Some Servicemembers Use Fallacious or Morally Irrelevant Arguments Against the Integration of Women into the Infantry

By a fluke, I happened today to see separate articles in US News and NYT that survey the opinion of military servicemembers on the respective integration of women into special operations forces and the infantry. Both articles repeat easily disproven arguments that would crumble under the weight of their own fallaciousness in many policy circles. Unfortunately, the US military is not one of those circles. A quick set of rebuttals:

Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, contends that potentially disruptive hookups will occur if women are assigned to what are now all-male Special Ops teams: “How do you practically expect men and women not to have sex together under extreme stress, a half a world away from America — and how does that affect unit effectiveness?”

Because there are many other extremely stressful work environments in which men and women coexist without spontaneously having sex. And because Special Operations Forces are expected to do very many things that are counterintuitive and difficult and self-denying. And because the successful repeal of DADT  makes your concerns appear groundless from the outset.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that individual operators would occasionally have sex. It is unreasonable to expect that “everybody” would be trying get laid. Special Operations Forces already place constraints upon their members that might be considered biologically or culturally impossible in other contexts. This is a question of which undesirable behaviors military culture chooses to reject and which it chooses to overlook.

“It can shift the focus of doing the job if everybody’s trying to get laid. I know it sounds incredibly juvenile, but it’s incredibly true,” said Jack Murphy, a former Airborne Ranger and Special Forces sergeant in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yeah well, you’re half right. There are many examples of juvenile behavior in the infantry (and probably in SOF, though I can’t speak from first hand knowledge). Their distinction from “everybody trying to get laid” is that other forms of juvenile behavior are not considered self-evident reasons to shelter potential offenders from the rudiments of professionalism.

NYT uses a clever turn in letting us read several discriminatory quotes before revealing that they all came from the mouths of female Marines:

One first sergeant objected strongly, saying that if women could add anything of value to combat infantry units, they would have been handed those missions long ago.

By her logic, we’ve crossed a historical threshold after which the mere fact of non-integration proves its own merit. There are no need for these distasteful social justice battles in which a handful of determined activists brave the ad hominem attacks of the majority of their countrymen; right is the sort of thing that works itself out. It would have been nice to let integration advocates know when that deadline was approaching so they could have tried harder before It Was Written.

Other Marines in the group agreed, warning that women would not be accepted by their male counterparts living in spartan wartime conditions, or that family lives would suffer, especially for those female Marines hoping to have children.

It’s not unreasonable to believe that the physical demands of the infantry may force female Marines to choose between their occupational specialty and having children. Marine Captain Katie Petronio, writing in opposition to integration, claimed that she was rendered infertile by polycystic ovarian syndrome brought on by the physical stress of multiple combat deployments.

But anyone who can decide to risk their life by joining the military can obviously also decide to risk their fertility and happy marriage. As long as our country allows some legal adults to adopt these risks, our country should calmly make all legal adults aware of the objectively provable risks and then allow said legal adults to decide for themselves.

When one hears these arguments for long enough, a pattern emerges: They are utterly indifferent to modern conceptions of discrimination, equality, and human rights. In the title of her Marine Corps Gazette op-ed, Captain Petronio even rejects the first self-evident truth listed in the Declaration of Independence! The slightest hypothetical I-can-imagine-it-and-my-imagination-should-drive-national-policy tactical disadvantage justifies legally barring half of the US population from participation in one of the core institutions of our republic on account of the circumstances of their birth.

The military worldview focuses almost exclusively on mission accomplishment. This singular focus is very useful for the military’s goal of winning wars. However, winning wars is only one of many rightful concerns of the United States. Military structure should be driven primarily but not exclusively or infinitely by mission accomplishment. The US military should reflect the best of American values, which include professionalism and equality of opportunity. If the military is said to serve its country, then it ought not violate its country’s sense of justice.

As for the neo-traditional, quasi-moralistic arguments that underpin most opposition to integration of the infantry, Anne Coughlin, University of Virginia law professor, gives us the sort of quote that ought to bookend every news production on this issue:

“This idea of unit cohesion — it simply rests on stereotypes. There’s nothing left to study.”

So down with the cultural medievalism that passes for self-evident wisdom, please. Equality of opportunity is one of the better values that can be attributed to American culture. We should strive to expand such equality instead of reaching for excuses to withhold it.

UPDATE: I changed the title to avoid overgeneralizing.

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