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Feyisayo Anjorin

Freelance Director, Afro-Carribean Media Group

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Women in combat?

President Truman's signing of the Women's Armed Services Act gave women permanent status in the army; and President Johnson (in 1967) made it possible for women to advance to top positions.
The issue is not whether women should be soldiers, but whether they should be allowed in combat.

Our society strives for gender equality; qualified women are as brave and effective as their male counterparts and since combat experience is neccessary for advancement, it is discriminatory to exclude women officers. And not forgetting the fact that many women want to serve their country in combat; and if they qualify, it would be unfair to exclude them.

Now, consider men who would work with the women; the natural chivalry and the tendency to protect may cause distraction in battle. Women POWs are in greater danger of being raped; threats or violence against female POWs could become a weapon in the hands of enemy forces, wearing down the resistance of male POWs.

Some believe that most women may not be able to carry the heavy backpack and weapons; and that lowering standards to accomodate more women would diminish the effectiveness of the army.

What do you think?

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  • Dec 19 2012: "Some believe that most women may not be able to carry the heavy backpack and weapons; and that lowering standards to accomodate more women would diminish the effectiveness of the army." I'd like to address this first -- although it is true that most women are physically frail compared to men, it does not follow that they wouldnt be able to carry the heavy backpacks and weapons that they are supposed to carry. Precisely the reason why they underwent training in the first place, that was to prepare them physically so that they acquire the stamina and the necessary strength to withstand everything. Second point, there is no logic in lowering the standards in order to accommodate women in the army. Any lowering of standards could diminish the effectiveness of anything.

    As to chivalry -- well, why should the men be distracted? they should not, if they went to the army to serve their country then that's all they have to keep in mind. Whoever they are with during combat is immaterial and incidental.

    Threat of being raped -- that is something that women should be ready at --whether they are in combat or not -- however, they have been trained and prepared for any eventuality -- whether combat-related or not -- so they should face it with courage and aplomb.
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    Dec 11 2012: There are a lot of men that aren't fit for the army and there are a lot of women that aren't fit for the army. That the latter group is relatively larger shouldn't stand in the way for an individual, regardless of gender, to be accepted into the army - if that individual is capable.

    Judging an individual capabilities on the average of the group we associate that individual with is the root of sexism and racism, and it's not only misanthropic but deeply illogical.

    Yes, a female soldier is exposed to the risk of getting raped. But soldiers in general are at risk of being killed, tortured or paralysed; is that more acceptable?

    Your arguments of men being distracted is the same that are used against allowing homosexuals in the army and fundamentally the same as being used by Taliban to force women to cover themselves. I do not only find it offensive on women's behalf, but I also find it offensive as a man. The notion of men being creatures that are incapable of controlling their sexual drive, even if (literally) their lives depended on it, is so strange to me. But what's even more strange is that I see this argument being used and condoned in the same sentence as if they can't control themselves.

    If anything the distraction argument should lead to banning men from the army.

    If the goal is to recruit the most suitable people for the army I reckon you'd get a higher quality amongst women, as it is an untraditional occupation; and if you choose this as woman, you must really want it.

    Should I be completely wrong and women in the army would cause a less efficient army - well, maybe that's not such a bad idea...
    • Dec 12 2012: "There are a lot of men that aren't fit for the army and there are a lot of women that aren't fit for the army. That the latter group is relatively larger shouldn't stand in the way for an individual, regardless of gender, to be accepted into the army - if that individual is capable."

      Exactly, somehow some people always seem to think that a call for women to serve in combat roles is a call for a 50% quota for women in combat roles, whether this is due to genuine ignorance or malevolent media spin I don't know.
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    Dec 11 2012: QUOTE: "Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because it is the the one thing that stops women laughing at them." -- John Fowles, The Magus, 1965.
    As a Viet Nam combat veteran I think I am right in saying men hate the idea of a female directly witnessing them in combat. Some of the common behaviors in combat are not mentioned in the war stories told back home. The uncontrollable trembling; the involuntary body functions; the paralyzing fear; the tears; the soul-crushing stress; and the unceasing feeling of terror that you will never see your loved ones again. It's just not the image guys want girls to see.
  • Dec 10 2012: If it is necessary to send people into combat, then the first priority should be the effectiveness of the combat units.

    Some women in the armed forces consider this an issue of equal opportunity, and it is. IMO, that consideration must be secondary to combat effectiveness. Equal opportunity affects the careers of individuals. A less effective combat unit means needless deaths. So, first, the standards must not be lowered. Second, the effectiveness of mixed sex combat teams needs to be tested in actual combat situations. If mixed sex combat teams are less effective, for any reasons, then they should be banned.

    I have heard stories that Israel has had problems with women in the military. I do not know if these stories are true, but I suspect that their military would gladly share the truth of the matter with the military leadership of their allies.

    In the end, this is about military effectiveness, and the military leaders should be making this decision, not Congress.

    The issue about POWs should not be an issue. Our military should work on the assumption that POWs will tell everything they know, and they should be flexible enough to deal with that situation. The means for prying information from people is far more sophisticated today than when the rules for POWs (name, rank and serial number) were written. Rape is heinous, but if an enemy allows POWs to be raped, those POWs have much worse to fear.
    • Dec 10 2012: I'm also of the opinion that effectiveness is the most important consideration. The frontlines is not the right place to experinment on the abilities of women.
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      Dec 10 2012: barry, Isreal's problem wasn't with the women do being capable it was that the muslim men who surrendered saw that they were surrendering to women they resumed the fight.

      That is a point I wish to pursue. There is a time and place for everything. If I was in command of a unit I would select the best person for the job .... however, as stated above there are tacticle considerations that must be evaluated. If you knew the fight would end today ... or assign women to the front and it will last for two more weeks .... which is the right decision.

      When I was in the service there were women that could do my job with no problem .. I learned from them.

      This is a military decision and further a commanders decision based on the situation and the most effective means of engagement. Most of the women in the service I knew understood that.

      Women assigned to the unit is one thing but any non-waiverable orders verge on stupidity and put all unit members in harms way.
      • Dec 12 2012: So if you were fighting agaisnt white supremacists you would remove all black soldiers from your unti and if you were fighting against Islamists you would remove the Jews from your unit? Are you really going to let the enemy dictate who can and cannot serve in your unit? If so, what's the point of fighting the war in the first place (you've already handed them victory)?

        @below

        It doesn't matter who does the selecting, you seem to advocate that military commanders be given enough leeway to discriminate against soldiers based on the wishes of the enemy, that's why it's a valid question to ask what you would do if you were a commander.

        I sure hope most commanders understand that a tactical victory is pointless when you've given in to the demands of the enemy (of course the enemies surrenders easily when they've already accomplished what they were fighting for, the reasons for the war in the first place, a good commander would recognize that and know he lost the war even though he won the battle).
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          Dec 12 2012: You have taken this outside of where I suggested. It should be the on site commander who makes decisions of who he places where. The example given was when Jewish women told muslim men who were surrendering to give up their weapons and come forward ... this was a problem. It was never suggested that I would remove anyone for any reason. I simply suggested that commanders could assess a situation far better than a politician. Each has a job to do and we should let them do what their training has prepared them for.
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    Dec 10 2012: If you excuse me I want to answer with a wish;
    War should end and there should be only intellectual struggle in the world and people should not fight but share opinion with knowledge and many women can lead sharing very effectively. There are so many girls in the world need education and rights to live. So, we should open more SCHOOLS, not BATTLE FIELDS. We should spend money for BOOKS, not WEAPONS.
    Combat is something that I don't wish in any case...
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      Dec 11 2012: Good wish, I join you in it. If your wish does not come true and combat remains a constant reality, should female military personnel serve an active role directly in that combat?
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        Dec 11 2012: No, they shouldn't. Women are not inadequate or weak; but I don’t like the idea of training people for something that bases on hate, war and things like that. If someone is mentally ill, it doesn't matter if you are in war or not, he/she still can do horrible things to both man and woman. We should focus on changing (or curing if possible) the mind, and people should unite all around the world against war. People have power to stop these, all we need is courage I think.
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          Dec 11 2012: Courage is one of the keys here. I urge you not to condemn all veterans for standing in the gap between America and her enemies bent on destruction. I haven't met any vets who would not agree with a permanent ban on military aggression. But still, they have always gone when called to fight. Condemn those who start wars, not those who defend themselves from the aggressors. Thank you.
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    Dec 17 2012: If there ever was a time for 'natural chivalry' in a war, this time passed away a long, long time ago.

    Your way of thinking is based on the concept, that the life of a woman is more in 'worth' than the life of a man. Is that really the case? Isn't rape 'just' another form of torture and worse what other forms of torture can do to a man? Don't you think that physical and emotional pain is felt alike for both genders?

    Gender equality is no cherry picking. Neither in peace nor in war times. And 'natural chivalry' never was bound to females only.

    Modern wars do not happen on separate battle grounds and they involve civilians as well as soldiers. The newly coined term of 'collateral damage' is nothing but propaganda, to create the illusion of a mainly controlled destruction and killing. This is nothing but a distorted view on the true meaning of war, to increase the acceptance for a war 'at home' only.

    I don't see any difference in horror if a female civilian is raped or a female solider. And because no war follows any 'rules', I also don't see any good reason why it would be any more acceptable if male soldiers are being tortured and killed than their female counterparts.

    If you listen to soldiers what kept them fighting overseas, you get to hear that they were fighting mainly for their comrades and less for any 'higher goal', which maybe formed the first initiative, yet vanished quickly in real battle. I think there is no difference in 'distraction' if a solider is trying to help a male or female comrade, as it is 'a comrade' in ether case. Any trained sniper knows this general attitude and uses it to increase their overall 'kill-rate'.
  • Dec 12 2012: I think it's possible to allow women be in US army but they should be very skillful and don't be afraid of strict reality.
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    Dec 11 2012: Dear Mr. Long,
    Sorry if I cause any misunderstanding, I would never condemn veterans, in contrary people who defend their lives and homes and children are sacred for me. And they should live a better life than they did before, and government should make it possible. As I said before, women are not weak and I would help someone if I see that he/she is in danger but just to defend and my first choice would not be using weapons. And people who start wars most probably the players of a bigger plan. But innocent people are dying because of these games and I’m just trying to say that, if there won’t be anyone to fight, there won’t be a way to make them fight. Just a humble opinion.
  • Dec 11 2012: "Now, consider men who would work with the women; the natural chivalry and the tendency to protect may cause distraction in battle."

    Does "natural chivalry" really exist, and if it does, would it persist in combat situations and would it be worse than existing comradery (which is actually seen as beneficial by many military doctrines)?

    "Women POWs are in greater danger of being raped; threats or violence against female POWs could become a weapon in the hands of enemy forces, wearing down the resistance of male POWs."

    Male POWs get raped all the time too and all in all soldiers of modern militaries rarely get captured by non-modern militaries (the ones that would rape their prisoners), when it happens they're usually pilots and women were already allowed to be pilots in most militaries so apparently most militaries don't really consider the POW issue to be a problem.

    "Some believe that most women may not be able to carry the heavy backpack and weapons"

    As opposed to those barely 5 feet tall Asian and Hispanic male soldiers?


    As always, before trying to reinvent the wheel, try to look over the border: women and gay people in combat roles have never been a problem in Israel, which has extensive experience with dirty urban warfare.
  • Dec 11 2012: I have no problems with women being in the military, police, or any other vital services. (Now here's the fun part and thanks for helping me vent) I am of the firm belief that there should be no difference in standards between them in terms of physically fit. For example for the Canadian one there is a difference of 3 or so minutes in the 2.4 km run 25 kg in the weights and so on. I don't particularily care for diversity in the workplace, especially if it means that one side doesn't have as stringent of requirements.
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    Dec 10 2012: since the US has voluntary army, maybe this decision can be made by the women themselves? in case of conscription, i think it is sophism to talk about these nuances when people are killed or disabled. in a war, getting raped in a prison camp is probably the least of your worries.