Women in Combat

800px-Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_Female_Infantry_Instructors_Prepare_for_a_Combat_Exercise,_Nov_2010

The Amazons, the mythical race of female warriors who lived on the fringes of civilization,  were said to cut off their right breasts to enable them to effectively throw javelins and use a bow. In some accounts, they could not have sex, or restricted intercourse to one encounter per year. It is telling that to be warriors, the Amazons had to give up all marks of femininity and even the organs identifying them as women.

There is truth in the myth of the Amazons. Captain Katie Petronio of the Marine Corps recently told CNN that the missions she endured over seven months in Iraq caused her to stop producing estrogen, rendering her infertile. She also admitted to only doing a fraction of what her male colleagues did.

One should be very afraid of the prospect of gender ‘equality’ in combat. What do feminists mean by it? Forty percent of female soldiers in the British army got pregnant within months of arriving in Iraq. This earned them an immediate trip home. Female British Military Police unable to get pregnant simply refused to go on foot-patrol because it was “too dangerous”. Male MPs had to do double-patrols. The Daily Star got these figures from the Ministry of Defense after a Freedom of Information request. I cannot recall the BBC ever reporting them. I have never seen a debate in Parliament on the subject. The Official Line is that Girls Can Do Anything. The madness goes beyond Britain. According to Steve Sailer (writing in 1997), for every year a coed warship is at sea “the Navy has to airlift out 16% of the female sailors as their pregnancies become advanced”.

The Israeli Example, The Nature of War, and Why The Israeli Example Does Not Apply

Somebody will inevitably bring up all those pretty girls in the Israel Defense Forces. I contend that Israel is not necessarily a success in this regard, and certainly not an example for America or any other country to emulate. I also believe that women who meet the criteria for the armed forces should still be excluded from the military as much as possible, even if the criteria haven’t been lowered to facilitate greater gender integration.

For a start, one expects that forcibly integrating combat units would have the same effect as forcibly integrating sports, given the sometimes astounding physical requisites of both endeavors. Most world-class female athletes cannot compete against world-class male athletes. In fact, the top women in most fields of sport would not even be able to compete against the top male high school equivalents. So, sensibly, we don’t do mixed basketball games.

Disparities in physical abilities are a clear indication that opening up combat units to women will not double the talent pool, as some have absurdly argued. Most women are unable to carry the standard gear a US soldier is required to schlep around at all times. Factors like this mean that the only way gender integration would work is if female combat units were to only take on other female combat units, as we do in sport. This arrangement may be negotiated, but one cannot expect armies to adhere to this.  The massing of the troops on weak points is standard practice. In the words of Field Mar­shal Paul von Hindenburg, “an operation without Schw­er­punkt is like a man without character”. Some civilized nations may indeed be persuaded to sign up to this, but the likes of the Taliban certainly wont.

But lets go beyond physical differences and presume that a military can easily have women in combat.

Martin Van Creveld, in my opinion the greatest military historian and theorist of our time, largely dismisses the argument that women are physically incapable of fighting alongside men. This I do not quite agree with, but I’ll leave my objections aside for the moment. In his Transformation of War, he provides the example of the highly effective Palmach, the elite all-volunteer strike force of the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish militia that later formed the core of the IDF. The Palmach had a higher rate of female participation and sexual integration than any military force before or since. Women were particularly valued for intelligence gathering, arms smuggling, and transmitting messages. There were plenty of women throughout the Haganah, too. Famous ‘sexpert’ Dr. Ruth Westheimer was a sniper (where her diminutive height of 4 ft 7 in proved advantageous). However, as the British left and the Arabs armies massed, the IDF was officially established and a near complete winnowing out of women began. After the war, Israeli women were confined to being secretaries, telephone operators, and the like, though they were still subject to the draft.

Now, war has throughout history been the most important male preserve. The association between war and manliness is so strong that in some languages the word for “man” and “warrior” is the same. One can go farther and say that in most societies, things are considered important to the extent that they are the preserve of men, though this is perhaps changing in certain places. Teaching and secretarial work, when dominated by men, enjoyed a far higher status than they do today. Female penetration of a field beyond a critical point will cause men to desert. This applies to war.

So what made the Palmach work?

It was all in the context. The Palmach were a small band of semi-underground insurgents facing the mighty British Empire as well as the Arab foe. With such a disparity in power, numbers, and equipment, women can be allowed to participate without undermining the significance of what the men are doing. Female participation can be rife in other insurgencies, including that of the Palestinians. In Ireland, examples can be found in women like Countess Markievicz.

Women largely vanished from important roles in the IDF for decades, training with weapons discarded by the men or those that were extremely plentiful. The reason why women continued to be drafted and receive weapons training at all is closely related to why they were welcomed by the pre-state Zionist militias. Israel was outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded by foes. The Soviet Union was around to support its enemies. Israel’s wars have been seen as wars for survival, close to home, and certainly not optional adventures or crusades thousands of miles away. Even today, with peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, Israel fears failure in a way that the surrounding Arab nations don’t. Few countries face threats of an existential nature like Israel, and certainly not the United States. However, even though its women get trained in the use of arms, very few females serve in Israel’s combat units.

In Israel, a post-1973 expansion of the army strained available manpower and created a demand for skilled operators. Women were found to make good technicians, communicators  and weapons instructors. As a result, the presence of women was increased noticeably at all ranks. On the whole the job they have done has been excellent, though women still tend to get assigned the worst positions. However, there has also been an enormous social cost to this. Jobs got considered undesirable by men precisely because they began to be done by women. Thus, these roles are not seen as a display or test of manliness, a fundamental part of the traditional culture of war, in what is a very macho culture in the first place. More women at all ranks has in fact made it tougher to attract first-class manpower.

As a side-note, it must be said that Israeli women, from the Palmach and beyond, have always performed admirably in certain crucial capacities like Intelligence. Since the time of Rahab, and Judith’s beheading of Holofernes, women do have some innate advantages in this field that men will find difficult or impossible to acquire.

Its a Symptom

That the US military is now prepared to take women into combat infantry positions indicates that its role as an actual fighting force is coming to an end. It is a symptom of the demise of the style of war that arose after the state asserted its monopoly over conflict at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, military theorists have pointed out the fact that we are living through the greatest transformation of the nature of war since 1648.

State-run armies are being made obsolete by nuclear weapons keeping the peace on the one hand, and low-intensity conflicts featuring non-state actors on the other. Against non-state opponents, the US military has lost in Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. The wars that matter are now fought by gangs, tribes, and militias. They fight for pride, for God, for women, for money. Essentially, the old pre-state causes.

What can a state do with a useless army? Turning it into an equal opportunities jobs program is one option.

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About Cranky Notions
Reactionary. That fella from the Norris scandal.

2 Responses to Women in Combat

  1. Paul says:

    You’ve done it again John outstanding! I am opposed to this latest piece of social engineering and of course we will be called ‘sexist’ or similar. I’ve been in combat and served throughout my admittedly now long past military service – in combat arms. Allowing women to serve will create more problems than it will serve. Also I’m awaiting a list of those historically effective armies (which of course would exclude anything from Europe other than the French and the Brits), which allowed female participation in combat. Such a list does not exist of course for good reason. Also is it really wise for taxpayers money to be spent on fitting female toilets on submarines?

    • Thanks for commenting, Paul.

      Gender integration will certainly not be cheap. Airlifting pregnant navy personnel must be expensive as it is. Women already have an attrition rate several times that of men at OCS and other entry-level schools. Investing in a female candidate is thus far less value for money. And imagine the lawsuits that could result if female infantry started going infertile en masse.

      This is not to mention the sexual dynamics that will inevitably come into play. Perhaps I am a little old-fashioned, but its not difficult to foresee that in combat men will be inclined to abandon the stated mission in order to protect women. Remember the Jessica Lynch fiasco in Iraq?

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