Will women be subjected to involuntary service in the combat infantry?
A federal judge has ruled that drafting men, but not women, into military service is unconstitutional. The ruling as of yet has no immediate enforcement effect, but it has raised the stakes for young women. Indeed, for many who are now grade-school girls, what until recently has been a philosophical debate now has potentially life-changing consequences for them. It is no longer negligible. The prospect of being sent by law into combat has become real.
The judge's ruling is based on the fact that military policy no longer forbids women from serving in battle. That policy, until now, has favored women who wish to serve in front-line combat but has not impacted women who wish to serve only in non-combat roles. The ruling could easily become a game-changer. Will young women be forced into military service during wartime and sent into the heat of battle? Picture the opening scenes of the movie Saving Private Ryan but with half the American soldiers being women.
It is one thing to allow women to serve but quite another to require them. The situation confronting us now is the result of unintended consequences and has become the harbinger for more of them. The complications are intricate. Let's cover a few.
Society has for several decades been on a rough and bumpy road in an attempt to enact equal rights for women. This road reached the crest of its rise in a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution known as the Equal Rights Amendment. Narrowly failing to be ratified, it would have prescribed that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
Because it sounded so reasonable and fair on its face, a number of states hastily approved it for ratification. As with so many seemingly good ideas, however, its defects soon became apparent — so much so that some of the states that had already approved it attempted to rescind their support.
Ironically, one of the reasons cited for their rescission was exactly what has since developed: the inevitable legal requirement that men and women be treated exactly the same in the military draft. It has been said that, even though the ERA failed to be formally ratified, it has gradually taken effect through separate legislation and court rulings. Those include the withdrawal of regulations restricting women from direct combat, which the judge cited as justification for drafting women on the same basis as men.
As a result, society's hand is now being forced. We must now begin to decide how far along the road of equality of the sexes we are willing to go. Will it lead to the lofty mountaintop of justice, or does it run us off the edge of a cliff?
There is no shortage of evidence for the latter. Years of experience involving the integration of women into the armed forces have produced a strong case for moderation. I witnessed some of that, at least anecdotally, during my twenty years of military service.
Sadly, much of the evidence has been, and is being, swept under the rug by ideologues and also by cowardly bureaucrats both in and out of uniform. Even though many of the so-called "alarmist" and "prejudiced" predictions that were made by opponents of sex integration have come demonstrably true, the truth rarely shows up in after-action reports.
Those predictions were not alarmist; they were common sense. They were (and are) easily foreseeable but politically inconvenient.
In my experience, women in uniform performed well in their jobs on a day-to-day basis during normal operations. Matters were very different, however, under duress, particularly during strenuous activity over extended periods of deployment in the austere conditions of the field. Even though a small number of women did continue to perform well, a high percentage of them could not. They soon became physically exhausted and, much more so than men, emotionally distraught, especially as separation from their small children caused them to suffer disproportionately. As they faltered, or were sent home, the remaining warriors had to pick up the slack, making their ordeal far more difficult and hazardous.
The evaluators frequently drew their glowing conclusions about women in the military in the first day or so of the deployments. They then either left to return to their comfortable quarters or else disdained to report the facts, perhaps for fear of the predictable accusations of sexism that would follow.
Matters are complicated, but not so much that common sense, and the courage to speak truth, cannot result in sensible policy. Men and women have equal worth and dignity, but we are not always interchangeable. It should not be controversial to say so, and to legislate accordingly.
Absent existential emergencies, no sizable nation (including Israel) forcibly sends women into the violence of combat on the same basis as men. For us to do so will be disastrous for women, for men, and for national security.