The Corner

Women in Combat and Sexual Assault



I caught a snippet of the congressional hearing on sexual predation at Lackland Air Force Base last week on CSPAN. Possibly 32 military instructors at the Texas facility took advantage of several dozen female recruits. The most striking aspect of the hearing was the glimpse it provided into the military’s existing gender infrastructure — complete with “sexual-assault response coordinators,” etc. This massive bureaucratic apparatus will only grow in the wake of the decision to introduce females into combat roles.

Congressmen from both parties grilled the two testifying generals about the allegedly inadequate number of females throughout the chain of command, from instructors to recruiters, supervisors, and chiefs. Such “diversity” bean-counting pressure is likely the equal of anything on a college campus, but it will become even more intense in the future, since proportional female representation is both an end in itself and a perceived means to that end. (An NRO reader recently wrote of her disappointment on discovering how central “celebrating diversity” was to the West Point experience.)

One of the two generals lamented that the military is already awash in “volumes of education and training” on gender sensitivity, without noticeable effect. “We’ve added more every time we’ve had an incident, we add more and more, but the training is not resonating, we’re wasting people’s time,” said General Edward Rice.

Sexual predation is indefensible, and everything should be done to punish the perpetrators and deter further abuse. But there may be a limit to how much gender-sensitivity training can do to reengineer some brutish but basic human impulses in an institution still at least formally dedicated to a high-testosterone activity, one characterized by extreme and absolute differences of power. The goal of the military’s diversity infrastructure — to introduce women into every corner of a formerly predominantly male activity — had better be highly important to war preparedness to justify the cost. There may have been a wisdom in the millennia-long separation of the sexes in the combat portions of military organizations, beyond simply the physical unfitness of nearly all women for the rigors of actual, sustained combat.

(Some portion of what was referred to in the hearing as an “epidemic” of sexual assault on military bases is undoubtedly the result of two recruits’ voluntarily getting drunk and then voluntarily — to the extent that they retain their decision-making capacity — getting into bed together, rather than the case of a male superior’s exploiting a female underling. This drunken hook-up situation is of course the paradigm “sexual assault” scenario on college campuses.)

The hearing featured tearful victims of sexual assault on American military bases, still reeling from the experience years later. What will happen, one wonders, if our newly minted female fighters are captured in a country where rape is a tool of war (several in Africa currently come to mind). Will we take sexual-assault advisers on combat missions or let the women fend for themselves psychologically as well as physically? And what will be the opportunities to retrain the enemy? 


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