Critics, people who insist they know better about such things, say that women slow down units, they aren’t as strong, they aren’t as mentally tough.
I take exception to the mental toughness part. First, many men aren’t mentally tough; the military is supposed to train them to be tough, and evaluate and reassign those who do not learn mental toughness. There is no reason that approach should not work with women.
But second, just because women express emotions more freely, that has nothing to do with mental toughness. There’s a reason we talk about mama bears, not papa bears. Likewise, consider the title of Bailey White’s hilarious book, Mama Makes Up Her Mind. Why does that instill a shiver of trepidation in all of us, but ‘Papa makes up his mind’ does not? Given equal firepower, I’ll gladly choose a pissed-off woman defending me.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s take the complaint of physical strength at face value. Let’s assume that, in a traditional battle, women are not as strong, and will not be able to – literally and figuratively – carry their assigned weight.
What does ‘traditional battle’ mean any more? When was the last time the US faced a traditional enemy, one with a well-established government that operated openly within a defined geography? Other than smaller expeditions such as the invasion of Grenada, we haven’t faced that sort of enemy since WWII.
In Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq, we have found ourselves fighting against enemies who work in something closer to guerrilla actions. In the present, and perhaps in the foreseeable future, the US will not fight against a conventional enemy, but rather against sketchy guerrilla forces that are difficult to locate and track. We have had no real solution to this strategy, and so Korea was a stalemate, and we have lost the other large battles since.
These guerrilla strategies confounded us until the Petraeus-Nagl doctrine, which could also be called the ‘hero’ strategy. Fight the bad guys; befriend, protect and serve the good guys. That strategy has not yet won a war, but it seems to be our best option going forward.
Which brings us back to female troops. One of the things that our troops on the ground have found about women in uniform is that they are better at engaging other women, children, and families, and winning their trust.
I am not suggesting that the only job women troops are qualified to do is serve as social liaisons. Rather, this is another example of why it is a mistake to hold physical strength as paramount in combat. Consider the telecomm specialists, the tank troops, the ordnance men, and dozens of other specialists. Each brings different abilities – different ‘strengths’ – to the team. They can all pick up a gun and fight if necessary, but few of them will rank among the most muscular.
Nor do they need to. Each brings a critical talent to the table beyond physical strength. In fact, the preceding paragraph shows how our concept of strength has changed. In the bronze age, brute force was pretty much all a fighter needed. Then David slew Goliath with talent and a it of sharpshooting, but not much strength. Over the millennia, intelligence, discipline, and diversified talent – and initiative – slowly emerged as superior to brute force. The Romans were able to regularly defeat Germanic tribes who were more numerous and individually larger than than the Latins. They did it with intelligent strategy and discipline, but they also did it with diversity: the Roman army depended on siege engines, ballistic machines, superior weapons and armor, not to mention roads, bridges, aqueducts, transported provisions, and the contributions of a secondary army of engineers, accountants, sailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, farmers and others. That was the strength of the Roman army, a system where the primary strength was not bodily strength.
This is true today more than ever. A squadron that excludes all but the physically strongest men will not be all that strong.
That’s even true in sports, our (somewhat) peaceful model of warfare: all team sports require a variety of skills and abilities, even in the most physical sports such as football and rugby. Sure, some players only provide brute force. But only a minority; some provide nimbleness or speed, others contribute throwing or kicking abilities, and defensive players often require superior reflexes, intellectual as well as physical. A team that only recruits the biggest, physically strongest players, will not be successful.
Each soldier should be tested on the ability to do a specific job. If a particular soldier cannot perform the necessary skills, it does not matter if that soldier is male or female.
And if a particular soldier satisfactorily performs the necessary skills, then it still does not matter if the soldier is male or female.
Picture: Rosie the Riveter, courtesy Wikimedia.org.