If Infantry Culture Precludes Integration, Just Change It

Credit: 9GAG

Credit: 9GAG

I found this picture on a clickbait site. It’s a joke poster, meant to be hung up in a bar, but I think it really speaks to the cultural origins of behavior. I was struck by the idea that one could mix and match the best (or worst) aspects of various national cultures as if from a menu.

The question was, how can I turn this into a blog post? So I decided to make a point about military culture and integration of women into the infantry.

A few members of my old Marine infantry unit recently made it clear that they view behavioral trends as inborn, with women inherently unfit for infantry service and men inherently unfit to share intimate spaces with them. But there is nothing about the way Brits are born that makes them good policemen and poor chefs. These are simply the logical consequences of the norms emphasized in British culture. This culture is handed from one generation to the next with perpetual modification. If American servicemembers aren’t currently fit to fight in integrated units, they can be indoctrinated into a suitable culture.

Just because culture is malleable does not mean that it is infinitely flexible. Deeply ingrained values tend to die hard. But military basic training is specifically designed to break down deeply ingrained civilian norms and replace them with military norms that are counterintuitive to most recruits. It is instantly clear to anyone who spends time around US servicemembers that this indoctrination is highly effective. Given a generation or two, the military can swap out some of its norms for others that facilitate integration.

Not only is it possible to create a military culture that facilitates integration of the infantry, it has already been done in several states. Carrying the Gun recently featured a guest post from Soren Sjogren, a Danish infantry officer, on how gender-egalitarian values inform his leadership of an integrated infantry unit:

Never accept sexism

Words have the power to move and to transform us. Never use nor allow language that implies negativity related to gender. An innocent joke about women’s lack of ability to do something or implying that it is OK to use gender as an explanation is the first step down the wrong path.

Do not go there yourself, and strike down hard on any approach to sexism.

Allow women to be women

There is no such thing as a stereotypical infantry soldier. Dark, light, big or small – the only thing that matters is that you are able to do the job. You do not need to transform women and make them more ‘manly’ in order to serve.

Allow them to be women as long as they do their job. Just as you allow the rest of your soldiers to be the individuals they are.

The notion that it is self-evidently impossible to integrate the infantry is plainly incorrect.


  1. I guess that military culture is changing. We might affect the recruits but we are also affected by trends in society if nothing else at least then through legislation. Denmark is a small country and the culture in our military generally reflects the culture in civilian society. My principles for leading mixed gender units are deeply rooted in Scandinavian civilian norms.

    How to conduct that transmission, however, is interesting and rather complex. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.


  1. […] Tuesday’s post on gender integration of the infantry, I argued that the military’s indoctrination program […]

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