Pros and Cons of Allowing Women in Combat Roles

A veteran's op-ed sparks fresh debate

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An op-ed from a female Iraq veteran has restarted the debate over women in the military. Catherine Ross wants to see women afforded full combat roles, as they are in the Israeli armed forces. Several bloggers, including another veteran, agree with her position. Yet not all are convinced by her handling of concerns about fitness, privacy, and male-female troop relations:

  • 'Maybe I Should've Been a Soldier in Israel's Army'  Catherine Ross, a veteran of the Iraq war, argues that she "faced the same dangers" as her male colleagues, living with them without privacy problems. So why aren't women allowed to serve in full combat roles in the American army? She pushes for having the same fitness standards for men and women, saying that her own "limitation" when it comes to "carry[ing] a wounded soldier out of a danger zone" is related to her size rather than gender. In fact, she says, "in reality, American women do engage in combat, so it's probably time to make it a written policy. If the policy changes, maybe attitudes will too." She mentions the talk of changing "don't ask, don't tell" and asks that we change the policy regarding women "while we're at it."
  • Right On, says scottthomasb at the Attackerman blog (whom some may remember as Scott Thomas Beauchamp, whose Iraq war accounts for The New Republic were later discredited). "With only one percent of the American population willing/able to serve in the two wars that we're fighting right now it seems stupid that anyone physical able would be turned away." On a personal note, he adds, "I've served with women who were unofficially put into combat roles out of necessity, as well as with closeted homosexuals, who served capably and honorably.  I feel that more of us veterans should speak up on their behalf."
  • And Israel Has a Good Army, Too  Dorian de Wind at The Moderate Voice points out that the Israeli military "have actively recruited women since the start of the Israeli state in 1948," and now allow women to serve in any role that men may. "In my opinion," adds de Wind, "the Israeli military are among the finest fighting forces in the world."
  • Respectfully: A Bad Idea for Many Reasons  Careful to thank Catherine Ross for her service, the National Review's Elaine Donnelly offers a rebuttal. "Civil affairs, even in a combat zone, does not fit the definition of direct ground combat: deliberate offensive action, attacking the enemy under fire," she explains. Ross has therefore not actually experienced the role she is advocating for her fellow women. Though "Ross's experience was a positive one ... forcing women into situations much worse, without authorization in policy or law, would not be right." Furthermore, "matters of privacy and matters related to sex, including harassment/fraternization and pregnancy, directly affect morale, discipline, deployability, and readiness." Israel is a "a small country that conscripts forces and does not require long deployments away from home"--the two situations are not comparable. As to the matter of physical fitness, she thinks Ross "misses the point":
Women on average do not have the physical capability to lift a fully loaded male soldier who has been wounded under fire, in order to save his life. Even average-sized men have that capability; no one should have to die because women do not.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.