The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Marines Can Treat Women Honorably Without Putting Them in the Infantry

Like any sentient moral being, I was troubled by the number of Marines who were caught up in the  so-called “Marines United” scandal sharing naked pictures of female Marines without their consent (I’d also have a problem with sharing the pictures even with consent.) But that scandal has absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether women should serve in the infantry, and integrating more women in the infantry is far more likely to impair fighting effectiveness than it is to create an enlightened Marine Corps. 

Yesterday, Vox ran a piece calling out the Marines for their “toxic masculinity” and used the Marines United scandal to highlight a different problem, the failure to effectively integrate women into all aspects of Marine operations. The reason for Marine resistance to women in the infantry? Macho culture. I’m not making this up:

There’s a “toxic masculinity culture” in the Marine Corps, James Joyner, a professor at the Marine Command and Staff College, told me.

That may be what is at the core of the women-in-infantry debate among Marine ranks: the identity crisis of a historically macho club now being forced to let in women.

Now that the Marine Corps must allow women to serve in combat roles — and is putting out recruiting commercials highlighting that fact — it tears at the social fabric of the service. That has led many to act out, some anonymously, online.

No, “at the core of the women-in-infantry” debate is the question of whether women can fight as effectively as men. They cannot. There is no serious argument that they can. In fact, the Marines studied the issue closely and found that mixed-gender infantry units seriously underperform same-sex units. The results were devastating:

The women weren’t slightly less capable than the men; they were profoundly less capable. All-male units performed better in 93 of 134 categories evaluated, and there were “notable” differences in accuracy in “every individual weapons system.” Physically, the top 25th percentile of women overlapped with the bottom 25th percentile of men, and they possessed less anaerobic power, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity than their male colleagues. Women undergoing entry-level infantry training were injured at “more than six times the rate of their male counterparts.”

Indeed, as the Vox article notes, only four women currently serve in the Marine infantry. Only the tiniest number can pass through training that physically fit men pass as a matter of course. The women-in-infantry debate is the luxury of a society that hasn’t fought a large-scale ground war in generations, and a serious mixed-gender experiment wouldn’t survive first contact with a well-equipped and well-trained opposing force. That’s not macho culture. It’s truth. Life isn’t the movie Aliens, nor is it G.I. Jane, and there is nothing “toxic” about bowing to biological and psychological reality.

None of this, of course, excuses sexual assault or mistreating women in the military. And none of it should be taken to belittle those female Marines who’ve served with courage and distinction. Honor demands better from the Marines, but honor does not demand that the Marines lose fighting effectiveness for the sake of social justice. The military can treat women well without putting them in sustained ground combat. 

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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