Seven Myths About “Women in Combat”

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Marine photo / Cpl. Jennifer Pirante

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Michelle Berglin trains for an upcoming deployment at Camp Pendleton in January.

Myth #1“It’s about women in combat.”

No, it’s not. Women are already in combat, and are serving well and professionally. The issue should be more clearly entitled, “Women in the infantry.” And this is a decidedly different proposition.

Myth #2“Combat has changed” (often accompanied by “There are no front lines anymore”).

This convenient misconception requires several counters. First, any serious study of military history will reveal numerous historical examples about how successive generations (over millennia) believed that warfare had changed forever, only to find that technology may change platforms, but not its harsh essence. To hope that conflicts over the last 20 years are models of a new, antiseptic form of warfare is delusional.

The second point is that the enemy gets a vote – time, place, and style. For example, war on the Korean Peninsula would be a brutal, costly, no-holds-barred nightmare of mayhem in close combat with casualties in a week that could surpass the annual total of recent conflict.

The final point on this myth reinforces the Korea example and it bears examination — Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, where warfare was reduced to a horrific, costly, and exhausting scrap in a destroyed city between two foes that fought to the death.

The standard for ground combat unit composition should be whether social experimentation would have amplified our opportunity for success in that crucible, or diminished it. We gamble with our future security when we set standards for warfare based on the best case, instead of the harshest one.

Myth #3 “If they pass the physical standards, why not?”

Physical standards are important, but not nearly all of the story. Napoleon – “The moral (spirit) is to the physical as three is to one.”

Unit cohesion is the essence of combat power, and while it may be convenient to dismiss human nature for political expediency, the facts are that sexual dynamics will exist and can affect morale. That may be manageable in other environments, but not in close combat.

Any study of sexual harassment statistics in this age cohort – in the military, academia, or the civilian workplace — are evidence enough that despite best efforts to by sincere leaders to control the issue, human instincts remain strong. Perceptions of favoritism or harassment will be corrosive, and cohesion will be the victim.

Myth #4“Standards won’t be lowered.”

This is the cruelest myth of all. The statements of the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are telling.

They essentially declare “guilty until proven innocent” on anyone attempting to maintain the standards which produced the finest fighting force in the world. There are already accommodations (note that unit cohesion won’t be a metric), there will be many more, and we will pay a bloody price for it someday.

Pity the truthful leader who attempts to hold to standards based on realistic combat factors, and tells truth to power. Most won’t, and the others won’t survive.

Myth #5“Opening the infantry will provide a better pathway to senior rank for the talented women.”

Not so. What will happen is that we will take very talented females with unlimited potential and change their peer norm when we inject them into the infantry.

Those who might meet the infantry physical standard will find that their peers are expected, as leaders, to far exceed it (and most of their subordinates will, as well).

So instead of advancing to a level appropriate to their potential, they may well be left out.

Myth #6“It’s a civil rights issue, much like the integration of the armed forces and allowing gays to serve openly.”

Those who parrot this either hope to scare honest and frank discussion, or confuse national security with utopian ideas.

In the process, they demean initiatives that were to provide equally skilled individuals the opportunity to contribute equally. In each of the other issues, lowered standards were not the consequence.

Myth #7“It’s just fair.”

Allow me two points.

First, this is ground warfare we’re discussing, so realism is important.

“Fair” is not part of the direct ground combat lexicon.

Direct ground combat, such as experienced in the frozen tundra of Korea, the rubble of Stalingrad, or the endless 30-day jungle patrols against a grim foe in Viet Nam, is the harshest meritocracy — with the greatest consequences — there is.

And psychology in warfare is germane – the force that is respected (and, yes, feared) has a distinct advantage.

Will women in our infantry enhance a psychological advantage, or hinder it?

Second, if it’s about fairness, why do women get a choice of whether to serve in the infantry (when men do not), and why aren’t they required to register for the draft (as men are)?

It may be that we live in a society in which honest discussion of this issue, relying on facts instead of volume, is not possible. If so, our national security will fall victim to hope instead of reality. And myths be damned.

Gregory S. Newbold served 32 years as a Marine infantryman, commanding units from platoon to the 1st Marine Division. His final assignment before retiring in 2002 was as director of operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

18 comments
MistyPosey
MistyPosey

Men do get the choice to serve in the infantry. All enlisted Marines choose the occupational field for which they qualify. Most men who come in on open contract do so because they desire a ground combat arms specialty and there aren't any left for direct contracting. Also, applicants do not have to come in on open contract of they don't want to. They can wait for an occupational field to open up that they desire. On the officer side, men have to rank ground combat arms in their top 5 preferences to get chosen for it. As for the draft, the dr decision hasn't been made yet whether or not to include women. So, they may still be included.

lovelyfluffharmony
lovelyfluffharmony

Oh and to all those leaders in power who keep this circus alive: you are the reason our Military is weak and only a fraction of what it could be, you are WEAK! YOU are the reason: instead of BOLSTERING our ranks with dedicated, skilled, individuals, you are instead only filling them with individuals that meet only YOUR STANDARDS however limited they may be.

lovelyfluffharmony
lovelyfluffharmony

To all you people with, "Well, women, biology, evolution and blah blah blah." what a nice cop-out (it's like an excuse)! 

You want to be in something, then MEET THE REQUIREMENTS! Everyone get the same requirements and get the same treatment.

You don't like it and you're a female? TOO BAD! You're Vagina doesn't weigh you down does it?!

Our Military needs to stop catering to these mambey-pambies! "Oh, I want a shower-curtain. I want to keep my long hair. I don't like to be in the same room as the opposite sex\a person of a different color skin\someone of a certain religion\wah wah wah!" TOO BAD! TIME TO GROW-UP! This is the Military not a resort, GET OVER IT OR GET OUT!


Peace or War, 


EnigmaWolf

matthew.east.1989
matthew.east.1989

@lovelyfluffharmony Agreed if they meet the requirements then good, As in Canada same requirements and though they only make up about 2.5% of combat unit's they met the requirements and keep up. If they can do it let them in, If not tough titty there is the door, Have a nice day =)

laurainorlando78
laurainorlando78

My husband is marine and the sexual peverted nature to be observed by a layperson is intense. Four nights ago a leader who is female texted my husband and told him shes in town. I called her and asked the nature of her communication. She said if she tells her marines shes in town they are all required to go out with her that night to hang out minus any wives or female companions...girlfriends... I said lm 3 months pregnant. Just gave birth a few months ago and am exhausted with this problem. Hes cheated before and were working on trust so hes not going. She insisted she will spend time with him and if not tonight a night hes away on weekend reserves away from me!!! Or his job will be affected!!! I told him l called her afterward and hes now afraid to loose his job and threatened to leave me since l could get him fired!! I called to complain to her commanding officer who l told was out of louisana...shes from new jersey and all

laurainorlando78
laurainorlando78

My husband is marine and the sexual peverted nature to be observed by a layperson is intense. Four nights ago a leader who is female texted my husband and told him shes in town. I called her and asked the nature of her communication. She said if she tells her marines shes in town they are all required to go out with her that night to hang out minus any wives or female companions...girlfriends... I said lm 3 months pregnant. Just gave birth a few months ago and am exhausted with this problem. Hes cheated before and were working on trust so hes not going. She insisted she will spend time with him and if not tonight a night hes away on weekend reserves away from me!!! Or his job will be affected!!! I told him l called her afterward and hes now afraid to loose his job and threatened to leave me since l could get him fired!! I called to complain to her commanding officer who l told was out of louisana...shes from new jersey and all this happened in orlando...a marine in orlando said he will pass this serious info along and she'll probablly get a verbal reprimand and maybe something in her file...thats it. In the meantime this stress caused my baby to miscarry after 3 healthy months. And l know his weekend away is coming in a few weeks. Sooo how can l have faith in the marines? How can l support co extsistance when l really know about this time and more? I can be reached at gmail by the name laurainorlando78. Help me if you can please!

crito
crito

I love this line:

"Unit cohesion is the essence of combat power, and while it may be convenient to dismiss human nature for political expediency, the facts are that sexual dynamics will exist and can affect morale."

*Exactly* what the bigots said about racially integrating the US armed forces. 

The subject of bigotry changes over time, but the song remains the same.

MichaelShannon
MichaelShannon

One more example from Canada. When females were first allowed in the infantry many were tricked at the recruiting centers into going into the infantry when they may have been quite useful in service support, the air force etc. . The difficulty was played down. In one case a college varsity basketball player was told she would play sports full time. Most females lasted about two days into infantry training before being inured (this follows about 12 weeks of all services co-ed recruit training). They would then act as telephone orderlies etc until they were well enough to go back into training. In some cases this cycle went on for more than two years. Why keep failed recruits around so long? Because the human rights bureaucracy has ordered the army to take women into the combat arms and had assigned quotas.

The army eventually got the quota to be counted for all combat arms-reserve and regular- rather than by arm and was able to meet the requirements by filling up reserve armoured (that had no armoured vehicles) units with females.

MichaelShannon
MichaelShannon

Standards will go down and stay down. Any tests not mimicking "work"- push-ups pull ups etc- will be the subject of lawsuits. Careerist officers will get the hint from higher that it would be good to have some female infantry. They will then look away from failures. Any male officer arguing for higher standards (a shrinking military in a high unemployment environment should make this automatic) will be seen as "against women" and his career will stop. Meanwhile back in the units the easier jobs- drivers, communicators- will be set aside for females.


This is exactly what has happened in the Canadian Army where females have been allowed to serve in the combat arms for years.  Parts of the 'Battle" physical fitness test that females failed in large numbers were simply removed. The total weight carried on the "8 mile march in 2:38 as a group" is 55 lbs or 23% less than a lightly equipped infantryman would carry in the field. Reserve "armoured" units that actually are equipped with Chevy pick-ups and no armoured vehicles slowly filled with girls. The HQs of artillery units have disproportionately more females employed  away from the guns. Infantry platoon commander training was made easier with negative results in Afghanistan. 

 The major personnel problem of the US military since WW 2 has been a lack of high quality infantry in large numbers. Opening positions to females will exacerbate this. As the force is reduced standards should go up not down.


Declaration1776
Declaration1776

I rather think the General understands combat better that most posters here. 

Instead of fighting over who gets to fight, wouldn't it serve humanity better if these women were as interested in working for peace as they are for warfare?  War is Hell.

This controversy is so misguided.  Were the men who fought at places like Iwo Jima or Normandy doing it to advance their "careers", or to gain equal opportunity?  The military is not about careers; it's about sacrifice. That's why it's called the service.  It's not there to provide careers for anyone.

fallinsfree
fallinsfree

military seems to be oblivious to the fact that the level of combat today, modern combat to the extreme, is a product which has germinated out of the increasing hostility which is the platform which armies and militaries, all male dominated, controlled and ruled, supply. this means, the more armies and militaries rely on  'increasing aggression, violence and hostility', the more these aspects will re-enter those societies from which these armies and militaries are being formed, and will thus, increase the degrees of such in wars. exponentially, relying on 'male ideals in army and military' is a self-destroying chain reaction, effecting society as a whole, leading to by far more destruction than originally anticipated. what started out as boys throwing rocks has turned into senior adult men in fully ordened military uniforms dropping atomic bombs on million people cities, in honor and pride. semper-fi...?

fallinsfree
fallinsfree

i was faster and more precise in all activities than any other male. women tend to plainly assume they are 'slower' and cannot physically match males in skills and speed. this alone sets them back by a long shot. low and behold tho, most males and all females seem to not have seen this when it happened... mind tricks, i guess....

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe

Wow. What a well written distortion of the issue at hand. General Newbold demonstrates a common trait in humanity: I like things the way they were and I don't want them to change.

The General's point #1 is correct, the issue is about women in the infantry. But not in the way he imagines. Sometimes, doing the right thing is harder than we'd like.

Point 2 dredges up the old refrain that "Combat is too tough for woman. It's too dirty." The General fails to realize that women joining the infantry really don't care about his opinion on the matter. If woman were interested in those kinds of opinions, they would never have gotten the vote.

Point #3: Of course human nature will affect morale. Duh. But the reality is that while we all have urges, only the weak act on them when they shouldn't. I believe the infantry's ban on women has allowed soldiers with weak morals to flourish. Their deprivations go unchecked by leaders with similar deficiencies. This is the real issue for women in combat: some soldiers who do an outstanding joband are respected by their leaders, peers, and subordinates, will be exposed as morally weak. This won't happen to most soldiers, but the number will be far greater than anyone is comfortable with.

Point 4: Maybe standards need to be raised. There are more than a few infantry soldiers that shouldn't be in the infantry.

Point 5: Many women will not succeed in the infantry. But some will. And those that do will find their career enhanced because of it.

Point 6: General Newbold wrote this opinion, and it is pretty obvious that he is not interested in changing his opinion, no matter how much frank and honest discussion there is.

And Point 7: Just because combat isn't fair doesn't mean that military leaders should be unfair. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard than what our enemies expect from us.

And just because General Newbold doesn’t think it's a good idea doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

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