Women in the Military

By john harrison 

Does anyone else see a problem that the two most pressing issues about women serving in the military are: that there must be special rules, and special efforts to prevent rape to protect women in the military, and the idea that women can and should serve in elite infantry combat units whose mission is to close with and destroy the enemy? Am I wrong, or is there a serious disconnect here? 

People in favor of the idea of adding women to elite infantry units often talk about the opportunities currently available for women in the Israeli Army of today. The 2000 Equality amendment to the Military Service law of Israel states “The right of women to serve in any role in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is equal to the right of men.” As of now, about 90% of all roles in the IDF are open to female candidates, and women can be found in about 70% of all positions in the IDF.

Formerly, and like most armies still, Israeli women conscripts only served in the Israeli Women’s Army Corps. After a five-week period of basic training, they could serve as clerks, drivers, welfare workers, nurses, radio operators, flight controllers, ordnance personnel, and course instructors, but not as infantry, much less serve in an elite infantry unit.

However, the supporters of women serving in elite units usually ignore that there are still all sorts of special rules regarding women serving in uniform in Israel. On the other hand, in their favor is that there is also a special IDF infantry battalion composed mostly of women that they can chose to serve in. So far, Israel has not fought a war under the new regime. With luck, they never will—but the expansion of combat positions available to women in the IDF is an incredible social experiment that can be explained only in part by the shortage of military age males in Israel.

Nevertheless, it would defy reality not to acknowledge the risks faced by women in the military and that a woman POW, particularly a woman POW from Israel, but also from any other country, faces. There are also special risks in close combat for a woman that her male counterparts simply do not share. Bowe Robert Bergdahl, an American infantryman, was a POW held the Taliban probably in Northern Pakistan for over 4 years. Because of these additional risks faced only by females in captivity, I do not believe that a woman POW would have survived a similar length of internment. 

We are all aware that in Afghanistan and Iraq American service women in all branches of the military have already faced similar risks of capture for years. However, there is a big difference in the risk of capture confronted by being in a convoy, or at a base camp, or even working as a helicopter pilot, and by being a member of a small combat infantry patrol on the cutting edge in Indian country.

Does anyone really believe that if Sergeant Bergdahl had been a woman that extraordinary efforts would not have been taken to free her at least in part simply because she was a female? If you really do believe that no such extraordinary measures would have been taken, then you do not understand the American male, or the American military. The questions now being raised regarding the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture do not negate this. In spite of these questions, many unsuccessful attempts were made to rescue Sergeant Bergdahl. Would more rescue attempts have been made if Sergeant Bergdahl had been a woman?

The story of Jessica Dawn Lynch is instructive in this regard. During the Battle at Nasiriyahn, March 23, 2003, then Private First Class Lynch was serving as a unit supply specialist with the 507th Maintenance Company when Iraqi forces ambushed her convoy. During the fighting PFC Lynch was knocked unconscious and captured. Her subsequent recovery by U.S. Special Operations Forces eight days later on April 1, 2003 received world wide media coverage and was the first successful rescue of an American prisoner of war since Vietnam and the first ever of a woman POW. The important point here is that it was the first time since Vietnam that a combat raid recovered an American POW even though various enemies have captured many more Americans during that time period and even though many such raids have been mounted to rescue them. What was the difference?

It is not surprising that a large rescue operation was organized to recover an American POW, that happened to be female, only nine days after she was captured. Nor is it surprising to those familiar with the American military that it was the first successful such operation in over thirty years. Simply stated, there was an added urgency because PFC Lynch was female. 

The PFC Lynch rescue operation under US Army operational command involved two battalions of Marines, a Navy SEAL team, US Army Special Forces, US Air Force Pararescue jumpers, US Army Rangers and Delta Force members. The Marines made a violent diversionary attack while the special operators made a night raid on the hospital where PFC Lynch was being held. The successful raid freed PFC Lynch and incidentally recovered the bodies of eight other American soldiers. That is, two Marine battalions totaling at least a thousand men and hundreds of other highly trained service men and probably some women too went into battle with the sole objective of rescuing PFC Lynch.

On the other hand, Bowe Bergdahl was a POW for over four years. A singular difference, one is male and one is female. This difference and the different results cannot be ignored in an honest analysis of the role of women in the military. 

After considerable research, in all of history, the only successful army I am aware of that did use large numbers of women in direct infantry combat roles was the Soviet Union’s Red Army in World War II, but even in that army many combat roles, including all of the elite infantry units, were closed to women.

The role of women in society is quite different in America today and that of the Stalinist Soviet Union in the middle of what they called the Great Patriotic War. Those differences are reflected in their armies as well. About 800,000 women served in the Soviet military during World War II; part of the explanation for that may lie in the estimated 22,000,000 casualties the Soviet Union’s armed forces suffered during that war. And, it should also be noted, that while women in the Soviet Union during World War II served as pilots, snipers, machine gunners, tank crewmembers and partisans, as well as in auxiliary roles, they do not serve in these roles in the Russian Army of today. Any honest analysis will not ignore this significant change.

The Serbs used rape as a matter of military policy in their war in Bosnia, and in any event, rape has been an endemic part war since the beginning of time. The inclusion of this very real risk in the analysis is also essential.

Already the US military services have acknowledged that there is a problem with rape occurring among American service members. Clearly, particularly given the nature of such service, assigning women to infantry combat units will increase the opportunity for this problem to continue to grow and fester. Again, I am not condoning this behavior; I am only recognizing that any increase in opportunity usually also increases frequency. 

Aggression is actively encouraged in every elite infantry unit, specifically including extreme physical aggression, and they practice on each other constantly both in training, and in bars on and off base. Anyone who has been in an elite infantry unit knows that fistfights and worse among members of the unit and particularly between such elite units are a part of such service however much such conduct is officially discouraged. Adding alcohol to the mix, and alcohol is always added to the mix, increases both the number of such fights and often their violence as well. Training young soldiers to fight, training them how to be physically aggressive, encouraging that aggression constantly and then expecting them not to use these skills is silly. 

According to the politically correct, rape is an act of aggression, not sex. If it is true that rape is act of aggression, then one must reasonably expect that rape, as an act of physical aggression, to increase as a logical result of including women in elite units that also by definition and fact are already highly aggressive physically. I am not condoning such conduct; I am merely applying the definition provided by many of those proposing the inclusion of women into such elite units to the training and environment that such women will be exposed to along with the men in the units.

In the ethos of an elite infantry unit, soldiers that cannot protect themself from a physical attack ought not to be in the unit. They are a danger to themselves and to every soldier in the unit. This is the reality of an elite unit. Physical aggression is encouraged because it is deemed essential for success on the battlefield not for reasons of testosterone.

So, what does all of this mean? Among other things, it at least means that if the people proposing the inclusion of women into elite infantry units are correct that rape is an act of aggression rather than sex, and if women are added to such units, then rape in the military will either increase, or that the performance of such elite units will be degraded on purpose because the importance of extreme aggression, particularly of extreme physical aggression, will necessarily be de-emphasized for the safety of the women members of the elite unit. A third possibility is that, while attempted rape will increase, these women will be successful in defending themselves and therefore, while rape will not increase, the actual net result for the elite unit will be the same. Any of these results would diminish the effectiveness of any elite unit that experienced them.

Why? Why jeopardize the so far successful inclusion of women into the military by placing them in positions where their success, even the supporters of such inclusion say, will only come at the cost of reduced effectiveness assuming that the proponents of such inclusion are correct about the actual cause of rape? Why jeopardize very necessary, very successful, elite units in the service of ideology rather than excellence? Why ignore reality?




If you like this article you may also like these articles: “Cone of Violence” (https://johneharrison.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/cone-of-violence/),

or My Mother’s Machinegun.





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