Let Them Fight

“The department’s goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender.” – Leon Panetta, United States Secretary of Defense

I disagree with President Obama on a number of issues: deficit spending, health care, tax rates, abortion. Despite these political differences, however, the President and I tend to agree on social issues, with immigration and equality in the military serving as two primary examples. Consequently, I was both surprised and elated to learn that this week, the Pentagon, with President Obama’s support, officially lifted the army’s ban on female involvement in active combat. With the justified repeal of the Pentagon’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, it was only a matter of time before women were given the opportunity to serve in combat roles. The lifting of this ban marks a new chapter in American military history and eliminates one of the final vestiges of discrimination in the armed forces. Finally, equality in the military will reign supreme.

I’ve always felt that anyone who’s willing and able, no matter their gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, should be given the chance to serve on the front lines. I understand that many people vehemently oppose giving women combat roles. Claims that they won’t be able to handle the daily grind, however, or that they will ruin “unit cohesion,” are ludicrous, and quite frankly, sexist.

The first claim can be dealt with swiftly. In lifting this ban, Mr. Panetta and his staff have not, in any way, shape, or form, compromised the training regimen that will be administered to each potential recruit. The women who are sent to the front lines will be required to pass the same tests as the men who are sent along with them. What those tests will look like I can’t say, but I can say with absolute certainty that the army will not make its tests easier merely to ensure that women succeed. In the end, Panetta’s plan will integrate strong, qualified women into combat units, not the weak, incompetent women that army officials conjure up to scare right-wing politicians.

Secondly, the claim that women will ruin unit cohesion and compromise the military’s ability to fight wars is utterly ridiculous. This argument first arose when Harry Truman ordered the integration of the military following WWII and was used extensively when conservatives argued that openly homosexual soldiers were unfit to serve in the armed forces. In both instances, the government forced integration and the military came out unscathed.

Looking at history, I don’t believe the army will be adversely affected by the integration of women into combat roles. First, the argument that men will be distracted by women, and thus unable to fulfill their duties, degrades the professional nature of every soldier. Men in the army are trained to be determined, single-minded individuals. If a soldier is unable to focus on a mission because he’s distracted by a female, he doesn’t deserve to wear the uniform. Furthermore, the “problems” that women will purportedly cause are no different in scope than the problems that men already cause. Ex-infantrymen Adrian Bonenberger says it best: “While some of the problems afflicting women [are] unique (men cannot become pregnant), they [occur] to the same degree that men [get] into fights and [encounter] disciplinary problems.”

Women are ready for combat. This nation is home to countless females who are fully capable of fighting our wars and handling themselves in a professional manner. The arguments that conservatives use to convince the masses are just plain wrong. The men will handle themselves in a professional manner, women will not cause a greater degree of problems than their male counterparts (as evidenced by Mr. Bonenberger’s first-hand account), and the female population will bring new perspective to the battlefield. Leon Panetta’s actions will usher in a new era of military equality and efficiency. I applaud him for his bold step and pray that his actions inspire greater fairness not only in the military but in American society as a whole.