Rick Santorum's remarks this week about women serving in combat, and the possible ramifications of it, sparked many heated reactions. This post at Gunpowder & Lead does a good job of encapsulating why what Santorum highlighted is a serious and unavoidable issue for our armed forces to consider.
His concern is not, as was initially spun, about the "emotional" nature of women — but rather about the way good men naturally respond when a woman is put in harm's way. As Santorum noted on CNN: "It already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat, but I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat. And I think that’s not in the best interests of men, women or the mission."
The whole conversation brought to mind Robert Heinlein's numerous comments on the hard-wired nature of men since the dawn of time to protect women and children - defense of the species as our primary role. Heinlein has a rather famous story about a tramp who was killed trying to save a woman from a train in Swope Park which he would cite as an example. You can read it here.
As Heinlein put it: "Men are expendable; women and children are not. A tribe or a nation can lose a high percentage of its men and still pick up the pieces and go on as long as the women and children are saved. But if you fail to save the women and children, you've had it, you're done, you're through!" Or, as Mark Twain put it: "What, Sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce."
But this also brought to mind this fascinating bit of conversation from an Uncommon Knowledge interview with Victor Davis Hanson:
PETER ROBINSON: “Now here’s the question. Whereas the leading figures of Greece all understood the military from firsthand experience, American elites, Northeast, Coastal California, can lead their entire lives without brushing up against military culture, let alone military experience. Is this something new in American military history and is this healthy? Is it sustainable?”
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: “We’ve had people who have not had a lot of military – Abraham Lincoln was in the Black Hawk War for a few weeks. FDR was secretary of the Navy. So we’ve had people but what the difference is that this is the first time that we’ve had commanders in chiefs either have not had military experience or they haven’t had anything comparable. What I mean anything comparable, anything from the underbelly of American life, anybody who’s had to take apart an engine, anybody who’s had to build a house.
“So there are approximate experiences, not the same but there’s a tragic sort of notion that you’re in a dead end job, you have to work with muscular strength, there’s no good and bad choices, bad and worse choices. All of that tragic view is necessary to understand what war is but yeah, I’m afraid that in a very sophisticated technological society we are certifying excellence and this is a larger topic, expertise based on basically an Ivy League credential which is not commensurate with real experience in the real world. It doesn’t tell us really what somebody in Fallujah is really thinking about.
“What saves the United States when it goes to war is that we have a subset of the population for a variety of reasons enlisted in officer corps that are 19th century in mentality. They live according to the protocols of the 19th century. What do I mean? They’re more likely to believe in a transcendent religion. They’re more likely to believe in nationalism. They’re more likely to believe in a tragic view that you can be good without having to be perfect. So they don’t become depressed or inordinately give us because of an error. They are more likely to have had experience with muscular matters and so military really hasn’t changed since the 19th century. The people who are ordering it and organizing it and auditing it have changed greatly. But so far it’s sort of like it’s stuck in amber and they’ve been a great salvation to the United States.”
Thought-provoking stuff, to say the least.