One the biggest news stories from last week, at least in Terra-land, was the Pentagon announcement that the ban on women serving in combat roles was being lifted. It’s something I’ve written about before, about how other countries are doing it, about the excuses people use to rationalize the exclusion, and it’s something I have a lot of feelings about, being that I am a lady Soldier and have been for the past almost-decade.
What fascinates me the most when announcements like this come out is the response, the chorus of dissent and acceptance, the screechy voices lamenting the rise of feminism and the fists-in-the-air shouts of celebration and exhalations of “FINALLY.” I read a handful of news stories on it, read the work emails that came across about it and tried not to fall too deeply down the well of vile comments and, for the most part, I succeeded, but the excuses and lamentations still surprised me, no matter that I’ve heard them all before.
The thing is, we’ve done this all before. This integration thing isn’t new, but neither is the chorus of complaint that accompanies any major military policy shift. Every change we make, if you listen to the naysayers, will destroy us as the world’s premier military force. We all heard it last year, when our military made the decision to allow gays to serve honorably and openly in our armed forces. The comment threads on that topic assured me that half the nation’s servicemembers were ready to walk out on their military commitment, for fear of finding themselves in a foxhole with a “fag,” because surely, gays in the military would degrade our might and ruin us as a military force, never mind that they’ve been there all along, quietly serving a country they love in spite of its intolerance.
The awful things that were supposed to happen with that integration and that acceptance didn’t happen. Military members aren’t leaving in record numbers and our Armed Forces haven’t fallen to bits. Neither did we fall apart as a force when we integrated racially, and neither will we when we allow women to fill combat roles.
And the thing is, women are already in combat. This isn’t new. The reality of war is that women are already there. The war we fight today is not the same as the one we fought 40 or 50 or 70 years ago. It is different and there is no front line. Women have already been wounded and killed in combat, and while some like to argue that seeing America’s daughters coming home in body bags is more difficult for us as a nation to swallow than seeing America’s sons in those same bags, I’d like to counter that the death of any Soldier, male or female, is a difficult and painful thing, and arguing that the death of one over the other is “easier” is complete and utter bullshit.
Then there’s the argument that women in combat could be a distraction to our male Soldiers, that they will suddenly be unable to perform in combat situations, instead focusing their attention on protecting their female comrades, or that they’ll be so blinded by lust that they’ll be unable to accomplish the missions assigned to them. Personally, I have more faith in the male Soldiers I’ve served beside than to believe that their professionalism and acumen will be downgraded in a combat situation by the presence of my vagina on a battlefield.
It goes on. The rationalizations for the exclusion of women in combat arms fields range from arguments on the sacredness of tradition to the matter of hygiene in a field environment. People argue that women can’t handle it, that they’ll cause a lowering of standards, that their fertility may become a liability if they’re taken as prisoners of war, that they’re too pretty for combat, and on and on and on, a whole list of reasons to dig in our heels and avoid forward movement.
The reality of the world and our military today is that things are different and if we have any hope of maintaining our dominance as a military force, we have to be able to adapt to those differences and changes as they develop, we have to be able to step forward into the world that evolves around us. Women are more than mothers and daughters. We lead lives outside of the home, we balance careers and families and have a roster of successes in breaking barriers and glass ceilings. We are capable and competent. We can’t only when we’re barred from trying.
“I think it’s time we stop being surprised that America’s daughters are just as capable of defending this nation as her sons.” — Rep. Tammy Duckworth