Academic journal article Parameters

Women in Combat Units: It's Still a Bad Idea

Academic journal article Parameters

Women in Combat Units: It's Still a Bad Idea

Article excerpt

Among the easiest predictions to make in this first year of the new century is that various interest groups will continue to lobby to open all US combat units to women. At least five seemingly logical arguments can be anticipated:

* New post-Cold War missions require finesse, not brawn.

* Twenty-first-century technologies are gender-neutral.

* An equal opportunity to serve is every American citizen's right.

* Cohesion does not require that soldiers bond socially, only that they accomplish their tasks effectively.

* Our European allies are opening their combat units to women, therefore so should we. [1]

Each of these arguments flies in the face of common sense, however, and together they beg the central question, which is how would the integration of women improve a combat unit's survivability and the defense of the United States.

For instance, if war in the future will be push-button and relatively effortless, then why have combat units at all? Why not just disband them altogether or, at the very least, phase them out? Likewise, if our soldiers' primary duty will be to keep peace and thus avoid war, then why not train them in nothing but non-lethal techniques?

Tellingly, not even those who envision a radically altered high-tech battlescape advocate the dissolution of combat units. None among them has called for an end to teaching hand-to-hand combat, movement-to-contact, or night patrolling skills. None is really arguing that we won't need some sort of close-in as well as sustained combat capability. Rather, the push now is to integrate capable women into such units. Why?

There are at least two sets of answers. The first has to do with knocking down the walls of one of the last all-male preserves. For those opposed on principle to men's exclusivity, as well as their presumed dominance, the only important war to be waged is the gender war, and what could be a more appropriate target than the combat exclusion laws? Those who argue this point of view are relatively easy to dismiss, since they are uninterested in engaging in discussions about the role of the military.

Impossible to ignore, on the other hand, are those who are passionate about the military either because they serve or feel every American should have the opportunity to do so. From their perspective, fairness dictates that American women be granted the same opportunities to fulfill their citizenship duties--and in the same ways--as American men.

But if this is their position, why shouldn't everyone have to fulfill these duties? Why aren't they advocating national service or universal conscription? If either were in place their logic would be unassailable and not just persuasive. If all Americans were required to serve, women could legally demand equivalent opportunities, and it is hard to imagine their being denied. However, with the force structured as it is, everyone doesn't have to volunteer, all volunteers don't have to be accepted, and women know from the outset they will not be allowed into certain units.

On closer examination, it seems that the struggle is less about rights and responsibilities than it is about rewards. Women in uniform, and female officers especially, are understandably concerned about promotion and advancement. Nor are equity and justice unreasonable goals or career demands. In fact, they are eminently reasonable. But the push being made to enable women to serve with men in combat units belies the stated desire, which is for women to attain the same opportunities as men. If the aim was truly parity and opportunity, women could accomplish both equally well in their own single-gender combat units. Yet, the notion of developing such units is never broached in this country, which is itself suggestive. The real intent must therefore be to earn women the chance to compete directly against men for a shot at positions of higher command. …

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