Should Women be in Combat?

The issue of women in combat is an emotional one. Let’s face it, when it comes to gender issues and the altering of traditional roles, the general populace is still a bit wary. It’s change. It’s scary.

There have been many points raised against the idea of women participating in combat. The first reaction that seems to come up as a result of this debate is horror at the thought of women needlessly dying in combat. It takes only a second to realise the flaw in this one. If women shouldn’t die in combat, does that mean men should? The thought of female troops dying on the field of war is indeed a horrifying one, but not less horrifying than the thought of anyone dying in war.

The next argument is that women are less physically capable than men to participate in combat. It is a fact that women’s bodies work differently to men’s, and can exert less physical force. However, women do participate successfully in combat, and have for some time. Women participate in many jobs that involve physical force. When it comes down to it, the physical argument is relative and falls by the wayside when female bodies somehow meet up to male standards.

In the early days of allowing females in combat, one of the objections was that women are better targets for the opposition. It’s not that big a stretch to think that in war, picking off the female members of the opposing army is likely to cause more damage emotionally to your enemies. This assumption is based on the same gender assumptions as the rest of the arguments. In response to this, Major General Jessica Wright of the National Guard observed that terrorist activity hadn’t altered in response to the female presence on the frontlines in Iraq. Having women in a unit, however, has meant that the cultural sensitivities of Iraq can be better respected when it comes to searching for suicide bombers, leading to a slightly better relationship with the community.

One of the weaker early arguments was that men were going to be distracted on the front line, due to their instinctive need to protect the female of the species. This argument insults the intelligence and training of the army’s men. It assumes that men will be more upset at seeing a woman die than any of their other comrades. In the close-knit world of an army unit, it’s hard to see how the gender of your friend matters when it comes to death. It’s all traumatic.

Another argument is that women are fundamentally unable to handle the emotional side of war. The concept that women are somehow unable to face the horror of combat was obviously conceived by someone who has never been in a labour room. History has shown that women can withstand great emotional and physical pain, and are fully capable of inflicting it as well.

Regardless of the shoulds, the US Army needs women in combat. During the first Iraq war, the placement of women in combat was optional, supported by a directive from the US Secretary of Defense. With the second war in Iraq, there has simply been no choice – there are not enough soldiers to fill the forces solely with men, according to Oregon Air Guard officer and Pentagon military analyst J Michael Bowen. He writes, “All-male FSCs are impossible because recruiting numbers are too small… [the situation] has made women more indispensable to sustain PERSTEMPO levels.”

When it comes down to it, women are being used in combat, whether their opposers like it or not, and each of the projected negatives and positives are being proven in the experiment. The debate will very soon answer itself.


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