The Corner

Demilitarizing the Military

The decision to open up ground combat, front-line roles to women should not be viewed in isolation from a number of significant military policy changes during President Obama’s administration. Some changes have made headlines — the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” women in combat roles, and planned troop reductions– while others, like the ever-increasing influence of international human-rights law in combat operations, have not. There is a common theme, however, and it is decidedly not one of increased combat effectiveness. 

Following the collapse in morale after the Vietnam War, our nation has labored long and hard to create a lethal, courageous, and honorable all-volunteer military that is rightly the most-respected institution in the nation. Make no mistake, women have played a key role in the military’s transformation, and hundreds have bled on the battlefield to defend our liberty. We honor their service and sacrifice.

Yet honoring sacrifice does not necessarily mean acceding to demands for social justice, and the real question should not be whether opening combat roles leads to greater job opportunities for women but whether placing women in infantry companies makes those units deadlier (or at least no less deadly) and more proficient in their core role — engaging and destroying the enemy in close combat. 

Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg, Pa., Bastogne in Belgium, and the Chosin Reservoir in Korea rank among the most hellish and brutal environments ever created by man. The idea that women in the ranks could have repelled Picket’s Charge, or the XLVII Panzer Corps, or the People’s Volunteer Army’s 9th Army just as well as men is more hope than anything else. I pray those hopes won’t ever be tested in equivalent environments, but if history is any guide, the test will come, and no amount of social justice can replace steely courage, superhuman endurance, and ironclad bonds of brotherhood. 

Women and men are not interchangeable biological units. There will be consequences to this change, both expected and unexpected. Is “social justice” worth this very deadly risk?

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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