Firepower, Femmes Fatales, etc

As a long time student of war studies, Martin Van Creveld cast a long shadow over my tertiary education, which, I suppose, is why I find his wreck of an article on Small Wars Journal a tad disappointing. In short, Van Creveld is very much against the recent decision to lift the ban on women serving in front line roles by the U.S. military, even if he doesn’t mention it by name. Rather, Van Creveld takes aim at the integration of women into military forces in total. It would be hard to think that an article written about the “feminization” of the American military wasn’t penned in response to recent discussions, but Van Creveld’s failure to get to grips with the core issue (women wanting to try out for/serve in the highly dangerous combat roles currently denied to them) is perhaps responsible for some of the logical deficits below.

What disappoints me most about Van Creveld’s article (apart from disagreeing with him on the issue) is that there is a lack of intellectual consistency that one would expect from him. Indeed, the fact that he lauds the size of the American military in 1968, but makes no mention of the fact that some of those 3.5 million service personnel had to be conscripted to wear a uniform. In my mind, that’s far from laudable. In fact, it’s quite bizzarre that he holds this fighting force as some pinnacle of strength, and then denigrates the current military’s deficiencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. From what I remember, America’s 1968 military didn’t exactly win Vietnam, either.

The “decline” theme in Van Creveld’s article rests on this correlation:

Looking back, clearly what we see is two long-term processes running in parallel. The first is the decline of U.S. armed forces (as well as all other Western ones, but that is not our topic here). The second is their growing feminization.

Rather, it rests on linking the two:

Are the two processes linked? You bet they are. Consider a work by two female professors, Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos, with the title Job Queues, Gender Queues. First published in 1990, it has since been quoted no fewer than 1,274 times. As they and countless other researchers, both male and female, have shown, over time the more women that join any organization, and the more important the role they play in that organization, the more its prestige declines in the eyes of both men and women. Loss of prestige leads to diminishing economic rewards; diminishing economic rewards lead to loss of prestige. As any number of historical examples has shown, the outcome is a vicious cycle. Can anybody put forward a reason why the U.S. military should be an exception to the rule?

Van Creveld is therefore primarily interested with how people think about the military, perhaps at the expense of considering why the military might be upping the number of women in its ranks. The general tone and use of figures in Van Creveld’s article makes it appear that women have been waging some sort of guerrilla war on the Pentagon, but the image of women forcing their way in to an occupation is perhaps at odds with Reskin and Roos’ conclusions from their work, to whit:

We must remember that women’s growing representation in the specific labor pools was largely a response to employers’ need for workers in more occupations that were more attractive than those which the gender queue customarily relegated women. Opportunities beckoned, and women responded.

Women have been fighting for the opportunity to serve. That’s probably the most contradictory sentence that I’ll ever write in relation to feminism. Stating that they are only now employed precisely because they were given the opportunity to be employed misses out the key point of what Reskin and Roos were arguing. Given that there isn’t an industry that hasn’t had some form of gender integration occur, it is not as if these potential soldiers and marines are running away from a profession that requires working with females into some other boy’s club.

Perhaps the most offensive thing about Van Creveld’s argument is that he selectively uses the lack of female participation in combat roles as an argument against their performance of such duties. After all, women don’t get shot often enough:

as figures from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show, relative to their number military women are 90 percent less likely to be killed than military men.

One could hazard a guess and say that maybe because women are denied entry to the combat roles that are likely to get a person injured, this might bias that statistic slightly. But Van Creveld isn’t finished:

Uniformed women, in other words, are not pulling their weight. Whether this is because public opinion will not stand for large numbers of dead servicewomen or because the women themselves have found a thousand ways to avoid going where the bullets are is immaterial. Probably both factors play a role. Instead of fighting, women get all the cushy jobs.

This statement, however valid it might be, makes absolutely no sense in the context of an argument about women demanding the chance to try out for combat units whose sole purpose in life is to act as a bullet magnet for any and all opponents of the U.S.A. Being in the infantry is many things (in no particular order according to viewpoint: honourable, dumb, lethal, the-best-goddamn-thing-you’ll-ever-do-with-your-life) but it isn’t cushy in any sense of the word. If women were arguing that they shouldn’t have to serve in those positions, Van Creveld’s argument might have a point, but it doesn’t exactly help in this context. Even worse, as Van Creveld descends into what might kindly be referred to as “patronising bullshit” (“For thousands, probably tens of thousands of years, we men have laid down our lives so that the women we love might live.” – NB: single dudes fight as well) it undermines this very premise, after all, if women do indeed get all the “cushy jobs” then that frees up men to go and die protecting the women that they love, right?

There’s plenty of arguments to be had on the topic (Van Creveld makes an important one about pregnancy), and personally, I think that combat forces’ selection requirements shouldn’t be altered to accomodate different sexes. That said, excluding someone who wants to put their life on the line for their country on the basis of gender is untenable in a contemporary liberal democracy. Even arch critics of the military like Bill Hicks get that:

You never see my attitude in the press. That’s what bugs me. You never see my point of view. For instance – gays in the military. Now, I don’t know how y’all feel about it. Gays want to be in the military. Here’s how I feel about it, alright? Anyone – DUMB ENOUGH – to want to be in the military should be allowed in. End of fuckin’ story. That should be the only requirement. I don’t care how many push-ups you can do, put on a helmet, go wait in that fox-hole, we’ll tell you when we need you to kill somebody.


13 thoughts on “Firepower, Femmes Fatales, etc

  1. W4rlord says:

    Whatever feminists, gender studies believers etc. say women in general do not belong to fighting units. Just as most men are unable to cope with the multiple interlinked tasks which are colloquially known as bringing up children. Of course there can be and there are exemptions as always, but these should and must not been seen as general rule.
    There were and there always will be heroic deeds by women on the battlefield from Boudicca, to others, just as there are mom-dads.

    In general female psyche along with physical build-up is not suitable for elongated firefights, long dug in sieges and stuff. Yes anybody can push a button, anybody can serve in supporting roles but not everybody can shoot the enemy in the head while looking in his eyes, or fight in close combat to the death. Simply not everybody CAN do it. Yes I know it is becoming less and less often, yet there are still many such positions in the armed forces.

    And at the end it takes 9 months to give birth to a child. A man can have in lucky circumstances 7 child per day.

    If I want to put it in a completely inhumane way in war amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.

    • Rob Dover says:

      I’m not the greatest feminist ever born….. indeed, I might be one of the worst.

      In terms of physical attributes and mental capacity, neither of these are innate to men, or absent from women – we’d just like them to be. The idea of cold killing women has scared the doodah out of society for all of time. Think of the relative opprobriums poured on Myra Hindley against those done to Ian Brady, who was far more deserving of them. That she did evil was not in doubt. That she was more evil than him because she was a woman (and therefore should have the right sorts of instincts) seems highly dubious to me.

      The main arguments I have ever heard against women on the front-line are two fold:
      1) they’d ruin morale. Both alive and dead. Alive because fighting men would like them, and draw too close an attachment to them (skip round that one) and dead, because fighting men would mourn their loss more keenly and not fight so effectively.
      2) that our troops would become ‘sissified’ by the enemy (they’d call us names)
      3) the enemy might do untold nasties to women fighters (but it’s fine to do it to men, etc etc)
      4) that in terms of managing a fighting force it’s an inconvenient nuance that women might give birth unpredictably and thus muck up planning efforts.

      None of these are insurmountable. They’re manageable risk factors. But the core of it is that mainstream society – it strikes me – does not want women frontline fighters. It sits uneasily with constructed notions of femininity.

      So, is the move out of line with social norms? And if it is, why is it happening?

      I have no preference either way on this issue. If any woman is capable enough to serve and – for whatever reasons – thinks being shot at with live ammunition is fun then they’re fine with me.

      The equality norm is one aspect.. but from a curiously narrow perspective.. why open up the recruitment pool when hundreds are being made redundant? The two points are separate, but in the real-world will be tightly coupled.

  2. Cyrus says:

    MVC’s article isn’t his best but what he says is correct. Women do not belong in the combat services. Whilst he doesn’t have much in the way of evidence, neither do you.

    When you say –
    “…excluding someone who wants to put their life on the line for their country on the basis of gender is untenable in a contemporary liberal democracy…”
    – then I say: Why not? Western armies already exclude people on the basis on things like height and mental ability.

    Women, on average, lack the physical abilities necessary to serve as combat soldiers. In addition, there are major psychological and social issues with co-ed units that no amount of indoctrination will change. Ultimately, there are serious biological differences between men and women that no amount of junk “standard social sciences model” chit-chat can change.

    Furthermore, any claims that standards should remain the same are junk. They didn’t for the policemen, nor for the firemen, and they won’t for soldiers. Standards have already been lowered – – and will continue to be so. Even if such things weren’t pushed down from the top then the likes of disparate impact would see them pushed through the legal system.

    What nobody has seriously explained is how co-ed units will actually improve the armed forces, rather than just being a part of our oh so glorious march towards total equality and diversity.

    Alternative views:

    Also see the comments by “Eric_StrattonIII” and the legendary “_B_” under this post:

    • See, I actually disagree with the dropping of the pull up test, but at the same time, the biological differences that you mention don’t disqualify every woman, they just make it very, very difficult for them to pass. Yeah, on average, women would probably flunk more than men, but physical ability, like all other traits, lies on something of a bell curve distribution. If women can be olympic gymnasts, then they sure as hell can pass basic training. Maybe no woman will physically make it through SEAL selection or whatever, but they should at least be given the chance to compete.*

      As for “no evidence”, the point is that my argument isn’t about offering evidence, it’s about pointing out some serious logical fallacies in MVC’s argument. If someone is claiming that in a formal system where x=x and y=y that this somehow means that x=y, no further evidence is required to disprove this argument.

      What I do take serious issue with is this attitude:

      “What nobody has seriously explained is how co-ed units will actually improve the armed forces, rather than just being a part of our oh so glorious march towards total equality and diversity.”

      The point is that no-one has to prove this. All that has to be proven is that these changes won’t seriously impair their ability. If a change doesn’t harm operational effectiveness, then the argument that “It’s always been that way” is pretty much tosh. You are arguing that people should be barred from putting their lives on the line for their people/country/nation/whatever, based on your own opinion. As much as you might dislike it, that choice isn’t up to you, and the whole point of the “identity wars” is that all members of a given country don’t get deliberately excluded just because of their identity. Usually I don’t like to pull other identity issues in, because “gays in the military” has a different set of problems associated with it than “women in the military”, but I think you should perhaps take a step back and read up on the arguments against racial integration in the military, you might find some of them uncomfortably close to the ones that you’re using here.

      *I have no idea whether women can or cannot pass SEAL training. All I know is that it is tough as hell and supposedly a lot harder than basic infantry training, hence its use here.

    • Cyrus says:

      Yes, there are some women who can achieve the physical standards already required of male soldiers – although Olympic gymnasts are unlikely to be amongst them – but they are a tiny minority. Possibly a woman – other than Demi Moore – might be found who can even pass SEAL training, although I doubt it.

      All of which means that the standards for female combat soldiers will be lowered due to political and legal pressure, just as they already have been for women serving in non-combat roles in the military. Furthermore, this doesn’t alter the social or psychological problems involved in co-ed units.

      “All that has to be proven is that these changes won’t seriously impair their ability.”

      Don’t worry guys, we’re making the military worse…but not that much worse.

      “You are arguing that people should be barred from putting their lives on the line for their country, based on your own opinion.”

      No, I’m saying that there are serious physical, social and psychological problems with co-ed combat units. It isn’t a matter of personal opinion.

      “…the whole point of the “identity wars” is that all members of a given country don’t get deliberately excluded just because of their identity.”

      I never argued that they should be excluded because of their sex. I said they should be excluded because there are serious problems with co-ed combat units.

      “I think you should perhaps take a step back and read up on the arguments against racial integration in the military, you might find some of them uncomfortably close to the ones that you’re using here.”

      Why? There were no physical problems involved and there were extensive examples of the effectiveness of black soldiers in combat (Buffalo Soldiers, Harlem Hellfighters). There were also historical examples of successful mixed-race units.

      In contrast, there are serious physical problems with using female soldiers and no prior examples of effective full time co-ed units (I exclude the Hussites for numerous reasons).

  3. The Faceless Bureaucrat says:

    Arguments opposed to the introduction ‘diversity’ in the armed forces are almost always the same. Whether they oppose racial integration, acceptance of homosexuals, or women, they are founded on ‘folk wisdom’ (and protection of privilege), not evidence. The howls of ‘how can it be’ that have accompanied each successive wave of liberalisation have never been matched by the predicted deleterious empirical effects.

    Blacks in the army? How can it be? Morale will plummet. How could we force whites to live and work beside blacks? etc. etc. When the big day came and integration happened, no ‘racial cliff’ (much like the fiscal cliff invented in Washington) appeared. Clocks did not stop, combat effectiveness (such as it was) did not change dramatically.

    Acknowledging that homosexuals serve in the military? How can it be? Morale will plummet. How could we force straight soldiers to live and work beside gays? etc. etc. As the enlightenment of the US armed forces on this issue is still rather recent, there is not a lot evidence to suggest success or failure either way, but I will lay money that since homosexuals have and did serve in the armed forces (albeit not openly) for many years, the differences will not be dramatic.

    Allowing women into ‘front line combat’? How can it be? Morale will plummet. How could be force male soldiers to live and work beside women? “Yawn”. (Next verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and little bit worse.)

    In liberal democracies, militaries must follow not only their ‘functional’ imperative, but equally their ‘societal’ one, too. Despite normative prejudices (from Sam Huntington on down) one imperative cannot and does not trump the other. Defending some archaic and wrong-headed image of ‘conservative perfection’, camouflaged in a flag of ‘effectiveness’ is foolishness. The US continues to drag its heals in this important area, due to its domestic political self-imposed and self-perpetuating ‘red-blue’ issue blindness.

    What does it take to bring about long overdue change? The same ingredients required of all political reform: courage and leadership. When those scarce resources are applied, change happens, as we have seen recently. When they are absent, nothing happens. Empirical strawmen (“prove that allow women to serve in combat will improve the military’s combat power”) are nothing more than red herrings here. Do not be distracted by them nor the dinosaurs that proffer them.

    • W4rlord says:

      ad1. Of course there are no data or evidence to support my opinion. It is not “fashionable”. Which “”progressive””, “”modern”” or whatever you like foundation or think tank would fund such a research? Who would publish it? Which scientist would risk his/her scientifical achievements to defend such a NON-mainstream idea? See Waltz-Mearsheimer.
      Empirical? Hell yes! But you can bet there more and more women out there who wants to be treated like women! Either because they are not atheic westerners, or because feminist women have very few children and those who believe in such follies are less and less in every generation. You know, those numbers again.

      ad2. While there are no physical (in the sense of strict phyiscal features) difference between black and white, hetero and homosexual males, there are obvious diffenence between sexes. In the end it is only women who can bring a child to life (of course cloning in artificial wombs excluded).

      ad3. Men and women are NOT intechangable whatever gender studies say. I see this step as another very dangerous move towards a completely inhumane world, where everybody MUST be unique, yet forcibly TREATED like an equal at the same time. A woman who acts, and wants to be treated like a man loses her “womanness”, and after that she can’t complain of being treated like a man (most do).

      Joan of Arc, Boudicca and many other heroic women have their place in military history. But that is it. They are the exemption and not the rule. If our liberal democracies head in a way where such very important issues cannot be openly and thoroughly debated and opposing clearly non-“”progressive”” opinions are discarded without a backthought then we have already lost our core values.

      At the time of the collapse of the soviet regime I told my communist friends, dont come knocking on my door asking for help if things turn out bad, because you have done everything in your power to head this way.

      Go Martin! We are with you!

  4. Callum Lane says:

    I have reservations about allowing women to serve in combat units.

    My initial reaction was that this sends out a very unsettling (to me) message about the role we expect women to play in society. If we are not to distinguish between the sexes then let’s not. Women get conscripted on the same basis as men, paternity and maternity rights are equalised. It seems to me that this decision is a statement by the US Govt that the woman’s role in society is no different to the man’s.

    Having served in all male combat units and in mixed units (HQs and combat support) my considered professional experience is that mixed units were less combat effective and the ethos was considerably less focused and disciplined. I caveat this with it is difficult to separate cause and effect between ‘mixed units’, combat effectiveness and the fact that the units had different roles.

  5. W4rlord says:

    To repeat myself:

    I beg your pardon but this Bravo Sierra is NOT about women participating in firefights, draggin’ 100+ lbs Bergens and so on.

    It is about the greatest social engineering project since communism. Van Creveld sees it better than anybody. Men and women are equal, yet different. Birthing babies, nurturing them is a female task by biology. Period. Killing people is a male one. Period.

    You are completely wrong if you think you can change human nature.

    Trust me I now how it was in the communist states. They all spoke of the new ‘socialist type of humans’ and at the end it was the greed, the selfishness, and the hubris of these carefully bred and educated ‘special socialist’ types, that utterly destroyed this, otherwise sympathic idea.

  6. Russ says:

    Having read Martin Van Creveld’s book; “The Culture of War,” I am not surprised by the views he expressed in his recent article or his use of ‘folk wisdom.’

    “For men killing is often compared to having sex. Certainly doing so can easily lead to sexual excitement. As anybody who has taken part in war knows, no other activity will leave men feeling as ready, as driven, to discharge their seed into almost anything that moves.” (p.111)

    “But do women enjoy war and combat as much as many men do? Judging by the fact that, once they have left puberty behind, very few of them participate in war games of any kind (including those that do not demand physical strength, such as computer games) even when they are invited, the answer is no.” (p.399)

    “Why armies employed any women at all was because, compared to men, they tended to be cheap.” (p.395)

    I know exceptionally talented and physically fit women that would be an asset to any combat arms unit. Such women will flourish in combat arms as they have in Intel and Aviation. Enforce one standard and move forward.

  7. Callum Lane says:

    If all that is wanted is equality of opportunity for women to participate in combat, then why not consider all female units? There is a history of such units and it would mitigate against the sexual politics prevalent in mixed units which ate at best a distraction and at worse a brake on combat effectiveness.

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