In Conversation with Don on Women in the Infantry

Don Gomez responds to some of my assertions on women in the infantry:

What Jason is arguing…s that since we are so secure, since, you know, we have two massive oceans on our left and right and are also an economic behemoth, we are in a good position to experiment with things, like integrating the infantry. As in, we’re doing good, so, why not push the envelope? Not a bad thing in and of itself. But as I indicated in my posts on ‘What is the Infantry,’ this ignores the fact that we have not had to fight a ‘real’ terrible war since Vietnam…

This is a worthy reminder. I have noticed of late that I’ve become somewhat out of touch with the reality of both combat and the social environment of the military.

I do wish to push a bit on Vietnam as an example because the war in Vietnam is now largely recognized as a strategic mistake. If we wish to avoid the consequences of an infantry unfit for combat in another Vietnam, the best solution is to avoid starting another Vietnam.

But I know what Don’s getting at and the Vietnam example isn’t central to his point. In the context of military policy, the term “experiment” is often used with a negative connotation to inflate the risk of policy changes to national security. But unless we expect history to cease in its tracks once and forever, experimentation is a necessity anyway. Right now, we really can afford to integrate and see how it goes. (I even believe that, with the proper emphasis on teamwork, the infantry can afford to admit women at a lower physical standard although a unisex standard may be optimal.)

The infantry mission to close with and destroy the enemy is crazy and Don’s right to argue that it’s reckless to forget that fact. I just wish to see the debate informed by the anthropological principle that, as we commonly understand them, the bounds of human behavior are almost completely determined by norms and mores, not by “nature.” If our military recruits heard their entire lives that men and women should be admitted to the infantry without regard to gender, we’d probably have an integrated infantry and it would probably be working just fine.

The infantry’s mission can be said to be special. However, the entire military was once said to be special. That claim, though logical at face value, turned out to be false with respect to gender (and race) integration. It later turned out that military academiesfighter jets, submarines, and combat environments were equally unspecial with respect to gender. It seems to me that the reasonable expectation is that the infantry and special forces will turn out similarly.

There are certain to be complications both predictable and unpredictable but these complications are not likely to exceed the magnitude of integration’s value in terms of human rights or the organizational resilience that comes with increased social diversity. As it stands, the infantry’s experimentation is proceeding quite cautiously. The Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course recently accepted (and failed) its third round of female recruits, who would not have been awarded the 0300 (infantry) designation even if they passed the course. At this pace, we have little to fear.


  1. Don’t forget the, infantry’s mission is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire an maneuver and fire and close combat. The maneuver portion is key. It’s not only what makes their tactics sane, but what gives them the advantage by putting the enemy in the “horns of a dilemma” via combined arms integration.

  2. Jaylemeux says:

    That’s true, but what impact does it have on this discussion?

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