Monday, January 28, 2013

“Women in Combat”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Women in Combat”
January 28, 2013

Call me old fashioned; though, truth be told, I am old, but not in the least fashionable. I love the differences between the sexes and I rue that chivalry is out of date. I recall my grandfather, at the age of 89 standing when I introduced him more than fifty years ago to the woman who is now my wife. I was raised in a family with strong female presences. My mother and both grandmothers were mentally tough, intelligent and fiercely independent. Yet their husbands were respectful of them as women, as well as individuals. However, can I picture my grandmothers in the trenches during World War I, or my mother fighting alongside my father against the Germans in Italy’s Apennines? Not really.

Last week, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, with the backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that women would henceforth be allowed to serve in all combat situations. The announcement was couched in the Left’s language of fairness and diversity. An editorial in “National Review Online” raised the point: “… the U.S. military is neither a social-justice project nor a laboratory for feminist innovation. Its job is to secure the national-security interests of the United States.” Personally, I have no objection to women serving in any capacity in the military, as long as standards of strength and psychological temperament are maintained – not lowered to accommodate equality. The question that should always be asked of any recruit: will he (or she) enhance or compromise the unit with which they will serve?

The rationale for the change is the accusation that women have been denied promotion for lack of combat experience. That may be valid, but if that is the case the answer may lie elsewhere. West Point was first integrated in 1976. Since then three women have become First Captains. Currently women account for approximately 17% of the student body. Walter Williams, an economist and conservative political commentator has argued that West Point indulged in “gender specific” physical standards, allowing women to receive passing marks despite underperforming their male counterparts. Perhaps it is for that reason that the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) was overhauled last year, the first time since 1980. The old test required completion of three events: two minutes of push-ups, two minutes of sit-ups and a two mile run. The new test has five events: 60-yard shuttle run, 1-minute rower, standing long jump, 1-minute push-up and 1.5 mile run. Is the new test easier for women? I don’t know. What I do know is that we should never lower standards, which might imperil the safety of our troops or our nation, in order to achieve social justice.

The idea of placing women in combat situations is not new, nor unique to the United States. Over the past ten years, about 400 American women have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Israel has deployed women in combat roles since 1973, Canada since 1989, New Zealand since 2000 and Australia since 2011. History is replete with famous women warriors, beginning with the Amazons of Greek mythology. They include Queen Boudicca of England who helped drive the Romans from Britain; Joan of Arc who fought the British during the 100 Years War; Fallen Leaf, a Crow warrior and later a chief, Calamity Jane (whose real name was Martha Jane Canary) who was a scout and Indian fighter in the second half of the 19th Century, and others too numerous to name.

The lead editorial in Friday’s New York Times lauded the concept of women being able to serve in combat roles, writing that it was “a triumph for equality and common sense.” If by equality they mean that women now have an equal chance of being killed or wounded, that will be true. If they mean that Special Forces teams or forward observers may be equally divided between men and women, I suspect the answer will be no. War should always be a last resort, but once engaged the purpose is to win. Thus what are needed are the strongest and most skilled individuals, be they male or female. But the battlefield should be no place to experiment with women’s rights issues. As to the Times comment that the decision was a “triumph” for “common sense,” I leave the explanation of that observation to those of you far more insightful than I.

One can never avoid sex when discussing the mixing of the species. Sexual attraction is a powerful human emotion. And jealousy is not far behind. Unplanned pregnancies are about 50% higher for women in the military than for the general population, with little difference between those deployed overseas or stateside. Linda Chavez, writing in Saturday’s New York Post, noted that a study of a brigade operating in Iraq in 2007 showed that women sustained more casualties than did their male counterparts, and they experienced three times the evacuation rate. Seventy-four percent of the women evacuated were for pregnancy related issues. These factors raise questions that have little to do with equality and a lot to do with effectiveness.

But I find the whole discussion sad, distasteful and frankly distracting. In the interest of political correctness and feminist equality we risk overlooking the important differences between the sexes that make life so enjoyable. A search for equality detracts from the importance of love and respect. Men and women are not the same, certainly not in a biological or emotional sense. Evolution gave to women the ability to give birth, in part, I suspect, because of their greater ability to endure pain. We are built differently, as nature has created different roles for us. Men generally have greater upper body strength and, in most cases, are less emotional. John Gray’s book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, sold more than 50 million copies since being published in 1992. He explains that women typically have excelled at languages and tend to have better manual dexterity, while men usually have better quantitative skills. There are, obviously, numerous exceptions to the general rule.

The French have an expression, “viva la difference,” which is an expression of appreciation for diversity, especially between men and women. My daughter at about the age of two, and with a brother a year and a half older, apparently decided that equality of the sexes extended to one’s physical attributes; so she once relieved herself while standing. The results were not pretty. Today, as a forty-something wife and mother, she relishes her womanhood.

Women should receive equal pay for equal work. They should have all of the natural and legal rights of men. On the scales of justice there should be no difference. No matter their job, whether a stay-at-home mom or Secretary of State, they deserve our respect and admiration. But the questions remain: Are we sending women into combat solely to achieve numerical equality? Will physical and emotional standards be compromised? Should not our priority be mutual respect that acknowledges and celebrates our differences? Would not that make ours a more civilized and enjoyable society?

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