Thursday, December 06, 2012

Should Combat Exceptions for Women be Lifted?

In light of the recent lawsuit against the Department of Defense brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the debate on whether women should be allowed in combat is again rearing its ugly head. While much of the pressure is coming from a few feminist women who argue that their career advancement is hurt by their lack of combat experience, does that necessarily deprive them of their constitutional rights? The ACLU and the four service women who filed complaint in Federal Court seem to think so. There are valid arguments on both sides of the issue.

For all those in favor, the matter is simply a question of civil rights. They consider the matter a discrimination issue. To the argument that women are not as physically strong or as capable, they maintain that they can meet the same physical training standards as men. Not to mention the fact that many women have already been engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For those who oppose, the list of objections is much longer. While women may be able to meet the same standards, there are very few who do, and those standards have so far been relaxed for women. Studies suggest that even training women at the same levels for men will dramatically increase the injury rate for women. There is also the possibility that men will be impaired psychologically and emotionally from doing their jobs in a combat situation when women are involved. Whether instinctual or taught, men have an ingrained sense to protect women from harm. Sexual assault within the armed services is currently increasing. Allowing women in combat would likely exacerbate the problem. Even for women who serve in areas of deplorable conditions, much less in a combat zone, the issue of personal hygiene is enough for almost any woman to say “No, thank you.” 
Then there are those who straddle the argument by pointing out that, even if they could engage in combat, the majority of service women would respectfully decline. The U.S. Marine Corps recently opened its Infantry Officer Course to women, yet only 2 of 80 eligible females volunteered for the course. If those two women were legally allowed to join their male counterparts in combat, would the other 78 be forced into doing the same? A legal ruling must also answer the question of whether women would also be required to register for the draft.
By hearing this case, the Federal Court must answer two questions: Should combat exemptions for women be lifted? And if they are lifted, does that automatically mean that women will be sent to the front lines? Perhaps the issue could be resolved simply in court by answering these questions respectively with “Sure…if they want to.” A court ruling that women be allowed in combat only on the condition that they volunteer to do so may appease the women who feel that their constitutional rights are being violated. Unfortunately, however, this opens the Pandora’s Box of other issues just identified, which is by no means exhaustive.
Even if the battle is won in court, the U.S. government and its organizations, especially the separate branches of military, are plagued with bureaucracy.  A win for the women filing complaint will likely be followed with numerous other battles within their particular branch of service. Standards, policy, attitudes, and culture must be changed, which will result in years of negotiating and infighting. After combatting the bureaucracy of the United States government, going head to head with Al Qaida insurgents will seem like a Sunday picnic for these brave female veterans.

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