Politics & Policy

Sex and Violence

The Obama administration has doubled down on its social-transformation agenda, unilaterally deciding to overturn longstanding policy and integrate women into combat roles in the military. Give the administration this much: Unlike the question of gay marriage, the issue of women in combat was never something that Barack Obama felt obliged to pretend to be against until it was politically safe to evolve on the matter. As a candidate in 2008, he signaled his intention to change the rules if elected president.

#ad#Defense Secretary Leon Panetta draped his announcement in the all-too-familiar language of “diversity,” but the U.S. military is neither a social-justice project nor a laboratory for feminist innovation: Its job is to secure the national-security interests of the United States, and neither Secretary Panetta nor the president nor any member of the administration has offered a single serious argument that this measure will increase our armed forces’ ability to do their job with maximum effectiveness. On the contrary, there are many reasons to believe it will accomplish the opposite.

The administration has promised that there will be no reduction of physical standards to accommodate women in combat roles, but that promise almost certainly is false — and Senator McCain, who has endorsed the move, should know better than to pretend otherwise. The political mandate to integrate women into the military had disastrous consequences for standards at West Point, as Walter Williams documented the last time we had this debate. The use of “gender-specific” physical standards meant that female candidates were given passing marks on tests when underperforming their male counterparts on such common benchmarks as push-ups, sit-ups, and running 1.5 miles.

This repeats the experience of similar civilian agencies, such as police and fire departments, in which standards have been lowered under the guise of revising them for professional relevance. One particularly comical feature of these developments has been the authorities’ insistence that they are acting independently of political pressure while simultaneously acknowledging that they are motivated by the fear of litigation brought by feminist groups. The ideological absurdity at play here is hard to exaggerate: When members of the Los Angeles city council demanded hiring quotas for the LAPD and a consequent relaxation of standards, they argued that concerns about physical difference could be overcome by implementing a “feminist approach to policing.” We pray that we may be spared a feminist approach to national security.

The Marine Corps recently conducted an experiment along these lines, allowing two very fit women to enroll in its infantry school. Both washed out early in the process. A standard of rigorous equality of physical ability will prove by its nature discriminatory toward women for reasons of simple human biology — and it is inevitable that such standards will come under attack. “Gender-specific” standards for the SEALs and the Rangers are almost certainly on the horizon. Indeed, the Pentagon-endorsed Military Leadership Diversity Commission already is contemplating similar instruments, to be known as “diversity metrics.”

There are immutable differences between men and women, and they are on display every day from the classroom to the corporate office. In most environments, the accommodation of these differences is benign or even salubrious. But the theater of combat is a very different sort of environment. It is true that we have had women in dangerous front-line roles for a decade now, thanks to an act of poor judgment by the Bush administration. But door-to-door combat is a very different thing from flying a helicopter. To believe that soldiers, officers, and policymakers will react identically to female casualties — or to videos of female troops being tortured by al-Qaeda — is to deny human nature. But denying human nature is of course at the center of the feminist agenda.

President Obama is shortchanging the effectiveness of our military in order to appease his feminist supporters, who apparently are ready to storm Tora Bora even though they cannot quite manage to organize their own birth-control pills. Women in the military and outside of it will be less safe as a result.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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