For cowardice beyond the call of duty, Leon Panetta has shamed himself and his country.
In one of his last acts as Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta today will revoke the last of the policies that prevent women from serving in combat arms.
Make no mistake about it: this action isn’t about civil rights, equal opportunity, or any of the laudable things America has done in the past fifty years to remove false barriers within the military. This is different. It’s a purely political act that will make our military — and the military families liberals claim to venerate — much weaker than they are today.
Panetta is acting in response to feminists’ demands that women be able to serve in any capacity men do because they will be denied promotion to the higher ranks if they lack combat experience. It’s true that there is a huge number of women of flag rank among the services, some at the top four-star rank. But there surely is a “glass ceiling” in the combat arms that women haven’t broken through.
The problem with this statement of the issue is that the military “glass ceiling” is streaked with blood. If women are to be warriors — and thus earn the right to command other warriors — they have to train like men, live like men, and be able to survive the intense dangers of the modern battlefield as many men do. If they don’t, they cannot gain the respect and admiration that commanders of warriors must have to be effective. Should they be permitted to do that?
There are two components to the question. First and foremost is whether the presence of women will add to or detract from the readiness and capability of the unit to perform its mission. The second is a moral question: Will having women serve in harm’s way benefit our military and society at large?
The question of benefit to society has been mooted politically. To even suggest that women are different from men in important ways — such as the instincts for motherhood and nurturing — is to be outside the realm of permissible political thought. To ask whether those natural instincts should be subordinated to the skills of war is unthinkable, at least to those who want to “gender neutralize” the military.
So we are left with the first question, which has to be answered with a resounding “no.”
Even the Clinton administration had sense enough to keep women out of most of the combat arms. In 1991, legislation lifted the historic ban on American women serving in combat. Congress, under pressure from feminists, declared that women should be able to serve on combat ships and in combat aircraft and told the Defense Department to come up with a scheme to implement it and other criteria for women in combat.
In 1993, Clinton Defense Secretary Les Aspin promulgated DoD policy that allowed women to serve in all but a few categories. First, from assignments at lower than brigade level in units whose principal purpose was combat. Next, where the cost of providing women privacy (in berthing on ships, for example) was prohibitive. In addition, they could be prohibited from serving in units co-located with combat units.
Women were barred, under Aspin’s policy, from long-range reconnaissance and special forces and where job-related physical requirements would necessarily exclude the vast majority of women. Note that all women were barred: there was no exception made for those few who could meet the tough physical and mental standards it takes to qualify for spec ops.
Over the intervening twenty years, women have served in more and more combat roles. They serve as fighter pilots in the Navy and Air Force, and were aboard every Navy warship except submarines until, just a little over a year ago, they were allowed to serve on subs as well. The Army has gradually — and in contravention of Aspin’s directives — allowed women into more and more combat roles.
Panetta’s action will probably complete the destruction of the warrior culture on which the success of our military depends. That culture, developed over the past two thousand years or so, is not uniquely American but our brand of it is. Our warriors take pride in what they do because they do it for America and because they do it better than anyone else. Thus, one of the most important parts of that culture is the objective standards someone has to meet to qualify to join the combat arms.
Every Marine in a rifle platoon, every pilot in a squadron, every special operator has had to meet the standards set for all the others. At least they did until the services began to cave under political pressure to enable women to join combat units.
Perhaps the worst example is what happened to the Navy after the 1990 “Tailhook Convention” scandal in which naval aviators acted like, well, every fighter pilot who ever lived. They drank too much and did dumb things such as publicly shaving the legs of some too-willing ladies they’d invited. It was a frat party worthy of Animal House, but no worse.
Liberals — led by California’s Babsy Boxer and a few others — raised a media feeding frenzy and the Navy’s pusillanimous leaders caved in to their demands. The result was that the Navy let its standards slip in order to shove women into combat roles. Lt. Kara Hultgreen was pushed through training and certified for combat, the first female naval aviator to reach that qualification. But she was certified despite the fact that her superiors knew she wasn’t ready. Hultgreen was killed when she lost control of her aircraft attempting to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 1994. The Navy learned its lesson, and its standards were restored.
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