The $4-million Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces has found its work to be far more difficult than anyone imagined when President Bush appointed its members last March. The women-in-combat issue has profound implications for our nation's security and for our society.
Can men and women warriors ignore their hormones more than the rest of society and maintain the effectiveness and cohesion needed to prevail in battle? As a people, do we really want to remove all distinctions between men and women and the roles they perform? Only politics can explain why Congress would preempt the commission's findings, which are due in November. Yet the Senate bill authorizing defense spending for the next fiscal year would require the Pentagon to assign women to combat aircraft in every service. If passed, this measure would disregard the large number of experts who testified before the commission. It would also take a giant and reckless step toward dropping all limits on women in combat.
Why is Congress rushing forward on this issue? Could it be because this is proving to be more than simply a matter of equal rights, and because they are being pushed by feminists and other zealots who know that the more the commission learns, the less palatable the idea will be to the American people?
The experts' testimony highlighted the damage women would do to the effectiveness of combat units. There is ample evidence that women contribute to the effectiveness of our armed forces; there is no evidence that introducing them to combat units would improve combat effectiveness enough to compensate for the certain disruption. Real life tells us that, like it or not, men act differently when women are present. This is natural, and there is no reason to believe that nature would be any less at work if the sexes were to coexist in extremely close contact under extremely difficult circumstances.
Obvious shortcomings in size and strength make women less fit for the rigors of ground combat. A handful of women may be able to carry a combat load that approaches 100 pounds, as men frequently do now, but should we pay for separate facilities on sea and land for the few exceptions to human physiology--and human nature--who can be one of the boys?
What about pregnancy and the gaps it could cause in a unit? In the Gulf War, active-duty women were four times as likely as men to be exempted from duty because of medical reasons, with pregnancy accounting for half of the exemptions. Who would want their wounded son rescued from the battlefield by a 120-pound woman instead of a 175-pound man? Military training is designed to accomplish two objectives: victory and survival, in that order. Providing career opportunities is no more than a side benefit. There is no justification on national-security grounds for using women in combat.
Do not be misled by images from Desert Storm. All killing on the battlefield is not accomplished by precision-guided munitions; men must still drive cold steel into other men's guts. Parents, picture a platoon of soldiers, your daughter among them, wielding bayonets in what we infantrymen delicately call close combat. Some are doing the sticking; some are being stuck. Therein lies the second problem with placing women in combat units. As a society, do we want to have women doing this? If so, what would be wrong with a man punching a woman under the same circumstances in which he might punch a man? One is no "better" than the other, but we react differently, don't we?
Allowing women into combat will be the ultimate expression of a unisex society in which men and women are viewed not just as equal, but as entirely the same. Maybe we should integrate public restrooms before we integrate fighting units, where people are being shot at. Unless we are ready to ignore gender differences in all aspects of our relatively soft civilian lives, we dare not ask it of those who defend us.
The "issue" of allowing women in combat would go away very quickly if lawmakers, even extremists like Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), imagined for a minute that their own son's life was in the balance. The lives of their constituents' sons are.
Bright-eyed advocates assert that military men and women, functioning together in combat units over long periods of time a long way from home, should be "professional" enough to control their natural urges. Sounds great. But "should" and "would" are two different things. If these human beings are "unprofessional" only once, the punishment might not be determined by a court martial. Someone could get killed.