Shortly after Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the United States Armed Forces would open combat positions to women. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey recalled an instance in Iraq where he was driven around in a Humvee with a female gunner on board and declared that it was time to change. He then picked up a skateboard to grind down one of the Pentagon’s railings because he’d seen Tony Hawk do it and decided all guys could.
Well, not really, but it made about as much sense as Dempsey deciding to change military policy based on an experience riding in the heavily guarded convoy of a US Army division commander.
The decision to integrate women into combat units is the culmination of years of effort to reform the US Armed Forces by people whose military experience consists of occasionally seeing Call of Duty commercials on television. It’s a policy based largely on hubris and irrational fantasy, based on an absurd belief that women can do anything—including teleportation—if they were “just given a chance.”
There are a number of reasons to preclude women from ground combat roles, some better than others. Being human, a woman can be as emotionally capable as any male of killing an enemy soldier; generalizations about the pool of personnel available to the military are more difficult to make, so I don’t feel this is the strongest argument that can be made.
Unit cohesion is another concern. Soldiers work in groups, spending years building up trust in each other, learning their comrades’ movements and capabilities; introducing someone of another gender can destabilize that dynamic, whether because of physical differences that may render them a liability or a source of tension among the soldiers or their families. Such disagreements happen and will happen and no order can make it disappear completely.
Perhaps the greatest argument against placing women in ground combat positions is the physical standards to which the military holds its personnel. Although I could do the expected thing and claim that men are stronger (which as a group we are, although women are more flexible and coordinated), it makes more sense to me to say that women are simply built differently from men. Women are shorter (and smaller in general), have significantly less upper body strength and aerobic capacity, and have less dense skeletons, which results in easier breakage.
None of this is to say that women don’t have a place in the military, or even in different fields of combat. Among my favorite heroes of World War II are the ladies of the 46th Guards Night-Bomber Regiment (“The Night-Witches”), one of the hardest working units of the Red Air Force. This regiment flew more missions than the entire American Eight Air Force.
I fully support the idea of women in the more technical areas of combat: fighters, bombers, helicopters, drones, gunships, warships, etc. An argument could even be made for armored vehicles and some types of artillery (not necessarily tanks, mostly because US armor only has crew served weapons instead of autoloaders, like those produced by France, Japan, and Russia; although this should change if the soldiers in question can perform to standards).