Let’s Talk About Women In Combat, Again

Washington Post:

The gunman…was carrying an assault rifle, two handguns and as many as 1,000 rounds of ammunition when he shot his way into the huge New Life Church in Colorado Springs and was confronted and shot by Jeanne Assam, a former police officer who was serving as a volunteer security guard, police said.

“I saw him coming through the doors, and I took cover, and I waited for him to get closer,” Assam told reporters. “I came out of cover, I identified myself and engaged him and took him down,” she said.

Assam is a former law-enforcement officer; but was a private citizen acting as a volunteer when she acted Sunday.

So we have two mass shootings this week…in one, a civilian is encouraged to be armed and prepared; in the other…well, sadly, no (see this first-hand account).

And reading her account, I certainly question whether I – or any of the trained shooters I know – could have done much better.

About 80 feet down a main hallway, Murray encountered Assam, who fired several rounds at him, Sgt. Jeff Jensen of the Colorado Springs Police Department told a news conference. He said that “she definitely wounded him” but that police have not yet determined whether any of her shots were fatal or “whether there was a self-inflicted gunshot wound during this as well.”

“I didn’t think for a minute to run away,” Assam said. “I was given the assignment to end this before it got too much worse.” She said the encounter “was scary” but “my hands were not even shaking” as she prayed for help. “I was very focused,” she said. “I just knew I was not going to wait for him to do any further damage. I just knew what I had to do.”

I’ll wait for Kingsley Browne’s reponse…

46 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Women In Combat, Again”

  1. AL:

    When you use the events at New Life Church as a foil for Mr. Browne’s arguments, I think you’re fighting a strawman. Note that in the guest-blogging thread to which you link, the first paragraph says that the following assumptions have not been challenged by the integrationist advocates:

    (1) That the high-tech nature of modern warfare means that the sexes no longer differ much in combat-relevant ways;

    (2) That as long as a woman possesses the individual physical and psychological attributes of an effective soldier, her inclusion in a combat unit would not impair its effectiveness;

    (3) That the primary obstacle to integration are men’s “masculinist” attitudes, which can be overcome with adequate training and leadership.

    Note that none of the above says anything remotely about the notion that “women can’t shoot” or any other such patently ludicrous stereotype. In fact, the second point implicitly concedes that individual women could in fact “possess the individual physical and psychological attributes of an effective soldier,” which presumably includes the ability to do exactly what Ms. Assam did. No one is suggesting that women cannot be competent marksmen. (Markspersons?) Nor is anyone suggesting that women somehow intrinsically lack that psychological ability to pull the trigger.

    Therefore, I’m inclined to ask … against what premise or conclusion of Mr. Browne’s series of guest-blogs on Volokh does this incident speak?

  2. Edit: I should have said “successfully challenged.” Browne’s point is, ultimately, that these truths haven’t changed as much as the integrationists would like to believe.

  3. Gramarye, I’m not sure how to respond to your comments. Did you also read the opening paragraphs of the Volokh post, which included …

    I argue that those who believe there are no substantial tradeoffs involved in including women in combat roles are wrong. Inclusion of women in those roles results in a segment of the force that is physically weaker, more prone to injury (both physical and psychological), less physically aggressive, able to withstand less pain, less willing to take physical risks, less motivated to kill, less likely to be available to deploy when ordered to (partly, but not exclusively because of pregnancy), more expensive to recruit, and less likely to remain in the service even for the length of their initial contracts. Officers and NCOs must reassign physical tasks (or do them themselves) because women cannot get them done fast enough, if at all.


    Or his summation, immediately after the quote you pulled, which included this…

    All of these assumptions are flawed, in my opinion, and, as a result, the costs and difficulties of sexual integration of combat forces are often substantially underestimated.


    How in the wide world of sports is this a strawman? And no, the Colorado event wasn’t combat – although it was a good proxy for it – but the Raven 42 events certainly were by any definition of the phrase.


  4. #3 Gabriel: In what way, exactly, was this not combat? Ms. Assam confronted a heavily armed man, at a range extreme for her weapon and routine for his, after having already been told that this individual was quite prepared to use his weapon. Granted, it was not mass combat. According to your logic, a SWAT team entering a crack house full of heavily armed gangbangers is not entering combat either – unless there is something I am missing in your argument.

  5. A.L. #4:

    I wasn’t saying anything about the Raven 42 incident.

    However, I don’t think those quotes of Browne’s you pulled support the point you’re trying to make, either. His summation is basically what I said: that those listed assumptions are flawed. Nothing that happened at that church seems to do any work towards dispelling any of those assumptions.

    The opening paragraph of the Volokh post does go somewhat further than I would, and reading it again, I do see that I missed a critical word the first time (“segment” … more significant than it seems at first blush). However, one needn’t accept the validity of any of those to accept the bulleted assumptions. In fact, reading it again, I’m somewhat puzzled, because he states in the first paragraph that women lack the physical and psychological attributes to be soldiers and then phrases his bulleted premises in such a way so as to concede that such women do exist (likely as a lesser proportion of the population, but not categorically nonexistent).

    At any rate, my point was simply that Browne is not wrong to suggest that there are still differences between the sexes (of military relevance) for which technology has yet to compensate, and that there are real differences (also of military relevance) between single-gender and coed group dynamics that are arguably more important than the physical and psychological attributes of individual soldiers when it comes to unit effectiveness. (I’m not sure where exactly he’s driving with that third one.) Perhaps you can argue that coed group dynamics aren’t so much of a handicap, but whatever your position on that, the Colorado incident is of no relevance to it because that issue simply wasn’t in play.

  6. I think the women in combat argument hinges on unit cohesion, not their ability to blast a bad guy with the best of them. I’m not entirely sure which way I fall on that argument, but im pretty certain this event doesnt shed any light on it.

  7. A.L., while I greatly admire Ms. Assam’s actions, and am not even a strong opponent of women in combat, I too think you’ve set up a strawman here. Let’s not allow our strong admiration for her composure and decisiveness get carried away. The events at the New Life Church were violent and called for violence in return which she delivered well. But it was not combat.

    Combat occurs over hours, days or weeks, not minutes. And requires a lot of other attributes Ms. Assam was not required to demonstrate. Certainly I missed the part where she had to carry an 80 pound pack to the church …

  8. Robin: Here’s where I agree with you: If a woman can’t cut the physical, mental and psychological requirements, she shouldn’t be soldier. Nor should any man who fails those requirements.

    However, if she can, and she’s good enough, and she trains as hard as the men, she deserves the opportunity. Everything I’ve read indicates that boot camp is getting easier, not pushing as hard, not demanding as much from new recruits. This goes for men AND women.

    I hear stories that less is often asked from women. That has to stop. If anything, they should be pushed harder in training, to demonstrate they can handle the punishment. For the first few years of combat, these women are allowed into combat, they will be tested: Not only by their enemy, but by their peers. They will have to prove that they are good enough. Every push will be necessary to weed out those who will initially reflect badly.

    Therefore, the toughest, the best and the brightest should go first. (The same thing was basically true of blacks in WW2).

  9. [moved from wrong thread…]

    Robin – I don’t think every soldier should be in Special Forces, either – but if they can pass the physical quals, why should gender matter? And even those may be suspect.

    Here’s a story. I taught rockclimbing in college. When we put the class prospectus together, and sold it to the administration. One of the things in it was a basic physical test; we asked prospective students to walk up four flights of stairs, to climb a 15′ ladder, and to do ten chinups (any format). We presumed that these were good proxies for the level of fitness needed to climb.

    None of the female students interested in the class could do the chinups. We were prepared to simply exclude them, until the faculty advisor explained that the chinup test was simply no longer a part of the qualifications for the class.

    I was convinced that it would be a trainwreck – how could they climb if they couldn’t chin themselves?

    In fact every one of the womem successfuly finished the class, and several were climbing in the high 5.x’s when the quarter was done (I attribute it to superior coaching, personally…).

    To a large extent, I think the gender effects of mixed platoons are a product of innate as well as learned behavior. As with gays and the military, I expect the changes in cultural norms to overtake this to some significant extent, and for the effects to be lower as time goes forward.

    Should all women in the Army be in all combat MOS’s? Probably not. But we also have to realize that virtually all MOS’s are going to be combat MOS’s at some point.


  10. Armed Liberal,

    The recent events certainly make a case for why responsible citizens carrying around guns might actually save lives, unlike in teh VTech case.

    However, one major issue goes overlooked :

    Wouldn’t it be prudent for EVERYONE to invest in some light body-armor, that looks like a normal jacket? I have dome some research, and Type IIA or Type II body Armor (which can stop handguns) is light, and costs only about $650/suit.

    I am surprised that more people don’t make this investment. If you believe that responsible gun-owners reduce crimes like this, then the case for getting a body-armor jacket (again, it looks like a normal jacket) is a no-brainer.

    What do you think?

  11. re: rock climbing class

    I think the story highlights 2 things:
    (1) based on results, the chinup qualification, thought reasonable before the class, was not diagnostic/predictive.
    (2) having the requirement removed by a non-subject-matter expert, BEFORE the results were known, was an example of un-supported changes in requirements, for reasons apparently not related to expected performance.

    (1) says we often don’t know everything.
    (2) says some people don’t care that they don’t know, which I judge to be Bad.

    (I cannot now, nor could I ever, do 10 chinups)

  12. I agree with Gabriel in his #3. This was not the repeated, often sustained and rigorous experience of a combat deployment. This was one very brief incident.

    There is no comparison.

    @ AL #10; then why does the Army – and I believe all of the other branches of the service have lower physical requirements for females than for males? In the USMC men and women have entirely separate boot camp (although both men and women recruits are trained in camps physically located in the same area – Paris Island or San Diego – it is not unusual for a male recruit to never see a female recruit during the entire 4 months, let alone train togther).

    Are you suggesting that your wisdom on this topic surpasses that of the Army’s? The Marines’?

  13. AL — here is your problem. You don’t consider the organizational issues of women in combat and instead focus on individual incidents. That has been the hallmark (sorry, it must be said) of sloppy Liberal thinking since the days of the Port Huron statement.

    Russians and Israelis found that when women in units were killed, their soldiers went on counter-productive rampages that tended to get more of them killed for “revenge.” Soldiers were also deeply demoralized as the deaths were taken as personal failure to protect the “mascots” of the unit. Moreover, experience showed units with women tended to act initially more conservatively and avoid situations where the “mascots” could get killed/injured/captured.

    Women cannot hump around the same combat load, or even maintenance loads, as men. They are less physically able to get extremely physical jobs DONE day after day after day. This does not lessen elements of individual heroism. It does mean that a male mechanic with more upper body strength can get engines pulled and fixed faster than weaker female mechanics. In combat this can be the difference between success and failure.

    EVERY single Naval Officer I’ve spoken to expressed frustration with the issue of women on ships. Typically some will find the cruise too exhausting and become pregnant, which means a trip stateside (with no consequences) and everyone ELSE doubling up to take over the missing crewman’s load. Also, tensions over women, i.e. competitions, fights over them, are extremely disruptive to morale and cohesiveness.

    Sorry AL, Men and Women ARE NOT THE SAME. They just are not. In military operations, women generally have no place. They just don’t. Certainly not in combat. BECAUSE MEN AND WOMEN ARE NOT THE SAME. Sorry to dissent from Liberal Orthodoxy Religion. But it’s true.

  14. AL:

    I don’t think you challenge the argument as much as you think.

    1) The marksmenship of women is well documented and not challenged. The problem is that combat when at war consists of more than marksmenship, a problem that proponents of women at war consistantly overlook or under estimate. You in fact seem to be doing this when you equate what happen in Colorado with warfare.

    2) I think that Mr. Browne would gladly conceed to you that women are better suited psychologically and physically for ‘defence of the home’ than they would be at combat in general. Again, I think that Mr. Browne’s point is precisely that these cases are not good stand in for the mental or physical rigors of combat, and that you are sorta walking right into the teeth of his argument by pretending that they are.

    3) At best, even if we give you something which as #1 and #2 indicate no one has to, the case in question addresses only a tiny fraction of the claims Mr. Browne made. How is it not a strawman argument?

    4) Finally, it seems to me that Mr. Brownes argument is not that no women are fit, but that the number of combat fit women is so small as to not justify the difficulties that integrating the forces would cause. As a former law-enforcement officer and a volunteer security guard, the shooter in question is obviously something of an outlying case.

    This site has covered events that far better address Mr. Browne’s argument than this case ever could. I seem to recall some female MPs assaulting into a well-prepared ‘L’ ambush and out fighting a numerically superior fighting force. That would seem to address the point directly and without a strawman.

    I personally feel that Mr. Browne raises important points, but that he’s only about half right. The really difficult point is #4. I think it is unquestionable that on average men are better physically and psychologically suited to combat, and that only a tiny fraction of women are up to what should be minimal standards of fitness for the role. If Mr. Browne can get us as a society to accept that without being embarassed by the fact, then he’ll have done some good. The real question then is, “Should we accomodate the outliers?” That is a much harder question, and one I won’t attempt to answer. But there is a much easier rejoinder to Mr. Browne’s argument, and that is, “Are the women in our armed forces useful?” To that I think that on the whole the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

    Some of the problems we are experiencing are undoubtably as Mr. Browne claims, entirely biology and we must live with them whether we like them or not. I think however that some of the problem is that we have centuries if not millenia of experience training young men to be killers, and we are quite adept at it. We have far less understanding of what it takes to train young women, or to successfully have mixed units. We will learn, and then some problems of unit readiness, unit cohesion, and biological issues (like pregnancy) will be handled.

    For example, it seems to me that women in combat units could be chemically rendered sterile, and solve alot of problems with the pregnancy issue. I don’t know what the best approach is, and I’m not sure anyone does at this point.

    Some problems though will always remain. Mr. Browne is quite right to ram down people’s throats that there are basic and important biological differences.

  15. For all the difficulties people attribute to women in combat, there have also been some unanticipated benefits. For instance, in the current war, female soldiers are used to search “women” (which could just be a guy in a burqua) without creating any local backlash. That’s a not-insubstantial benefit, given how easily it could have been exploited had that simple counter not been available.

    Is that combat effectiveness plus alone worth the difficulties of integration into MP units et. al.? I’d argue that yes, it is. Without having to cite anything else.

    On Navy ships? No, and that’s a bad idea – even though women are well able to handle it physically.

  16. “…..On Navy ships……”

    Ha! My daughter – who is in the Navy (and who was lucky to get her looks from her mom) – half jokingling asked for a can of pepper spray for christmas. This would be for use on the persistently horny male sailors and Marines.

  17. Typically some will find the cruise too exhausting and become pregnant…

    You seem to be describing two different problems here. It seems to me the only difference between male sailors and female sailors is that women have a womb. As Joe noted, you make everybody sterile (why not everybody? I would guess that it’s better than having a bunch of American kids running around in foreign countries) and this “pregnancy” issue completely disappears.

    Yes, shockingly, there are biological differences between men & women. They’re are also women who have personalities and hormone levels closer to men (and vice versa). They’re are also women who could handle the physical requirements much better than I could (BTW: American gladiators is coming back….).So I see the phsyical issues as largely irrelevant.

    The psychological issues are more complicated, but in history there are records of female warriors: The Vikings, The Spartans, Female Gladiators in Rome, Joan of Ark. Just none in recent history, where they have basically been barred (I think religion had something to do with that).

  18. Here’s the thing, most of us with military experience understand the difficulties of having women serve on the front lines in combat roles as your typical grunt or ground combatant. Yes, we all know a handful of women who we think could cut it, and indeed some of them could, but the vast majority of women in the armed forces can not. Be it emotional or physical reasons.

    The differences in the sexes from a physical and psychological standpoint really are not up for dispute. Men are stronger, more aggressive, and more mentally suited for combat.

    Furthermore, our cultural norms place different importance on the life of women and children then they do on men. If we started seeing hundreds of women dieing in ground combat, the public backlash would be overwhelming. Think Jessica Lynch X 100. Couple this with the youth of the majority of our combat troops and you have a recipe for disaster. Lets face it, we all like to think that our soldiers are disciplined, mature young adults, but the reality is, guys still think with their dicks most of the time, and this holds double true for the military.

    Honestly, the one thing I loved most about my time in the service was the lack of women putting the kibosh on all things man. The military is one of the few places men can actually cut loose and not be hampered by the massive political correctness that gets drilled into us daily by civilians. There was always a deep seated resentment by the troops when women were assigned to combat divisions.

    I’ll echo the pregnancy thing as well. During Gulf War 1, the the Hospital ship Comfort had a large number of pregnancies. Those are berths that needed to be replaced ASAP, during a major ground offensive when almost all of the male combat medics were pushed out to Marine ground units. Gulf War reports showed that 1.5% of men and 5.6% of women could not deploy with their units — in the case of women, primarily due to pregnancy. 5% is a pretty big number when it comes to ground forces.

    I don’t have a big problem with women in combat support roles, and as we have seen, sometimes they do come under fire and perform, but as we have also seen, when they do get harmed, captured, etc. it appears human nature takes over, instead of military logic.

  19. I come at the question from a different angle. Should we reserve half of the population from being exposed to combat, or should we yield to the pressure of total war?

    Someday we will be in another world war. I don’t think it is wise to allow a future lost generation to consume the women also. If you say war is not like that any more you sound a lot like the prophets of August 1914.

    I am not a pacifist. But I do believe war needs to have limits.

  20. Gabriel: Again, I agree that they’re are fundamental differences between men and women. But it is difficult to tell what differences are real, and what differences are culture-enforced stereotypes? (Although I’ll remove my mention of viking women and spartan women, apparently those analogies are incorrect.) Cindy Shehan is more a cultural reaction than a troop reaction, and it didn’t make me cringe any more than a male officer who is attacked, raped, beaten and eventually killer.

    In the 1800’s, it was largely believed that women were too fragile for any athletics, and warned against horseback riding (it was thought to ‘deform’ the deform the spine and the “lower half” of the body). Obviously, that belief is full of crap, and we’re seeing how tough women can get in some truly athletic sports. (soccer, hockey, tennis, track & field etc).

    Again, these are not average women. But is the average women asking to be in a fighting unit? I would guess no. I think those asking to push themselves are trying to be equal to the men, and if they want to go that far, they should be trained, pushed and judged equal to men.

    Obviously, I’ve never been to the military, but it has been a men’s only club for 1,000’s of years. I understand that having women might change that way of life, and it’s unfortunate. But, (my understanding as a military outsider) is that the military is NOT there to be a boy’s club. It’s there to an efficient, effective top-of-the line fighting force.

    If women can work with men to improve the quality of that force, then they should be there. If they can’t, they shouldn’t be. I think that’s the only thing worth debating. (Although, that is in itself a debate).

    I believe there was also an argument against letting black men into the military over the last century, but those fears also seem to have been unfounded.

  21. The black men vs women comparison is invalid, because the physical differences don’t exist. Men are men. Those restrictions were purely cultural, and not physical.

    The problem lies in the fact that every member male member of the military can be called upon to be a combatant. If we start creating classes of women, those who are combat worthy and those who are not, it takes away from the premise of every soldier is a rifleman first and foremost. Also, this dual class creates all kinds of legal problems. The military shouldn’t be a social experiment (sadly it has been used as such).

    The key fact remains, that a commander in the field can call upon the typist in the rear to fight, because he knows that even the typist is required to maintain a level of readiness that is required to peform under fire. As it stands now, women are held to a lower standard from a physical perspective. Their physical requirements are dumbed down primarily because of the physical differences between men and women.

    Marine Corps PFT perfect score is as such:

    20 pull ups
    100 crunches in 2 minutes
    3 mile run in 18 minutes

    female standards
    70 second flex arm hang
    100 crunches in 2 minutes
    3 mile run in 21 minutes

    The physical difference between a Pullup and a “flex arm hang” is tremendous. Now a perfect PFT is the max, but even the minimums for men vs women can be significant.

  22. As a former paratrooper (airborne infantry), I see the idea of women in combat units as a bad idea. The last time I looked, women make up about 10% of the active duty military. They serve well in many jobs where there is no demand for physical conditioning. Today, they’re also serving in combat roles such as fighter pilots. In Iraq, many women have performed well under fire such as when their convoy is attacked. More power to them. There is no question in my mind that women are providing valuable service in today’s military.

    The matter is different when you’re talking about dedicate combat units like the infantry. Patrolling a dangerous area and engaging in prolonged combat is far removed from a single firefight. Having to run from place to place while wearing heavy body armor and being able to haul away a wounded buddy under fire are very demanding.

    I can look out of my kitchen window and see the New Life Church. As might be expected, the story is getting a lot of attention in my area. By all accounts, Miss Assam performed outstandingly in an extremely dangerous situation. She is a true hero and showed more courage that many men could muster under those circumstances. However, to compare that one act of extreme courage to the day in and day out grind of serving in a combat unit under fire is an invalid comparison.

  23. To follow up, here’s a link (via Blackfive) that describes the intensity of combat by an infantry platoon in Afghanistan. As brave as Miss Assam’s actions were last Sunday, they simply don’t compare.

  24. The best record of women in combat comes from Israel. The presence of women disrupted the morale of combat units, reduced readiness, and jeopardized small unit missions. If women in combat was likely to work, Israel would have made it work. They need all the combat power they can muster.

    Female dominated units in the US experience significantly reduce readiness. Experiments with all-female units showed it was basically impossible to get female units above 70% readiness.

    AL’s use of anecdote amounts to an improper use of evidence. True and valid generalizations cannot be refuted by single counter-examples.

    Personally, I’d be GREATLY pleased if women could serve effectively in combat. For far too long, men have shouldered a disproportionate burden in defense of the state. Men must register for the Selective Service or face the loss of all federal benefits (including student loans, but excepting Social Security). I’m all for equality, and women get a free ride in this regard. Frankly, it kinda pisses me off.

    Unfortunately for us equality-minded folks, female combat units suck. In general, of course.

  25. Al, sure.


    bq. In 1999, Israel announced that women would begin serving as combat soldiers in the year 2000.

    That’s current. Although, I’m unsure why evidence from 1950 isn’t “current.” Human nature hasn’t changed much.

    [Bare URL fixed. Jeff: please refrain from posting bare URLs; it hurts Movable Type’s pointy little head. Directions for posting links in a way that doesn’t break WoC page formatting are posted just above the fields for entering thread posts. Thanks. –NM]

  26. Sorry, AL. I forgot to note that you forgot to note this in your own cite: “450 women currently serve in combat units of Israel’s security forces, primarily in the Border Police. The first female fighter pilot received her wings in 2001. In a controversial move, the IDF abolished its “Women’s Corps” command in 2001, with a view that it has become an anachronism and a stumbling block towards integration of women in the army as regular soldiers with no special status. However, after pressures from feminist lobbies, The Chief of Staff was persuaded to keep an “adviser for women’s affairs”.”

  27. Jeff, the Border Police aren’t combat troops; they run border checkpoints. I’m not aware of any news reports of women Israeli soldiers who crossed into Lebanon,for example.

    And you cited studies – care to point to them?


  28. Gabriel: here’s where I agree with you: there should be no differences between the physical qualifiers for women and men. If women can’t do the 20 pull-ups, they don’t qualify. Now, the marines tend to have much fewer women (I can only find the data for 1990, does anyone know where to find recent numbers?), and based on their physical requirements, this makes a certain amount of sense.

    *Patrolling a dangerous area and engaging in prolonged combat is far removed from a single firefight. Having to run from place to place while wearing heavy body armor and being able to haul away a wounded buddy under fire are very demanding.*

    I think that no one is capable of this type of physical exertion should be a soldier. Man, woman, whatever. If women don’t pass the physical requirements, they don’t become army infantry.

    In many ways, the ways army has tried to integrate women in a PCish sort-of-way that sets women up for failure: While they may get a “pass” in the physical requirements, it creates the impression that women could never cut it in the “man’s program”. therefore, these exceptions would seem to make it nearly impossible to gain the support of their comrades. Since cohesion is one of the strongest aspects of our military (at least from what I’ve read), this badly damages the idea of a female unit.

    Jeff: Let’s make women sign up for service too. I’m a (male) feminist, I’m speaking up for equality, not a fair pass. However, some segments of our society are likely to go crazy over that, red-states in particular.

  29. Alchemist, in a perfect world we would do what you suggest. Experience, however, has shown us that when you impliment a system like that the standards invariably end up being either lowered or segregated. Women simply will not be allowed to fail for a host of politically correct reasons. Part of the contemporary feminist dogma is that there IS no physical difference between the genders, and if test results show a difference there must be a bias somewhere. And so the test must change.

    That isnt conjecture, that is what has already happened.

  30. Mark: Can you cite evidence to back this up, or is this just your opinion of what has happened?

    This is not an attack, I’m just trying to get a feel for the specifics.

  31. Alchemist:

    It happens now. The fact that there are dual standards of fitness in all branches of the military are evidence enough. The double standards move far past just fitness, its how women are treated in general. Much like in the civilian sector, commands are pressured to put quotas of women into roles, even if other more qualified individuals are available.Those standards were dumbed down so that women could enter the military. I honestly can’t understand why if “we are all equal” as the feminists would have us believe, that women need a separate set of physical standards to begin with. The rush to integrate more women into the military by Congress in the 80’s lead to the reduction in physical as well as other standards. The resentment has been simmering under the surface ever since.

    Honestly even if the physical potential was there, I wouldn’t like to serve with women in combat, because no amount of reprogramming will change how men think of women. Some call this sexist, I call it common sense. Until we as a culture are advanced to the point that we don’t think this way, it will continue to be a bad idea to completely integrate the military down to the combat level.

  32. bq. AL wrote, “Jeff, the Border Police aren’t combat troops; they run border checkpoints.”

    False. See “this”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Border_Police The Border Police are combat units.

    bq. AL wrote,”And you cited studies – care to point to them?”

    No I didn’t, but I can. Here’s “one”:http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/CorporatePublications/PersonnelPublications/EqualityAndDiversity/Gender/WomenInTheArmedForces.htm

    I think you are incorrectly shifting the burden of proof. It’s up to you, as the affirmative in favor of changing the already adequate status quo, to show evidence why we should change policies.

    (I hope I posted the links correctly. Sorry about last time.)

  33. bq. Alchemist wrote, “Let’s make women sign up for service too.”

    I agree. At the very least, they should be drafted for non-combat roles. That means women should be required to register for Selective Service, too. It’s one of many, many areas of the law that privilege women at the expense of men.

  34. Standards aren’t being lowered “just because of women” as you suggest Gabriel. Standards for army & national guard have dropped dramatically over the last 5 years. Recruitment of army and national guard is not keeping up with demand, so they are recruiting older, less intelligent, less physically fit and less psychogically fit applicants into basic training.

    Most women will not be better applicants than men. I understand that. But what about those that are? Should they just be given the blanket stereotype of “not good enough”? Or should we give them a chance to try?

    *Gabriel: Honestly even if the physical potential was there, I wouldn’t like to serve with women in combat, because no amount of reprogramming will change how men think of women. *

    Over the last thousand years, men have dramatically changed how they think of women. Even 50 years ago, it was considered that a woman’s only purpose was to her household. You may (or may not) consider this more appropriate, but most households in america are now dual income. That’s actually a fairly dramatic culture shift, and fairly recent shift in the view of women.

    Women in combat will change things (slowly). Men will need to adapt. The women will need to adapt. HOwever, I agree that lowering standards directly related to resentment against serving women. I assume this was done because whoever put together the program didn’t believe women were good enough to cut it in the first place, Starting this whole dissmissive problem in the first place. Instead of helping women enlist, it actually slows the whole process down.

    I’m not that worried about what men “think” of women. They’ll get over it (eventually).

  35. Jeff, thanks for the links. I’m appropriately dinged for not being clearer in the original post or in the comments. Let me take a short moment (Biggest Guy just got home) and try and amplify.

    I’m interpreting Prof. Browne’s comments as suggesting that women shouldn’t be in the armed forces, period. It’s the logical extension of what he says, and I’ll respectfully disagree.

    I don’t think that women are going to be in combat forces (which I ought to define – standard infantry, artillery,and special forces). The physical limitations (as your studies show, can’t hump the gear…) drive here – although those opposed also suggest that negative impacts on unit cohesion and on ‘fighting spirit’ are also justifications.

    But the military is made up of much more than these kind of forces,and I’ll suggest that the latter are less meaningful than opponents suggest, and that the experience in Iraq (see the “Raven 42 AAR”:http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/006564.php that I “originally cited”:http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/copchicks_and_raven_42.php ) and of forces like the Israeli Border police – which are more akin to our MP’s – suggests that in counterinsurgency activities – much as in domestic police work – the very real differences that women bring to the table are as much assets as liabilities.

    So here’s my take – (some) women do belong in the military, and they certainly do belong in arenas where they will be exposed to violent enemy activity. They certainly don’t physically qualify for all military roles (just as all men don’t qualify for all military roles), and shouldn’t be in all military roles…

    …is that better?


  36. Oh, and Biggest Guy is saying that Basic Training is far easier than he expected, and that it’s easy enough that he’s a little anxious about getting out of shape for selection…

  37. My take is that this isn’t a question with a ‘yes or no’ answer. For these purposes, we can’t treat the whole military as if it was a single unit. Similarly, we can’t treat men and women as if they were interchangable parts either with members of the same gender or with each other. There are numerous categories and we have to look at them invidually. In fact, I doubt we know how to look at them yet. The history of women in combat is so sparse that it can’t even be scientifically studied yet. We don’t know what we are doing. I think the fact that we are acting in ignorance is the biggest source of the problem. That and we are acting not out of a desire to learn and end our ignorance, but for reasons that are essentially neither militant nor scientific. They are for lack of a better word ‘religious’ in character. Women are being integrated into the armed forces because collectively we believe that they morally ought to be integrated, and as so often happens this moral imperative is percieved as trumping physically reality. And so, we have endless media programs (‘GI Jane’, ‘Dark Angel’, ‘Alias’, ‘Kim Possible’, ‘Bionic Woman’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, etc. etc. etc.) where women not only compete as physical combatants but are portrayed as exceptional ones. Even sports movies are almost gauranteed to show some girl not only competing with the men, but being exceptionally skilled even amongst them.

    A not so brief aside about that. I’m not an exceptional physical specimen. I’m big. I’m fairly strong. I’ve got very good hand-eye cordination, pretty good instincts, and decent spatial awareness, but I’m clumsy with my feet, slow, have poor flexibilty, and have poor aerobic endurance. I’m a less than average athelete. I’m used to be the ‘last string’, or at least the ‘last string’ amongst those willing and able enough to try. However, I do try. When I was in High School, our girls Basketball team was state champions. One day during PE, the girls basketball team took on the guys. It didn’t work out like I thought it would. It wasn’t just that they had no chance of competing against the varsity squad, not even the last string. It’s that they had no chance of competing against the guys that didn’t try out, like me. It wasn’t that they couldn’t shoot better than me, or that they didn’t know the game alot better than I did. It’s that the fast girl atheletes weren’t really that much faster than me over short distances, that there hand speed really wasn’t faster than mine, and that I was bigger than most of them and probably stronger than all of them. I had a similar experience fencing the collegiate national champion women’s fencing team. Much as I love the sport, I’m an abominable fencer. My body is wrong, and my feet are too slow. But against a member of the women’s collegiate team, I suddenly found myself scoring points because her hand and foot speed over short distances was something I could handle in a way that I can’t handle a decent (though hardly great) male fencer.

    So lets not have illusions here. When Mr. Browne says that women aren’t built to be killers, you are almost certainly vastly underestimating the truth of that. I love the US Women’s soccer program, but based on my experiences I’d be surprised if they could beat a good men’s high school team. Female atheletics is one of the most important institutions of our time, but its not going to solve the basic problem of biology.

    Anyway, I think we can break the military down into a number of tasks:

    1) High skill jobs, combat or non-combat, where the biological differences between men and women aren’t as significant and so anyone that qualifies under the high standards of the program is an asset. The obvious examples would be pilot or surgeon, where some women have a documented ability to perform the job at a very high level and that such high skills and willingness should not be lightly dismissed because of the inherent value of the asset. ‘Programmer at arms’ (as it were) is a likely future (or current?) job of this type. I’m sure people in the military could think of many more. Nonetheless, even here, because of the difference in the bell curves, there are some jobs even ones with largely mental qualifications (such as unmanned vehical operator) where we would expect qualified men to vastly outnumber qualified women. Women with the reflexes and spatial instincts to compete at that highest level would be rare, and non-combat roles (recon, transport) would be preferred. We should accept that and not be embarrassed by it as a society. Overall, I think the military is pretty good at this, although there were and probably are historically some slipping of the standards to try to force women to qualify even when they shouldn’t.

    2) Jobs where willingness to perform the work is such a high factor in the suitability of the candidate that such willingness should not be denied given the fact that are supply of able and willing men is not unlimited. This covers a fairly large swath of the support roles. Most of the most able men who join a volunteer army are joining to fight, because its built into thier psychology to be killers. Even many of those that don’t fight or don’t want to fight on some level wish that they were emotionally as much as they rationally want to avoid lethal combat. Maybe not something I can prove, but it fits my observations. War eats your (male) best and brightest at a disproportionate rate. Still, all those support jobs (mechanic, various technicians, cook, laundry, whatever) have to get done and are critical. If women can do the job, even at a reduced efficiency than men, its not a bad idea to let them do it because someone has to. I think this is the area we are making the most mistakes in right now. We are forgetting that these units must also be soldiers, and we are letting the training as soldiers slip. We are also assuming that psychologically, women are basically men and that turning them into killers and integrating them into units is alternately a) impossible and b) no different than it is with men. Our current techniques don’t work. We are probably going to find out that the truth is complicated.

    3) Jobs where its actually beneficial to have women in limited quanities. The obvious one is an MP company, where the presence of at least some women lets you handle sticky situations involving searching other women in a less uncomfortable way. Gauranteed in today’s combat environment, you are eventually going to run into a situation where you need to do something like a full body cavity search on a female. It’s not just better for the suspect to have a women available to handle that; it’s better for unit integrity not to put young men in that situation. In this case, I think that if there weren’t enough women, then we’d have to have quota system for women to fulfill special duties. There are probably other situations that are less obvious but also important were being female is actually a benefit and not a hinderance, if only because you seem alot less threatening.

  38. Celebrim: I have had similar experiences with women in sports. But I would argue that parts of these difference are cultural. There is alot of pressure to bend to expectations by sex.

    From a very early age, most men are driven to succeed in athletics…. either by their parents, (and/or) by their peers. Being ruthless and rough is considered acceptable for men in our culture. (boys will be boys).

    Women are generally under a different set of pressures. They are pressured to look good, look pretty, play nice (etc). Those that don’t (those that are rough and play hard) are often segregated, and called gays, dikes etc. I’ve noticed it closely among the exceptional female athletes I have known over the years.

    *…but based on my experiences I’d be surprised if they could beat a good men’s high school team*

    I’d be willing to put money down on that.

    About women’s athletics on tv… yes, they’re pretty unreasonable. I have trouble believing that a 105lb Alba or Garner could kick the crap out of a grown hitman. At the same time, you look at the amount of muscle they put on Swank in “Million Dollar Baby”, and that’s fairly impressive.

    As far as Battlestar, (one of my favorite shows, though the military aspect is tv-ish at best) I believe fighter pilots is the only place that women have so far been involved in combat. It makes sense that women could equal men in the cockpit, and it gives the show a slightly different dynamic than most military-themed tv. (Besides, Starbuck is probably the best female character on all of tv).

  39. I don’t see that this should be a political issue at all.

    When military recruiters can more than meet their quotas, they will pick the best person for the job as best they can. If they recruit some women, why should we second-guess them?

    After training, soldiers get chosen for their specialties. The guys who do the choosing surely choose the best person for the job, to the best of their ability. If they choose some particular women for some particular jobs, why should we second-guess them?

    There might be some social problems in the military from having women serve. Over time the military will find better ways to deal with that. And the women will. Those issues will get resolved over time and will allow women into more roles. Kind of like it worked for blacks — for a long time we had blacks mostly in all-black units because a lot of white soldiers couldn’t work with them. But eventually it reached the point that soldiers who couldn’t work with blacks weren’t a reason to restrict blacks, they were a reason to restrict themselves.

    Why should this be political?

  40. “Why should this be political?”

    Because it is political. It’s not like critics of the system who are ‘second guessing’ the policies made it political. It is and has been political. It is and has been political because much of the aruments in favor of it (and some against it) are ethical and moral in nature, and it was these arguments that have most strongly pushed women into combat roles.

    In fact, your thesis, ‘Why should this be political?’ is basically at the heart of Browne’s objection to the practice. Boiled down he says, “Our arguments for or against women in combat should not be based on normative ethical arguments, but on utilitarian ones, and that overwhelmingly the utilitarian argument is strongly against women serving in combat.” If proponents of women in combat are primarily arguing the merits of women in combat on utilitarian grounds in threads like this, it is primarily because people like Browne have so severely damaged the older ethical arguments. In my opinion, this means he’s already won the most significant victory – shifting the mental space with which we deal with this issue.

    If you go back 10 or 20 years and look at the arguments made in favor of women serving in the armed services, they would be almost entirely from the stance that it is immoral to not give women the oppurtunity to serve. The thesis would be, “Don’t they deserve the oppurtunity?”, “It isn’t fair to exclude them from service.”, or “The military is a male dominated institution because of sexism.”, or what not.

    Whatever the merits of those arguments, people like Browne are ‘second guessing’ the decisions that have been made precisely because they seemed to have stemmed from a culture where military decisions where made for political reasons and not for practical ones. And Browne makes a fairly solid case that that in fact occurred.

  41. Celebrim, those ethical arguments don’t make sense to me. What I would recommend is not making any policy about women in the military with some minor exceptions, and judge each individual case on its own merits.

    Minor exceptions might include allowing women to mark on their applications that they don’t want to serve in combat roles and honoring that if their applications are accepted.

    We have cultural issues that need to get resolved. One of them is sexual harassment. In the ideal case, I think it should be OK for any soldier to proposition any other off-duty soldier if they aren’t in a position to particularly cause trouble for each other, and it should just end right there if the answer is “Not now”, “Not ever”, or “Ask me sometime when you aren’t in position to cause trouble for me.” Women who want to never be asked should stay out of the military, but we need to establish the custom that it’s always safe to say no. It will take years for those issues to get sorted out, and the women who help sort them out might have some travails in the meantime.

    Politics might be useful to tell the military not to have an official policy that they won’t resolve those issues, but we don’t need politics to tell the military it has to do things that it doesn’t know how to do yet.

    But that’s just my opinion. The military might find important uses for women in combat so it’s stupid for civilians to come up with arguments why it’s impossible. The military might find that most women do poorly in particular combat roles so it’s stupid for civilians to tell them they have to do that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.