Women in combat
Posted by aogThursday, 03 April 2003 at 15:27 TrackBack Ping URL
Oliver Willis has a post calling for allowing women in combat. This is something that I am quite conflicted about. The story of Pfc Jessica Lynch provides arguments on both sides. On one is Lynch's performance under fire. It's one thing to sit in a comfortable chair and say “well of course, I'd fight until the end.” . It's quite another to actually do so under fire. That's impressive, especially for someone who was in a maintenance group and not trained for a combat role. On the other side are two unpleasant facts, the extra burden a female soldier bears and the reactions of other soldier (I'm not going to go into pregnancy or moral issues as those are not further illuminated by the Lynch case).

For the forseeable future, military opponents of the US will be failed states and societies. These will have little likelihood of following any sort of restraint or conventions in war. This means that captured female soldiers will almost certainly endure much harsher treatment than male soldiers and there is little or nothing the US can do to discourage that kind of behavior.

In addition there is the reaction of others to a woman in peril. The resuce of Lynch is apparently one of two such rescues rescues since WWII (the other a SpecOps raid in Panama in 1998 during the US invasion). It was a big operation involving a diversionary attack and a four hour gun battle at the hospital. I do not object to this — I think it's wonderful. But that is precisely the problem. If women are to accepted for combat positions we will have to, as a society, become more callous toward this kind of harm when it is inflicted on women. Given all the effort that feminists have spent trying to encourage that kind of reticence it's a bit strange that women in combat is also a goal.

In summary, I don't know what is best in this case. It's hard to say “you can't do this because you're a woman” but on the other gender is not a purely social construct and sometimes we just have to accept that.

I was discussing this with my co-worker BBB and She Who Is Perfect In All Ways. BBB suggested that perhaps we should have gender segregated combat units (say at the company level) to get around the mixed-gender problems. SWIPIAW didn't think it would work — “then who would open the jars?”