As usual, I don't catch up to the best of Ricochet until they're discussing it on the podcast, at which point I'm well behind the conversation I once scrounged $3.47 to join. The discussion on Myths About Women in Combat has certainly been an edifying overview of the state of the public policy debate on the subject, but has been a bit short on the gritty human reality of the situation. In theory and in principle, I can agree with most of the points raised by those who support women in combat roles. I served in a unit (1st BCT, 82nd Airborne) that flagrantly disregarded any regulations about women in combat roles (our commander's catchphrase was "everybody fights"). But theory and principle occasionally have to face reality. From my own experience -- the only true, though flawed and limited, guide of reality any of us have -- are three truths about women in combat (I intended to come up with five truths to match the five myths, but here again reality isn't quite as pert as myth) :
1. Female Paratroopers are the most adamant anti-feminists you will ever meet. I don't know much about females in the other services, or even about females in leg (i.e. non-Airborne) Army units, but within the Airborne (which is significant as the most "elite" unit females are eligible to join) I've never met a male Paratrooper so ardently opposed to the idea of women in combat -- or women in uniform in some cases -- as every single female Paratrooper I ever worked with. I don't know what experiences brought them to their conclusions, but that is a reality that gives me serious pause at the prospect of continuing down this road. If the experiences of female Paratroopers have led them to reconsider the wisdom of having women in combat, even of women in uniform in general, that's a bit of reality that must be considered in this debate.
2. There is huge institutional pressure to downplay the negatives of a gender-integrated military. Just as there will be when homosexuals serve openly, there is a service-wide unspoken agreement to avoid discussion of the sorts of disruptions that occur as a result of integrated service. Even in my own short one-contract military career, I have seen an entire company effectively destroyed -- its whole enlisted leadership cadre from the First Sergeant to the training NCO relieved of leadership duty for improper sexual relationships with subordinates -- and another severely degraded (while deployed in combat!) by similar problems, which would be nearly impossible in a non-integrated unit. It is certainly possible my own experience is a total outlier, but it is not likely. It is likelier, and supported by the anecdotes of buddies in other units and services, that these sorts of sexual disruptions are in fact widespread in our modern integrated military, and that a sort of military-correctness keeps them out of the public consciousness.
3. Leadership is rare. It is rarer among women. In my military career, I have had the honor of working with truly impressive military leaders who happened to be female. I have served with women whose orders I would follow without question, without even the consideration of question, women I would proverbially follow into Hell with a pocketknife. Two of them, in fact, and that's the problem, because there are two dozen men of whom I could say the same thing. I don't profess to know much in detail about the particular intersection of character traits that make someone into a leader of men, but I do know that they are simply, demonstrably, much rarer among women. Particularly in the US military, which functions by an ethic of distributed leadership unprecedented in human history, pushing women -- whose combat leadership potential is unproven -- into decisive combat roles is a social experiment with consequences we'd all prefer not to fathom.
Despite these truths, I think that women in combat is one of those things (along with open homosexual service) that I can't help but support in theory and on principle, even while I know it will be subtly disastrous in reality. Perhaps it's generational -- as much as I hate it, I realize I'm shaped by the postmodern post-feminist zeitgeist -- but this strikes me as an inevitable step in social evolution. I'm resigned to it, just as I'm resigned to the fact that the effectual superpower military we've long known and loved will soon enough reach parity with our Euroweenie counterparts. I'm resigned to it, but nobody can make me like it.