By David French — September 11, 2015
US Marines in Afghanistan Real Combat SEMPER FI
Imagine, if you will, reading a story that begins, “The NFL announced the results of a year-long study in mixed-gender football teams today, concluding that women not only suffered more injuries than men, but also performed worse in every football-related physical task.”
You would likely have two immediate reactions. First, you’d wonder why the NFL actually had to commission a study to discover a reality obvious to every sentient, rational person in the universe — women aren’t as physically strong as men. Then, you’d demand to know what kind of barbarian actually approved a testing process in which real women were injured at wildly disproportionate rates to prove what we all already knew.
The Marine Corps is playing out just such a scenario today. In response to relentless political pressure from social-justice warriors who mistake military service for one long exercise in diversity training, the Marines conducted a nine-month study comparing the performance of all-male infantry units with mixed units in simulated combat environments. The results?
Women in a new Marine Corps unit created to assess how female service members perform in combat were injured twice as often as men, less accurate with infantry weapons, and not as good at removing wounded troops from the battlefield.
In fact, this summary doesn’t do justice to the dramatic disparity the study documented. The women weren’t slightly less capable than the men; they were profoundly less capable. All-male units performed better in 93 of 134 categories evaluated, and there were “notable” differences in accuracy in “every individual weapons system.” Physically, the top 25th percentile of women overlapped with the bottom 25th percentile of men, and they possessed less anaerobic power, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity than their male colleagues. Women undergoing entry-level infantry training were injured at “more than six times the rate of their male counterparts.”
What does all this mean? It’s quite simple: If you integrate infantry units by gender, more Americans will die, and our enemy will have a better chance to prevail on the battlefield. If you’re less accurate with your weapons, the enemy has a better chance of survival. If you can’t evacuate your wounded as effectively, your wounded are more likely to die. Even in non-combat environments, the training hurts women at a remarkable rate, and units that suffer high training attrition lose combat effectiveness.
It turns out there is a reason — aside from sexism — that American women have not engaged in direct ground combat. Social-justice warriors point to the Soviet army in World War II and to the IDF as counter-examples, but those exceptions prove the rule. As detailed in a comprehensive 1994 paper for the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, women were pressed into service in the Red Army following the catastrophic loss of life early in Operation Barbarossa. The vast majority of them served in non-combat roles. And while there were individual heroines — most notably sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko — other women proved unable to perform many of the most basic physical tasks and often had to “throw away equipment, leave equipment behind, or get some of the men in their units to help carry it.”
Similarly, while women fought alongside men in pre-IDF Jewish militias such as the Haganah, the instant the IDF began to transition from fighting a “war of survival” to optimizing for combat against modern, well-equipped armies, it transitioned to all-male units. Prior to the transition, “mixed direct combat units had consistently higher casualty rates.” And Haganah commanders had “stopped allowing women to serve in assault forces because ‘physically[they] could not run as well — and if they couldn’t run fast enough, they would endanger the whole unit, so they were put in other units.”
Russia and Israel show us that desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperation is not the proper basis for formulating optimal military policy. If the choice were between women in combat and national extinction, any country would accept the former without fail. But that’s not the choice we face.
As our nation grows increasingly divorced from actual military experience, it forgets how intensely physical infantry service is. When I went out on foot patrols in Iraq, I routinely carried 75 extra pounds of gear — including body armor, a rifle, a sidearm, a knife, a basic combat load of ammunition, and a camelback for water. And that was a light load. As a JAG officer, I didn’t even have to tote grenades, communications gear, or any weapon heavier than an M4. When I finished a patrol, I was able to roll back into base, take off my gear, and rest my aching muscles. The guys on the line, by contrast, stayed outside the wire day after day, week after week, and they found themselves carrying full-size, wounded men in the middle of firefights. I’m not sure any of those wounded would want to bleed out for social justice.
But as we all know, political correctness is immune to facts. Here’s Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: “That’s still my call, and I’ve been very public. . . . I do not see a reason for an exemption.” And here’s Army Reserve colonel Ellen Haring, a “vocal advocate” for women in infantry units: “They’re always coming up with these averages. . . . The average woman can’t do what the average man does. I don’t think that’s a surprise to any of us. But they weren’t told to do this based on averages. It has to be based on individual capabilities.”
But how do we discover the truly exceptional women who can, for example, not just make it through various training courses but also physically hang with a ground combat unit through the long term? It takes a process of extraordinarily high attrition that hurts unit effectiveness and physically injures large numbers of young women. And for what? For a unit that doesn’t perform as well as an all-male unit?
Our enemies don’t care one bit for political correctness. They won’t treat mixed-gender units with kid gloves. They’ll exploit those units’ perceived weakness mercilessly, concentrating their fire on the slow and vulnerable. There is no nothing more brutal or ruthless than ground combat. And there is no enemy more vicious than ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Will we have to endure the broken bodies of men and women who could have been saved, of breaches in lines that never should have opened, before we acknowledge reality? Men are stronger than women, and in ground combat, that strength is the difference between life and death, victory and defeat.
— David French is an attorney, a staff writer at National Review, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
SLIDESHOW: Defending America