Women do not belong in the infantry.
It’s a simple statement and one that, until recently, nearly every civilized culture seemed to accept as a truism. For reasons as multitudinous as they are apparent and profound, in time of war men have shouldered arms and marched to the clash of legions or the sound of the guns. Women as a rule have not. Even in those scattered and wretched societies whose women prowled the battlefields to torture the wounded and desecrate the dead, no woman was thrown into offensive action against the massed ranks of the enemy. Show me an exception and I’ll show you savages.
Yet now, in the bosom of modern democracy and in the heart of its most disciplined warrior elite, the prohibition against employing women in the infantry appears about to change. The Marine Corps announced recently that it plans to send women to the brutal, 11-week Infantry Officer Course in Quantico, Virginia. Simultaneously, the Corps plans to enroll women into the enlisted infantry schools at Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton.
Frankly, I am astonished.
If the enrollment of women into previously all-male infantry schools is designed as an experiment, with the results to be examined and the suitability of women for combat arms assignments then debated, determined, and declared, I could save the Marine Corps significant expense and ferocious opposition by predicting the inevitable result. They will find that women are different from men and those differences severely prejudice the value of women to the infantry.
Wait. Women and men are different? Can’t we just gender-norm the infantry standards, modify the equipment, and make the barracks coed? Don’t women deserve the same opportunity that men have to fight and die for their country?
The answer is no. Let me explain.
Since the obvious has apparently escaped social reformers and military planners, I will restate it: there are fundamental physical differences between men and women. I could quote facts and figures about the difference in average body weight of men and women, the distribution of muscle mass, and the capacity for heavy lifting and muscular endurance. But since facts and figures haven’t deterred those who argue for women in the infantry, I’ll just use a real world example.
Marine Second Lieutenants at The Basic School – just across the street from the Infantry Officer Course – conduct at least a half-dozen conditioning hikes during their six months of basic officer training. The hikes range from 3 miles to 12 or more, and are conducted with full packs, body armor, personal weapons, and the machine guns and mortars organic to an infantry battalion. Since “Every Marine is a Rifleman”, all lieutenants – male and female – learn the basics of infantry leadership. The hike pace is 3 miles every 50 minutes, followed by a ten minute break. Forever. Or so it seems.
Most service members will admit that conditioning hikes are grueling exercises in physical and mental endurance. I personally despised them, especially when it was my turn to shoulder a 25 pound machine gun or a 45 pound, .50-caliber receiver. Each hike took all of my effort and physical fitness to complete. Unsurprisingly, during my time at The Basic School no female lieutenant completed a hike of greater than 6 miles with the rest of the 180 or so male lieutenants. Not one. And that’s with the male lieutenants carrying all of the radios and heavy weapons.
A hike only gets you to the fight.
Am I disparaging my fellow lieutenants simply because they were women? Of course not. Many of them were smart, fit, and exceptionally disciplined and dedicated. Hell, they chose to lead Marines. I’m certain that the majority of them went on to serve bravely in the stinking streets of Iraq and the austere mountain valleys of Afghanistan. But not with the infantry.
The fact is that an infantryman’s job is a mix between professional athlete, police officer, mechanic, and construction worker. It is a physical job. Infantrymen are affectionately and accurately known as “grunts” because of the sound made when shifting a 120-pound pack closer against one’s agonized shoulders. It isn’t good enough to survive the physical requirements of a 12 mile mountain ruck march if at the end of it an infantryman cannot fling down his pack and sprint in short bursts of speed across an undulating farm field while delivering effective and disciplined fire against a concealed enemy who is desperately trying to kill him.
It would be the rare woman that could meet such an exacting physical standard. Yet, undoubtedly some could. A 73 year old Japanese woman summited Mount Everest this past weekend. There must be a few 20 year old, female athletes that could excel in the infantry. So why not keep the standard the same and allow women who pass it to enlist in the infantry? This brings me to my next obvious point.
There are sexual differences between men and women. I’m surprised that this point needs elaboration, but unfortunately it has been downplayed in official circles and formal reports, leading to an underestimation of the negative effects it can have on mixed-gender military units and an overly sanguine view of young military members’ self-control. Good order and discipline are just words to the armchair feminist or social reformer, but to military leaders they are the ether in which healthy, disciplined units function and accomplish the Nation’s difficult business.
With mixed gender units inevitably comes sexual tension and relational drama. Such hormone-induced activity is often no more than an unfortunate distraction in non-combat units. But in the strict world of, say, nuclear weapon security, where I commanded platoons of infantry Marines alongside female Masters-at-Arms, the distractions resulted in potentially serious security breaches. In the rigidly controlled environment of a Stateside submarine base I was still so disgusted with the sexual antics between security professionals that I christened the barracks and berthing areas “Bangor Junior High”. Were the Marines and female Sailors good service members? They were some of the best in the world. Did that stop them from acting on impulse during long hours of boring duty and close proximity to members of the opposite sex? Not always.
When the US Navy assigned female sailors to the formerly all male aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and sent them overseas, the leaders and planners did not anticipate that 15 sailors would have to be reassigned due to pregnancies. Forever after, the Eisenhower would be known throughout the Navy as “The Love Boat”. Less humorous were the scuffles and stabbings that resulted from jealous lovers quarreling in the close environs of a warship underway.
If the largest warship in the world is too small of an environment to diffuse the hormonal impulses of its clean, comfortable sailors quartered in separate male and female berthing
areas, imagine the result of infantry men and women sharing a squalid fighting hole or passing the time during a midnight watch in a machine gun tower in Afghanistan. Good order and discipline is essential to the effective performance of an infantry unit during the dirty, dangerous deployments to the cesspools of the world. I cannot foresee a reason strong enough to justify the damage to unit esprit, discipline, and morale if women are integrated into male infantry units.
Of course, such good order and discipline issues become moot if infantry women are formed into separate, all-female units. I imagine this is the direction intended by the Marine Corps. Admittedly, all-female search teams gained notoriety in Iraq as the “Lionesses”, where they bravely contributed to mission accomplishment of combat units outside the ”wire”. Nevertheless, the Lionesses were escorted by regular infantrymen, shielding them from the overt responsibility to engage and destroy the enemy. This brings me to my last point.
Americans do not want their women hunting and killing the enemy, nor are their young men psychologically equipped to accept with stoicism the violent, gruesome deaths of female comrades in arms. This is not a pervasive, sexist sentiment birthed in our Puritan past and nurtured into maturity by Victorian prohibitions. It is an honorable mantle of respect and protection bestowed upon the gentler, softer sex by a culture grounded in Judeo-Christian ethics and fundamentally aware of the distinct roles that naturally fall to men and women.
Whether religious or irreligious, Americans cannot but admit a natural separation of responsibility between men and women. An infant without a mother cannot be equally succored by a father, in spite of a love that runs just as deep. A man can never be a mother, just as a woman can never be a father. This, despite a century’s worth of neutering and gender-norming, is as much a fact today as it was 2,000 years ago.
It’s Not Fair
I can hear the plaintive cry of the social reformers: But that’s not fair! That is correct. Combat is not fair. During one assault in Iraq, we shot at a lone enemy gunman with a tank.
With. A. Tank. Here’s the photo.
I imagine he thought that was pretty unequal, too. Then we dropped a bomb on him. That’s why we win.
There are fundamental differences between men and women that make them better suited for different roles. These differences do not make women less courageous, less honorable, or less patriotic than men. The Silver Stars, Bronze Stars, and Purple Hearts awarded to women in Iraq and Afghanistan emphatically declare otherwise. But there are differences nonetheless.
Women do not belong in the infantry. But they do belong in the military. We cannot simultaneously honor their service and dishonor the vast majority of men and women who serve in combat support roles by inferring that non-infantry service is less valued than that of the infantry.