In its latest push to insert women into combat roles, the Marine Corps is instituting an experimental infantry unit composed of 25% women. The proposed unit, which will mirror a scaled down Marine Air Ground Task Force, will be composed of 460 Marines, 120 of which will be women. Marine leadership along with college researchers will spend months analyzing the experimental unit’s success in what will look a lot like a pre-deployment workup. The goal is to find a “magic number” which will be the ideal ratio of males to females in a combat unit. My question is this: Instead of expending time and limited resources on this “experiment”, why don’t we just apply some logic and common sense to this issue?
I want to first address the issue of this “magic number”. We know men are fit for combat right? There’s no “magic number” for the amount of men needed for a combat effective unit. I know that I can form a unit comprised of 100% men and it has the potential to be combat effective. So if women really are fit for combat, shouldn’t I be able to make a unit composed of 100% women and have the potential for combat effectiveness? If I’m trying to find a golden ratio of women in a unit before it’s no longer combat effective, aren’t I admitting from the start that having women in a unit will degrade its combat effectiveness? If the goal of the military is still to fight and win wars, isn’t pushing women into combat units counterproductive to this goal?
The arguments against women in combat roles that get the most discussion center around the physiological differences between men and women, so let’s talk about that for a minute. It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated the physical rigors of combat, so I’ll use sports as a parallel. We separate genders in sports because we know that men are naturally bigger, stronger, and faster than women. Sure, there are rare occasions when women find their way onto men’s sports teams at the high school, and even more rarely, at the collegiate level. But what would happen if a high school boy wanted to play softball? He’d be denied right? Why would he be denied? Well that’s easy. He’d be denied because softball is a woman’s sport and the fact that he’s a man would give him a gross advantage over everyone else on the field.
When we look at the elite levels of sports, professional and Olympic, there are no examples of women competing with men. I saw a lot of national pride when the US Men’s Hockey team defeated Russia in the winter Olympics. We were proud because as a nation, we assembled the best we had in competition against a foreign adversary and came out victorious. No one cared that there weren’t any women on the team because the stakes were high and we love to win. In what sick and perverted parallel universe are we living, where we place more importance on winning sporting events than we do on winning battles? If we lose an Olympic hockey game, another country gets bragging rights over us. If we lose battles, Americans die.
There’s a lot more to be said about the physiological differences between men and women, but I’m going to forgo those things because they’re not even the best argument against women in combat roles. Surprised? If so, it’s probably because you’ve never experienced combat. Men in combat live like animals. They spend months on end with no showers, no toilets, no electricity. Every day they wake up to the reality of kill or be killed. This intense hardship forges bonds of brotherhood that can’t be explained and can’t be replicated. At times, the relationships these men have with their brothers in arms are quite literally the only thing they have to drive them forward. So what happens to these men who are living at the basest levels of human existence and instinct, when you insert a woman into the fold? What happens to those bonds of brotherhood? Is it realistic to expect them to live and die by their animal instincts, but completely turn off the most powerful instinct that human beings possess? When all the men in a unit are sex deprived they can turn that aggression and frustration towards more productive things like killing.
It sucks, but they’re all in it together and they have better things to worry about anyway. Now what happens if one or two men in a platoon are in a sexual relationship with the women in the platoon? Jealousy? Anger? Envy? Spite? Hate? What does that do to the fabric of that platoon? What does it do to the brotherhood? Infantrymen are about as alpha as men get. They love to kill and they love women. When as a whole, a group of men like this is saying that they want to spend years at a time with no women, they’re saying it for a reason.
I want to end this discussion with a simple thought experiment. I want you to picture the person you love most in the world. Now I want you to picture that person bleeding to death in an Afghan poppy field. You get to pick one of two people to rush into gunfire and pull them to safety. You know nothing about the fitness level, courage level, or experience level of those two people. All you get to know is that one is a man and one is a woman. Which one do you choose to go after the person you love most? Those people who are laying on Afghan poppy fields, bleeding to death. Those are the people I love most. Their lives are too important and too valuable to play social experiments and games with.