam, if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade, you would turn me out of the house.” I think he was quite right: the notion that women can or would want to be in every way like “one of the guys” is unrealistic and absurd.
It is clear that there is no more physically demanding job in the military than the job of the infantry; it is equally as clear that women are, generally, physically weaker than men. This objective biological difference is precisely why the standards for men and women sometimes differ in the military. In the Marine Corps, for instance, women are required to perform flexed arm hangs in lieu of pull-ups for the Physical Fitness Test, quite simply because they are easier. Further, even given these lower standards, the rate of attrition for females in Marine Corps schools, such as Officer Candidate School and The Basic School, is drastically higher than that of males. As Marine Corps Captain Katie Petronio cites in her article, “Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal”:
“At OCS the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent. The same trends were seen at TBS in 2011; the attrition rate for females was 13 percent versus 5 percent for males, and 5 percent of females were found not physically qualified compared with 1 percent of males.”
This is a consistent trend due to the unalterable biological differences between males and females, and it should be unsurprising to those without presuppositional biases to the contrary.
While it is true that there are some women who are quite capable of doing twenty pull-ups without breaking a sweat, perhaps even some capable of making it through a course like the IOC, some of these biological differences are unchangeable and yet significant. For example, the male skeleton is bigger, which provides an inherent advantage, since larger bones are generally stronger. Stronger bones are less apt to break. Males also experience muscle atrophy at a lower rate than females. In her aforementioned article, Captain Petronio attacks the inclusion of women in the infantry on the basis of physical longevity, citing from experience her observation that her male counterparts experienced physical deterioration at a slower rate than she in prolonged adverse circumstances. Naturally, in combat, physical strength and durability are factors of grave importance.
For exactly the same reasons that males and females in the military currently have segregated quarters and bathroom facilities, reasons as obvious as they are practical, women in the infantry would necessarily require additional amenities. It is in every way proper for women to have separate facilities, but in combat environments this is not always feasible. It is, however, a burden; and with women present, a necessary one.
I will forgo the list of potential physical ailments which befall women alone in the field, but suffice it to say the list is long–longer, I might add, than those which afflict men. Similarly, hygiene is a much more complicated endeavor for women. This is a significant logistical problem insofar as it concerns the need for certain types of additional medication and time to recover from medical problems that would otherwise be absent from a fighting unit.
There is also the issue of capture. Though rare, the matter must at least be considered. Despite the many horrible forms of torture an enemy fighter might be inclined to inflict upon a male prisoner, rape is rarely one of them; yet it is perhaps the most devastating, and history has proven it to be one of the first inclinations of depraved men possessing female prisoners. There are already circumstances in which female troops have been vulnerable to capture, even times in which they were captured (e.g. Jessica Lynch); but just what is to be gained by increasing their exposure and risk? I certainly do not think this matter alone is enough to prevent women from joining the infantry; it is but a small part of the cumulative case.
The central argument of the case for female infantry is that we ought not discriminate on the basis of gender. This is because gender is alleged to be an irrelevant factor concerning the infantry occupation. I hope I have given enough reason to suggest the naïvité of this view to those who do not already oppose it on the basis of common sense, but it remains to be pointed out that the military discriminates on the basis of unalterable factors all the time. For instance, pilots for certain aircraft cannot be taller than a specific height, due to the small size of the cockpit; yet, strangely, one does not hear of lawsuits calling for more accommodating cockpits. Absurd as this would be (though it would be on par in stupidity with a profusion of other actual lawsuits), a cockpit is a thing much more easily altered than the nature of ground warfare itself, which is exactly what would require changing in order to make the inclusion of women in the infantry a good idea.
Given that the presence of women among the ranks of the infantry potentially poses significant difficulties, it is quite relevant to consider just what role a woman might fill that cannot be fulfilled (in many cases more successfully) by a man. This suggestion will undoubtedly be unpopular, but unpopularity is a poor gauge of soundness. Women are indistinguishable from men in their ability to lead, solve complex problems, and, perhaps, even kill. It is not on these grounds that I express dissent, but on the basis of those that cannot be overcome by any amount of willpower or training; namely, those intrinsic to sex and biology.
Since there is no shortage of capable men for the job and no intrinsic female qualities beneficial to the infantry occupation that do not also come paired with serious detriments, one must wonder just what practical military benefit the United States seeks to achieve by seeking to include women among the ranks? America is a country of principles, but it is also a country that has historically been practical. To act solely on principle (especially on erroneous principles), is to act foolishly, particularly when it concerns delicate matters of life and death. Combat is intensely practical. It cares nothing for principles. It is a deadly dance of practical gamesmanship that the man acting on principle is certain to lose. Carl von Clausewitz noted–correctly, I think–that “war is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst” (1). Indeed, it is kind and good to open the door for a woman, but it is something less than kind if on the other side is a battlefield.
Evidence of the pervasive perversion of equality in our day is that this essay shall be taken by some to mean that I think men and women are unequal. This is untrue. Men and women are equal, but not the same. Equality has to do with intrinsic value, whereas I am here concerned with practical differences. Thus, the fact that men are generally more suited than women for the unpleasant rigors and brutalities of warfare does not mean that men are better than women. It means that men and women are each better suited for different kinds of occupations. Given the nature of the job in question, one involving life and death and sometimes in the most adverse circumstances conceivable, these differences are not to be dismissed lightly on the basis of philosophical principles of political correctness alone, without compelling practical reasons in support.
The ACLU, being an organization devoted solely to principle, has recently filed a lawsuit seeking to remove all gender-based restrictions on combat occupations. While well-meaning, the ACLU’s attempts will certainly be thought laughably naïve by nearly all infantrymen who have experienced significant time in the field. Perhaps as a test case the NFL ought to welcome all willing female players onto its teams and into its locker rooms. I should be quite surprised if a single season were not enough to cure the participants of any previously ambitious desire to “hang with the boys”, or, likewise, to join the infantry. The woman who claims to want equal treatment with her male infantry counterparts not only will fail to receive it, but is ignorant of what she is asking. The front lines of the battlefield are devoid of women for many of the same reasons the football fields are: virtually no women have any desire to participate, and the ones that do are unqualified to play against men. If the idea of integrating women into the NFL is ridiculous (and it is), integrating women into the infantry can only be more absurd. Any women who readily acknowledge the difficulties their presence would create in the infantry, yet persist in seeking admittance on the basis of principle are disgracefully selfish–they do not have in mind the best interest of the country, but the attainment of their own personal goals.
The rejection of gender roles, or even gender differences, is the central tenet of the contemporary hard-line feminist, who either cannot accept the idea that men and women generally possess significant and objective differences, or, in the most extreme cases, thinks that women are inherently of greater value than men. To the former, I suggest a cursory reading of Gray’s Anatomy; to the latter, a hug.
But not all women seeking to join the infantry would call themselves feminists in either of these two senses. Some are simply patriots up for a challenge. As to their offer, I say, respectfully, “thank you, but no.”
1.) Von Clausewitz, Carl. On War. Book 1, Chapter 1. 1832.