In an announcement sure to strike terror into the hearts of America's enemies, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Wednesday that women will now be allowed into combat roles.
I could support this, in a half-hearted way, if none of the requirements for combat positions were changed. But the military already has two standards of fitness for the sexes -- a double standard, if you will. Right now, to place at the 90th percentile for fitness in the National Guard, a 22 to 26 year old male has to be able to do 66 push-ups in two minutes. For women, the equivalent number is 39. A 22 to 26 year old man has to run two miles in 13:54 to score at the 90th percentile. A woman, 16:36.
Right now, as part of basic training, an infantryman has to carry an 85 pound rucksack for 8 miles, and a 75 pound rucksack for 12 miles. How will they change this requirement for women?
When they have those pugil stick matches, will women be matched against the men? (This seems unfair, but in an actual war, they will be matched against men.)
How will the obstacle courses be adapted for the women? Will those high, sheer walls be made less so?
In every infantry squad, for every four riflemen, there is one machine gunner. Machine guns weigh 23 pounds. (Next time you're at the gym, try lifting one of those 25 pound plates, then imagine aiming it while also carrying a 50 pound rucksack.) Will women be exempted from this duty?
This sounds as if it's going to be just another form of affirmative action. But the consequences here could be lethal, not only for the women but for the others in their squad as well. How will they retrieve a wounded comrade? While on patrol, will others have to slow their pace to accommodate the woman in their squad?
(The logical extension of integrating combat positions is to integrate sports. Let the women compete directly against men there. How will the feminists feel about that? It's easy to imagine the slogans: No more "separate but equal"! Down with segregation! We're tired of being consigned to the women's ghetto! Anything a man can do, a woman can do better!)
Sports are segregated for a good reason: because women can't compete with men in contests requiring strength and aggression. Every now and then, some woman tries to compete in a men's league in golf or basketball, usually with disastrous results. Well, sports are just ritualized combat. What makes anyone think real combat will be any different?
The Army is evidently trying to downsize these days. One DUI and you're out; this is not the way it used to be. If you test positive for recreational drugs like marijuana, you're out too. But the military does seem to turn a blind eye to steroids. I've seen (and heard of) too many guys in the military (especially the Marines, for some reason) who are juicing to think otherwise. The military wants its soldiers to be fighting machines, and steroids not only make them stronger, they make them more aggressive. Why would the military want to weed that out?
But think for a moment: this means the military wants its warriors to be ultra-masculine, i.e., the opposite of women.
None of this is to impugn the character of those women who do want to serve their country this way. They are every bit as patriotic and brave as the men who volunteer to serve in a combat role. It's just that they're not suited for that role.
What happens the first time a woman gets captured and raped? (Will we be able to prosecute the enemy for a "hate crime"?)
Evidently the vast majority of women in the military -- a far more gung ho group than the average woman to begin with -- are against this change. (Strangely, that fact did not make it onto the front page of the New York Times.)
There are people who argue, well, war is different now. It's fought with computers, with remotely controlled drones, with high tech weaponry, and from inside fighter planes and attack helicopters, where physical strength is less important. This is, to a certain extent, true.
But even with that kind of warfare, are women as constitutionally inclined to pull triggers and kill? Young boys become addicted to violent video games because they love that kind of action. How often do you hear of young women who become video game fanatics? How many top computer programmers, or computer hackers, are women? Gender differences on the mental side seem equally stark, if less immediately visible.
One somewhat rude, but necessary question: will women in the field be able to effectively ignore their menstrual cycle?
Or won't they? ("I'm sorry about that friendly fire, but you have to understand, it was my time of month.")