Women in the Infantry

Don Gomez of Carrying the Gun wrote a three-part series on women in the infantry. I’ve been meaning to respond since it’s a subject of shared interest. Lo, this morning I stumbled across a related op-ed from Pat Buchanan which gave me all the impetus I need.

This is an enormous subject that Don barely broaches in three full posts, so I’ll allow myself the leeway to make my argument over multiple posts as well. I’ll spend this post responding to a mere handful of Buchanan’s mostly invalid points. His piece gets an early start on its false premise with the title, “Do We Need Women in the Infantry?”

Buchanan is probably able to get away with this because he’s writing for an audience that doesn’t object to arbitrary discrimination. If arbitrary discrimination isn’t a problem, then necessity is the lion’s share of the relevant issues. Of course the real-world argument for integration has very little to do with necessity and much more to do with equality of opportunity. Of the trend toward integration, Buchanan asks,

Did the young officers leading troops in battle in Afghanistan and Iraq, returning with casualties, say they needed women to enhance the fighting efficiency of their combat units and the survival rate of their soldiers?

Did men from the 101st and 82nd airborne, the Marines, the SEALs and Delta Force petition the Joint Chiefs to put women alongside them in future engagements to make them an even superior force?

There are actually two flawed premises here. The first is that fighting efficiency is the only valid justification for modifying combat units. The second is that we need the request or approval of young officers leading troops in battle in Afghanistan and Iraq and men from the 101st and 82nd airborne, the Marines, the SEALs and Delta Force to conclude that integration is the right decision.

First, there is more to life than fighting efficiency. Maintaining national institutions that are congruent with the nation’s best values–equality of opportunity in this case–is just as important. In any event, national security does not hang in the balance of the decision to integrate the infantry. Don’t be taken by the hubristic fearmongering of those who claim that it does. The US is primarily defended from existential threats by our brave men and women standing watch in nuclear missile silos, not to mention an enormous Navy and Air Force that make Atlantic and Pacific crossings unthinkable.

Even if that weren’t the case, physical fitness standards render the gender strength disparity argument utterly bankrupt [edit: all the more so in a military that consistently meets end strength goals through an all-volunteer enlistment system]. But if you don’t care about the US’ obligation to uphold the right to freedom from arbitrary discrimination, then why bother establishing physical fitness standards that render gender strength averages moot from the outset?

Second, it doesn’t matter whether infantrymen have requested the integration of women. Female combat performance and, more importantly, human rights are not subjects in which infantrymen have any specialized knowledge. Even if they had such knowledge, we in the US have a well-established precedent of disregarding the opinion of servicemembers on policy as a barrier against undue influence of the military on government. During the December 2010 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Senator John McCain asked a similar question of then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Mullen’s response:

“I, fundamentally sir, think it’s an incredibly bad precedent to ask [the troops] about, to essentially vote on a policy.”

So no, the young officers leading troops in battle in Afghanistan and Iraq, returning with casualties, and men from the 101st and 82nd airborne, the Marines, the SEALs and Delta Force did not request integration, nor is their opinion valid where it fails to acknowledge contemporary standards of equality. We aren’t advocating for integration because we need it to win wars. We’re advocating for it because it’s the right thing to do while influential members of the opposition like Pat Buchanan provide no concrete basis for their claim that warfighting will significantly suffer.


  1. “That Don barely broaches!?!” Is that a dig?

    Anyway, I’m happy for the discourse. Let’s do this.

    Defend this: “We’re advocating for it because it’s the right thing to do…”

    Says who?

  2. Jaylemeux says:

    Nah, it wasn’t meant as a dig. I was just pointing out that there’s a lot to address and blogging is a tough format for comprehensiveness.

    I look forward to answering your question in the next round.

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