Soldier-girl blues
The decision to allow women in combat hasn't stifled the debate.

Defense.gov

Article Highlights

  • Absent any informed debate, polls support the idea of servicewomen serving in combat.

    Tweet This

  • Mainstream media have celebrated the decision to allow women in combat and largely yawned at the skeptics.

    Tweet This

  • The decision to allow women in combat hasn’t stifled the debate.

    Tweet This

What if, during the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney had accused President Obama of wanting to let servicewomen serve in combat? After all, Obama had hinted as much in 2008. What would Obama's response have been?

My hunch is that he would have accused Romney of practicing the "politics of division" or some such and denied it.

In any case, wouldn't an open debate have been better than putting women into combat by fiat? You'd think the folks who are always clamoring for a "national conversation" on this, that and the other thing would prefer to make a sweeping change after, you know, a national conversation.

Instead, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the change on his way out. And Panetta has been lionized even though it wasn't really his decision to make. If the president didn't want this to happen, it wouldn't happen. Perhaps Obama let Panetta run with the idea, just in case it turned out to be a political fiasco.

The good news for Obama is that it hasn't been. Absent any informed debate, polls support the idea. Indeed, the Republican Party has been shockingly restrained in even questioning what is a vastly bigger deal than the lifting of the half-ban on gays in the military — "don't ask, don't tell." The mainstream media have celebrated the milestone and largely yawned at the skeptics.

Most lacking from the coverage is any attempt to explain how this will make combat units better at combat. Instead, we're told that gender integration is necessary because without combat experience, it's hard for women to get promoted.

Lifting that glass ceiling is an understandable, even lofty desire. But what does it have to do with making the military better at fighting?

My point isn't that women should be kept out of all combat roles. Indeed, as many supporters of the move are quick to point out, women are already getting shot at. "In our male-centric viewpoint, we want to keep women from harm's way," Ric Epps a former Air Force intelligence officer who teaches political science, told this newspaper. "But ... modern warfare has changed. There are no true front lines; the danger is everywhere, and women have already been there in Iraq and Afghanistan."

True enough. But does anyone believe such changes are permanent? Will we never again have front lines? Or are the generals simply fighting the last war and projecting that experience out into the future?

Heck, if we'll never have wars between standing armies again, we can really afford to cut the defense budget. Something tells me that's not the conclusion the Pentagon wants us to draw.

It is a common habit of many liberals and self-avowed centrists to preen about how they don't deny science and evolution the way conservatives do. Ironically, on this issue, it is the opponents of women in combat invoking the scientific data that confirm a fairly obvious evolutionary fact: Men and women are different. For instance, at their physical peak, "the average woman has the aerobic capacity of a 50-year-old male," notes Mackubin Thomas Owens in a powerfully empirical article in the Weekly Standard.

Another evolutionary fact is that men act different when around women. This creates challenges for unit cohesion and fighting effectiveness.

The three most common responses to such concerns are that countries such as Israel and Canada let women in combat; advances for women can't be held hostage to sexist attitudes; there won't be any lowering of standards, so only physically qualified women will be in combat.

As to the first point, Israeli gender integration is often wildly exaggerated. And the Canadians have neither the capacity nor the need for a large standing army.

The latter arguments don't strike me as particularly reality-based either. Sexist attitudes alone aren't a justification for anything. But we're not talking about misogyny here. Proof of that is the fact that the military already practices gender-norming (giving women extra points for being women) in many instances. Will there really be less now?

Obama's decision hasn't stifled the debate, it's merely postponed it until the day Americans see large numbers of women coming home in body bags too.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Jonah
Goldberg

  •  


    A bestselling author and columnist, Jonah Goldberg's nationally syndicated column appears regularly in scores of newspapers across the United States. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a member of the board of contributors to USA Today, a contributor to Fox News, a contributing editor to National Review, and the founding editor of National Review Online. He was named by the Atlantic magazine as one of the top 50 political commentators in America. In 2011 he was named the Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He has written on politics, media, and culture for a wide variety of publications and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. Prior to joining National Review, he was a founding producer for Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg on PBS and wrote and produced several other PBS documentaries. He is the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, The Tyranny of Clichés (Sentinel HC, 2012) and Liberal Fascism (Doubleday, 2008).  At AEI, Mr. Goldberg writes about political and cultural issues for American.com and the Enterprise Blog.

    Follow Jonah Goldberg on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-7165
    Email: jonah.goldberg@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The money in banking: Comparing salaries of bank and bank regulatory employees
image What Obama should say about China in Japan
image A key to college success: Involved dads
image China takes the fight to space
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.