The Obama years did much to undermine the identity and inherent conservatism of the U.S. armed forces. In addition to budget cuts and indifference about the broader mission, Obama and his deputies spent a lot of energy trying to transform its culture, particularly to relieve the military of its alleged sexism. The message was plain: the military’s primary mission would be facilitating social change. Directives to make the military more diverse, particularly for women, were promulgated from on high and gladly endorsed by an officer corps whose first imperative is career advancement. As in other respected institutions—higher education, police departments, business—when equality becomes an organizing principle, it renders excellence and ability secondary.
The cultural transformation appears to have been pretty successful, because these attempts to push women into the combat arms continue, even though Donald Trump is now president. Sadly, the president, and his well respected Defense Secretary James Mattis, have shown little interest in arresting and reversing the direction of this radical change.
Most dramatically, the United States Marine Corps recently has opened up all jobs, including infantry, armor, and artillery, to women. They have also set a goal of having 25 percent of the recruits be women.
In terms of both ability and interest, these goals are misguided. Men and women are quite simply different. Men, particularly young men, are faster, stronger, more aggressive, and more capable of meeting the higher physical standards of the military’s combat arms than women. Before gender integration certain physical standards prevailed. These standards allowed resilience and enhanced ability throughout the entire organization, whose job is physically demanding in spite of the advent of high technology weapons.
In deference to the physically demanding reality of combat, most proponents have suggested that standards should not be reduced and that so long as women meet these standards, they should be allowed to try. This is wrong, naïve even, for at least two reasons that recent experiences should make plain.
First, when an organization’s legacy standards prevent the advancement of a preferred group, the standards almost invariably are lowered. In higher education, colleges have removed standardized test requirements, among other obstacles, because of their allegedly nefarious “disparate impact” on minorities. Prior to the Parkland shooting, Broward County public schools relaxed discipline, because minorities were expelled and arrested distressingly often. And now the Marines have removed the 15 kilometer combat “hump” which proved to be one of the biggest causes of female attrition in the demanding Infantry Officer’s Course.
High standards form a large part of an elite organization’s identity and culture. When they are applied unchanged to unequal populations, the result is invariably a disparate impact. In the contest of excellence and equality, equality almost always wins with nary a peep of protest. The consequences of this commitment is not always apparent. After all, very few retrospective studies have been done on the impact of lower standards, even though such data exist. Because the military conducts its operations as a large team, the problems can be masked for a time, because the costs are inchoate and dispersed. As one might expect, when it becomes a “career killer” to look into such matters, they are simply ignored. There has not, for example, been a large scale Department of Defense study of the effects of women in their expanded role since the First Gulf War. Further, the Marine Corps’ study that showed the negative effects of women on combat unit cohesion and effectiveness was ignored prior to the recent change. As in the Soviet Union, facts must conform to ideology.
Second, this effort is misguided because it ignores other important differences between men and women beyond their physical abilities. Men, quite simply, want to be in the military, particularly in the combat arms, because they are more interested in testing themselves in a difficult, violent, and competitive task. For the same reasons, though Title IX moves heaven and earth to achieve gender equality in sports, differences remain because the policy does not question the demonstrably false assumption that men and women are equally interested in sports. These divergent preferences for sport and war come from the same elemental differences in the masculine and feminine natures.
With all the talk of the dearth of female CEOs, female astronauts, and female presidents, no one really stops to ask why there are so few female garbagemen, bricklayers, mechanics, and deep sea divers. For the same reason boys like football and rough housing, men are more attracted to physical jobs, risk, conflict, and competition. Likewise, there are more men in prison, just as there have historically been almost nothing but men on the frontlines. Men are simply more willing to be violent, for good and for ill.
Feminist activists don’t care much about many of these other male-dominated jobs because they’re not high prestige, whereas the military is. The military is a gatekeeper to manhood in many traditions, and the honor the broader society confers upon veterans gives women an obstacle to full equality, even though this disparity is rooted in a very real inequality of martial ability and aptitude.
These differences persist even within the military itself. Not all women in the military want to be in the combat arms. The Army was surprised to learn some years ago that even when combat helicopters like the Apache were opened to women, many preferred the less dangerous and aggressive option of flying transport helicopters. The Marines have seen similar self-selection. While there are approximately 14,000 female Marines, fewer than 100 have entered the combat arms fields so far. As in other fields, the quest for equality is running headlong into the persistent and unevolved nature of humanity itself. A well-organized society channels the diverse nature of people into healthy directions and does not attempt to change those natures against the resistance of one million years of evolution.
The fundamental nature of military training derives from the nature of combat itself. Combat is a grueling, physically demanding, and highly competitive environment, where the stakes for losing are death and dismemberment. Proponents of gender integration in various endeavors call for cultural change and for the legacy beneficiaries to question their “privilege.” While this may be of manageable consequence in Silicon Valley or in an investment bank, the stakes of undoing the military’s culture are of life and death seriousness. To make it more inclusive in the service of gender equality has allowed the training and standards ultimately to become less effective.
Donald Trump ran for President on the pledge to Make America Great Again. Surely one of our historical sources of national pride is our military, which has defeated great empires and benefited from the service of a great many honorable and patriotic women. But its internal pride and our collective gratitude comes not from the military’s commitment to equality, but from what it does: winning wars and defending our way of life.
The military is, in fact, notably undemocratic and unequal, complete with the aristocratic legacy of the highly distinct classes of officers and enlisted. To perform its mission, the military must be the opposite of democratic, it must be discriminating. A great many recruits are disqualified from service for medical, academic, and moral reasons, as well as age, disability, and disinterest. Everyone knows a young boy whose dreams of being a pilot were crushed because he needed glasses. While this may be a personal tragedy for the young man involved, it does not diminish our country or its ideals if one young man can’t reach his goals. High standards are necessary to the military’s effectiveness.
The usual analogy in favor of gender integration is the successful integration of black and white servicemen under President Truman. But that mostly successful integration reflected an actual equality of ability, as measured by standardized tests, reflecting a broader social change already underway in civilian society. Men and women, while more integrated in the civilian workplace, continue to suffer from a great deal of friction, due to differing styles, romantic relationships, and perceived insults. We live in the time of #metoo, and little evidence suggests the military will be spared this melodrama.
The military should be mostly indifferent about its racial and gender makeup, so long as it is effective, maintains high standards, and is filled with patriotic Americans. Reversing the Obama-era efforts to force women into jobs for which the vast majority are uninterested and ill-suited would go a long way towards making the military’s chief objectives excellence and efficiency, not the misguided ones of artificial equality and catalyzing social change.