Should Women Fight in Combat?

I’m stepping on a hornet’s nest with this post, and butting heads with Dr. Megan MacKenzie, a professor at the University of Sydney and who has published a large body of literature – whereas I’m just a keenly interested amateur (although I hope to become a professional at some point!).

Dr. MacKenzie has published a book, Female Soldiers in Sierra Leone: Sex, Security, and Post-Conflict Development, and has a twitter account at @meganhmackenzie.  She’s worth a follow, especially if you have any interest in gender and international security.

Today, Dr. MacKenzie has a post up on the Daily Beast regarding women in combat.  This will also appear in longer form in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs.  She and I have differing views on this and we engaged on twitter.  She accused me of stereotyping, which I thought was unfair, and since it’s hard to argue in 140 word bytes, I thought I’d post more here on my blog.

In her article, Dr. MacKenzie writes,

Yet the U.S. military, at least officially, still bans women from serving in direct combat positions. As irregular warfare has become increasingly common in the last few decades, the difference on the ground between front line and support roles is no longer clear. Numerous policy changes have also eroded the division between combat and noncombat positions. More and more military officials recognize the contributions made by female soldiers.

She then notes some of the major objections:

Unsubstantiated claims about the distracting nature of women, the perils of feminine qualities, and the inherent manliness of war hardly provide a solid foundation on which to construct policy. Presumably, some levels of racism and homophobia also persist within the military, yet it would be absurd, not to mention unconstitutional, for the U.S. government to officially sanction such prejudices. The U.S. military should ensure that it is as effective as possible, but it must not bend to biases, bigotry, and false stereotypes.

The whole thing is worth a read, so check it out.

My objection to women in combat is different.  I want to note that I firmly believe that women can fight as well as men.  In my experience (yes, it’s anecdotal) women are often better shots than men, and although I am in pretty good shape I’ve met women that are faster and stronger than I am.  Obviously, physical differences are not a good argument against including women.  And as far as constitutionally being able to fight, women have fought everywhere from the ancient Celts to Iraq.  Women in the Israeli army, and the female Russian snipers in Stalingrad were good soldiers.

My concern is demographics.  If we look at the experience of England in World War One, they lost a good portion of their “best and brightest” men on the battlefield, which had severe repercussions for the future of the Empire.  Granted, the United States hasn’t been involved in a major war since World War Two.  But if the US were to be drawn into one involving, say, China or a resurgent Russia, then we could be facing the loss of a generation of men AND women.  To put it crudely:  One man, twenty women can still produce twenty babies.  One woman, twenty men, gives you one baby.

Note that in an essay in Contemporary Security Studies, Dr. Caroline Kennedy-Pipe addresses my reasoning and says that States may force women to be “breeders” because of demographic demands.  Specifically, she states, “Arguably the most intimate of human activities for women were less important than the demands of male political and religious elites that women provide a functional and biological service to the state. This role of women as ‘breeders’ remains imperative for the health of many wealthy industrialized societies.”

Perhaps she’s right.  But if your country no longer exists, than your values may be overtaken by those who defeat you.  Without children to carry on your civilization, you’re in danger of losing it.  This isn’t a polar issue – there are shades of grey, and I think it’s worth exploring.

Still, there are women who are determined to fight, who feel called to that career.  Is there a way to allow them to participate?  I don’t know.  That may be a slippery slope.  I suppose a compromise would be to allow women to fight in combat that want that duty, but not to include women in a general draft.

What are your thoughts?



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