Fail­ing our troops

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - Kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

Polling that shows Amer­i­cans fa­vor women in com­bat by a 2-to-1 mar­gin is ev­i­dence only of the power of mis­in­for­ma­tion. And, yes, in­doc­tri­na­tion. Ar­gu­ments fa­vor­ing women in di­rect com­bat are per­haps well-in­ten­tioned, fo­cus­ing on fair­ness, op­por­tu­nity and pride in cer­tain women’s abil­i­ties. Un­for­tu­nately, most peo­ple who make those ar­gu­ments are op­er­at­ing on false as­sump­tions. And, shall we say, mis-truths.

It’s not their fault. For the past sev­eral decades, the me­dia and pop­u­lar cul­ture have re­lent­lessly ad­vanced the fan­tasy nar­ra­tive of women as groin-kick­ing, mar­tial-arts di­vas of doom. Where are all the brave men and women who know bet­ter? Would that law­mak­ers could stop preen­ing for cam­eras long enough to ex­am­ine the is­sue more closely. Democrats may be merely fall­ing in line with their com­man­der in chief, but Repub­li­cans seem to be suf­fer­ing from Stock­holm syn­drome. They’ve been slapped around for so long, they’ve be­come sym­pa­thetic to their cap­tors.

The two most pop­u­lar ar­gu­ments for in­clu­sion of women in com­bat would be valid if only they weren’t in­cor­rect. They are: (1) Only qual­i­fied women will be in­cluded in com­bat units; (2) We have a vol­un­teer mil­i­tary and, there­fore, only those who want to serve in com­bat will.

It is cer­tainly true that some women are more fit than some men, but it is also true that most aren’t as ca­pa­ble of be­com­ing as strong as most men. As I’ve writ­ten be­fore, women have just about half the up­per-body strength as men, which is se­ri­ous busi­ness when you’re hik­ing with a 65-pound (and of­ten heav­ier) load on your back or hoist­ing a wounded com­rade. It is no co­in­ci­dence that stress frac­tures are sig­nif­i­cantly higher among fe­male re­cruits than among males dur­ing ba­sic train­ing.

This is no in­sult to women. We’re talk­ing about mus­cle mass that comes with the pack­ag­ing and has noth­ing to do with how many times a week one goes to the gym. (Or how ripped Demi Moore gets for a movie.)

It’s more than clear, mean­while, that phys­i­cal stan­dards would be low­ered to al­low women where they don’t be­long. We know this be­cause Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, re­cently said as much:

“If we do de­cide that a par­tic­u­lar stan­dard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the bur­den is now on the ser­vice to come back and ex­plain to the sec­re­tary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?”

Trans­la­tion: If women can’t meet the stan­dards, we’ll just “gen­der­norm” them. As to whether this is good for our mil­i­tary ef­fec­tive­ness, one can only hope that our en­e­mies are of like mind. One rather doubts it.

As for our all-vol­un­teer mil­i­tary, this is true as far as it goes. In fact, men do not have the op­tion of de­clin­ing com­bat. How can the mil­i­tary jus­tify giv­ing women spe­cial treat­ment? Let­ting women, but not men, choose whether to en­ter com­bat duty likely would cause deep re­sent­ment among male sol­diers. To make life more fair and al­low both sexes to choose would be, as mil­i­tary so­ci­ol­o­gist Charles Moskos once put it, “the end of an ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary force.”

Sim­i­larly, there could be no ex­clud­ing women should a mil­i­tary draft be re­in­stated. This is un­likely in the near fu­ture — Rep. Charles Ran­gel’s reg­u­lar call for a manda­tory draft not­with­stand­ing. Baby boomers who re­call the Viet­nam draft likely would protest. But oth­ers with dim­mer mem­o­ries — or a younger gen­er­a­tion that has been mar­i­nated in the any­thing-boys-can-do-girls-can-do­bet­ter dogma of fem­i­nist wish­ful think­ing — might find a draft more . . . egal­i­tar­ian.

In­deed, it would be. Once women are placed in di­rect com­bat roles (as op­posed to find­ing them­selves in a com­bat arena), there may be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for ex­clud­ing them from reg­is­ter­ing for the Se­lec­tive Ser­vice. The ar­gu­ment against draft­ing women was al­ways pred­i­cated in part upon women’s ex­clu­sion from com­bat.

Women have per­formed ad­mirably through­out his­tory in a va­ri­ety of roles that have in­cluded com­bat sit­u­a­tions, which is not the same as di­rectly en­gag­ing an en­emy. But there are other ways to pro­mote women with­out pit­ting them against men, who, if women are given spe­cial treat­ment, will re­sent them to the en­dan­ger­ment of all.

That our Congress is ac­cept­ing this change with­out any de­bate isn’t progress. It is a dere­lic­tion of duty and, one is tempted to say, sug­ges­tive of cow­ardice.

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