EDITORIAL: Women in combat

The generals defer to political fashion in the Age of Obama

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When Barack Obama accused the Republicans of conducting a war against women he was speaking of war as metaphor (we think). Now the president wants to send women to war. A real one, not war as metaphor.

Feminists, some more radical than others, have been pushing for decades for the services to assign women to combat in America’s wars. They don’t want combat duty for themselves, of course, but for other women, often poor black and Hispanic women who join the military for the opportunity to improve their lives, just to make a political point.

Politicians by nature are soft and eager to make concessions they know may be wrong, but generals and admirals are supposed to be made of tougher stuff. The politicians, the generals and the admirals are obviously wary of what they’re doing but dogged resistance to pressure to do the wrong thing is not a modern virtue.

Women can do many things in war and do them as well as men, and can do some things better than men. To oppose assigning women to combat units is no reflection on the women who have served honorably and well in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few of them have made good combat soldiers, but basing policy on the exception is not a good way to do it. The generals know this, too. In lifting the ban on women in combat units, the Joint Chiefs have been quick to note exceptions they expect to make to the new rules.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get it done,” says Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, “and if there is some career field where it ends up being impossible for reasons that everybody can understand, then we can request an exemption.”

When Gen. Welsh speaks of “reasons that everybody can understand” we presume he’s talking about “common sense” but can’t afford plain speech because common sense is out of fashion in Washington.

The new policy, outlined in a memo by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey obtained by this newspaper, is riddled with caveats and probable exceptions, grudging recognition that the military has to fight and win wars, too. The military services are ordered to “develop, review and validate” job standards, and gender-neutral job standards will be used no later than September. Except, of course, when they aren’t.

“If we find that the assignment of women to a specific position or occupational specialty is in conflict with our stated principles, we will request an exception to the policy.” This sounds like the work of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “very model of a modern major general,” and like a political payoff ordered by the commander in chief. Generals and admirals, like grunts and swabbies, know when to salute and obey.

The Joint Chiefs insist that women in combat will not reduce or impair combat effectiveness. Common sense suggests otherwise. One way the Joint Chiefs could prove the doubters and skeptics wrong is to organize volunteers into an all-female combat unit, like the 442d Regimental Combat Team composed of Japanese-American volunteers who were among the most decorated soldiers of World War II. We don’t expect Gen. Dempsey and his colleagues to do that, “for reasons that everybody can understand.” But it’s a thought.

The Washington Times

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