Magazine | August 5, 2013, Issue

Sensitive SEALs

Feminist ideology has engaged the Special Forces

Americans know there’s something special about the SEALs.

Arguably the most skilled and motivated military unit ever created trains to be ready for any possible challenge on land, at sea, or in the air. You’d think the Obama administration, after the stunning success of SEAL Team Six in killing Osama bin Laden, would want to avoid monkeying with this 2,500-man elite force.

You’d be wrong. Last month Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel approved a plan to introduce training for women to become SEALs. If Congress goes along, the plan will go into effect by March 2016. (The elite Army Rangers will go gender-neutral in 2015.) It’s all part of the administration’s campaign to get women into combat, no matter the cost or consequences — and for very much the wrong reasons.

The argument is that letting women fly F/A-18 fighter missions or lead an infantry platoon — or train to be SEALs — simply acknowledges the fact that they’ve been serving and dying in action anyway (more than 150 were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan) but have been denied the opportunity for professional advancement and the respect that comes from serving in a formal combat role (we have yet to have a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who hasn’t).

Counterarguments that admitting women might force the services to lower qualifying standards rouse the ire of women-in-combat advocates, and the order then–secretary of defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey signed admitting women to combat roles specifically prohibits lowering standards just to get women closer to the battlefront.

But the sad fact is that lowering standards has been the long-term goal of women-in-combat advocates such as former National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland and former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder all along. Getting women into the SEALs only completes a radical-feminist agenda that our military has swallowed hook, line, and footlocker.

The radical-feminist war on our military started back in 1991 after the Tailhook scandal, when former and current Navy aviators were accused of committing sexual assault at a drunken party in Las Vegas. The resulting public outcry forced the Army, Navy, and Air Force to respond to demands by activists both on Capitol Hill and elsewhere that the services clean up their attitudes about women, and fast.

So over the past two decades the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, or DACOWITS, has become the Pentagon’s PC police, where consultants push a gender-neutral agenda that has a lot to do with the feminist thesis that men’s and women’s traditional roles are entirely cultural constructs and the result of patriarchy, and very little to do with what’s good for the services.

Indeed, the goal from the start was to transform the military from an instrument of American imperialism into a force that would be, in Betty Friedan’s words, “sensitive and tender to the evolving needs and values of human life.” Madeline Morris, a law professor at Duke and consultant to then–secretary of the Army Togo West, put it this way: “A thoroughgoing integration of women into the service would do much to undermine group norms” such as “hypermasculinity” and “unalloyed aggressivity,” including on the battlefield. In 1998 feminist historian Erin Solarno was even more succinct on the goal of getting more women in uniform: “I think it is harder to kill when you might give birth” — forgetting that killing is part of what militaries are supposed to do. Yet for two decades Pentagon bureaucrats and service chiefs have gone along with this agenda for fear of arousing ire, both inside Congress and out, that might adversely affect their budgets.

Certainly one of those bastions of “hypermasculinity” is the Navy SEALs. Indeed, it’s been one of the keys to their success.

Set aside the question of whether women have the upper-body strength or bone density to endure the grinding, grueling training known as Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEALs, or BUD/S, that candidates undergo at Coronado Island outside San Diego, which often results in physical injuries and culminates in the non-stop mental and physical pandemonium known as Hell Week.

#page#And set aside the fact that those who survive Hell Week still have to pass Pool Competency (in which instructors tear off candidates’ masks and tie knots in their air hoses while holding them down at the bottom of the pool), and 26 weeks of SEAL Qualification Training in parachuting, weaponry, and demolition — not to mention training in how to resist enhanced-interrogation techniques (among them waterboarding) — before they finally get to wear the coveted Trident pin of a Navy SEAL.

Concede that it’s possible to find women who meet all these standards. The real question is, How many will really want to?

The SEALs are a fixed part of American male folklore — the same folklore the feminists are trying to eradicate. How many teenage girls lie awake at night wondering whether they have the right stuff to endure weeks of constant pain, sleeplessness, hunger, hypothermia, and near-drowning in order to wear that Trident pin? Certainly enough males do to keep Coronado Island crammed with recruits year after year, even though they know only two in ten of them will make the grade.

Getting women to volunteer for such training in similar numbers can be difficult, as the Marines found out when they opened their basic Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va., to women last year. Only two female Marines volunteered for the two-month course, which requires marching all day with a 100-pound backpack under a broiling sun and being subjected to a mock ambush or an emergency medical evacuation under simulated fire at 2 a.m. One failed the initial combat endurance test along with 26 of the 107 male trainees, and one passed — only to suffer an injury two weeks later that forced her to drop out.

Whether the same thing will happen if BUD/S is opened up to women is anybody’s guess. But the SEAL class to which Navy hero Marcus “Lone Survivor” Luttrell belonged began with 180 male recruits. By the time it was over, there were 30 left. If the women who do show up at Coronado experience a similar, or even higher, drop-out rate, how long will it be before pressure on the SEALs from the Pentagon and Congress to show “progress” by not only recruiting women into the program but also passing them becomes unbearable — the alternative being to stand accused of sexism?

In short, the stage is being set for some complicated bureaucratic cheating — and while lowering standards to get women in is specifically prohibited under Panetta and Dempsey’s order, the services are required to review and revise those standards on a periodic basis with the goal of finding one standard for both men and women. Presumably, that would include BUD/S.

BUD/S is not the result of whim or macho tradition. It has constantly evolved in order to reflect what’s needed to get maximum performance from every SEAL on the battlefield. Unquestionably it does feed on a male mystique that to be a SEAL is to be part of the best.

As Dick Couch, ex-SEAL and a leading authority on Special Ops training, points out, change the standard and you will change the battlefield performance. You will also drain away the mystique on which both recruitment and the SEALs’ group cohesion depends. What’s likely to result is a two-tier SEAL service: one that includes SEALettes for public-relations purposes, and the other made of pre-2016 veterans whom you call when you really, really need to get the job done.

According to the AP, Pentagon officials want to install “senior women from the officer and enlisted ranks” directly into Special Forces units such as the SEALs now, so that women they recruit will have “a support system to help them get through the transition” — presumably by adding to their numbers and making sure evil males don’t flunk them out.

It’s the kind of gender war the radical feminists have wanted all along. Why the men in uniform have supported them in that goal remains a mystery. “Everybody knows it’s a system built on a thousand little lies,” ex–Army officer and former State Department official John Hillen told journalist Stephanie Gutmann, “but everybody’s waiting for someone that’s high-ranking who’s not a complete moral coward to come out and say so.”

That was in 2000. Thirteen years later we’re still waiting for a senior general or admiral with that kind of courage. So now it’s up to Congress to finally call a halt to this absurdity and order an about-face in Obama’s war on the SEALs.

– Mr. Herman is the author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, which will appear in paperback in July.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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