The moral imperative of a masculine infantry
“…exposure to danger is not combat. Combat is a lot more than that, it’s a lot more than getting shot at or even getting killed by being shot at. Combat is finding and closing with and killing or capturing the enemy if you’re down in the ground combat scheme of things. It’s killing.”
—Gen Robert H. Barrow, 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Testimony to Senate Armed Services Committee, June 1991
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George Orwell wrote, “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” We do not pretend to be particularly smarter than our peers, albeit we are admittedly less tactful. Since the inception of the U.S. military, service in combat arms has been the rightful duty and sole responsibility of the men of our society, as well it should be. However, women are now also poised to satisfy this critical requirement.
Men and women are different. This is an axiom of our existence as human beings on planet earth. As men, we feel inept trying to articulate this truth because the tools to do so have been intellectually banned in our society, labeled as “chauvinism.” Even the ways in which the discussion is framed pits the legacy of many despicable social institutions — slavery, exclusive suffrage, segregation — against those advocating an all-male combat arms. The truth remains that warfare is the contest of two opposing wills, the zweikampf in which these wills employ their militaries as fists in an ultimate struggle in which human beings maim and brutally kill one another. Ladies, as infantry officers, we do not wish to limit or control women, but we do want to fight for you. We want to endure hardship and suffering. We want to be miserable and filthy. We want to offer our lives so that yours might be spared. We want to fight for you. To do less is masculine cowardice and abdicating our societal role, ordained or evolved.
No matter one’s worldview, the assertion that women belong in the infantry is illogical. From an evolutionary perspective, it means pitting a generally smaller/gentler/more compassionate demographic against a generally larger/stronger/more violent demographic in a “survival of the fittest” contest that ultimately determines the fates of societies. Simplistic animal survival is the driving factor here. From a biblical perspective, God made the genders specifically and intentionally different for many purposes. Men are to shoulder the responsibility of fighting to preserve the life and dignity of women, as well as to protect the next generation. This willing sacrifice and service is for the sake of women, not to control or demean them. Throughout the history of the western world, this has been the basis for the sacred masculine charge of chivalry: to serve all and protect the weak from the strong. Phrased this way, our statements may be unsavory; but, ask yourself, are they true? One can only appreciate these realities in much the same way as a marriage, the love of one’s children, and dare we say, albeit not from personal experience, childbirth. You must experience it to appreciate the nuance.
After more than a decade of war, we now see another expansion of women’s roles in ground combat. This time it has been predicated in part by fixating on the notion that there are “too few” female general officers because the military selects a higher rate of combat arms officers to be generals.1 Thus, the argument goes, women are being unfairly barred from advancement because they are not allowed in the ground combat arms. It is a complete fallacy to assert the notion of there being too few female generals, and an even greater illogical leap to say that the way to fix this problem is to alter the force structure for the entire Service in the hopes of generating a select few at the 30-year service mark. This exposes an underlying feminist agenda that does not purport any desire to create a more capable, lethal military.
Where is the critical need? Does our Corps need additional volunteers to fill our infantry battalions? Additionally, it is supremely insulting to assert that somehow military leaders have been missing the key solution to a more effective ground combat element for the last decade, let alone in the history of the world. If women in the ranks would have made the infantry more effective, certainly commanders would have made it happen. Remember: The Lioness Program and female engagement teams were created to fill a critical need identified by combatant commanders, not to justify a belief or create “equality.”
The Myth of the Decade
In this vein, the favorite slogans of “no frontlines” and “women have been in combat alongside their male counterparts” are fodder for the first paragraphs of many pieces demanding the equal opportunity for young ladies to be miserable, filthy, and scared. Proximity to danger does not equate to combat proficiency. To strike an improvised explosive device, to be shot at, or to have indirect fire impact near one’s position requires only presence in the battlespace; it is passive. These traumatic events are mere byproducts of existing in a hostile environment. True combat, the kind for which the infantry exists, actively “seeks, closes with, and destroys the enemy through…,” well, you know the rest. The point is, the infantry slogs in the filth and mire of foreign lands, conducts grueling movements under heavy load, and must be able to win by cunning, endurance, and brute force — always.
Indulge us for a moment as you consider the contrast in combat experiences among these comparisons: a MEF headquarters and a platoon combat outpost; the role of a wing service support battalion and that of an infantry battalion; a mounted resupply convoy and a dismounted movement to contact; a local security patrol and a meeting engagement or night ambush. Furthermore, there is little comparison between Camp Bastion and Now Zad (2008) or Al Asad and Ramadi (2005–06). Thus, the argument of “no frontlines” holds little sway in the minds of those who have fought through “Pak Alley” or had to conduct every patrol to the “government building” at the double time. The last decade has produced countless instances of close combat for some, just as it has branded the image of the MRAP’s (mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle’s) invincibility and the supremacy of unmanned aircraft systems in the public conscience. For a moment though, think beyond the outpost wars we have come to believe as our only future form of warfare.
An Emotional Issue
The issue of women in combat arms is a highly emotional one, and it should be, as with any moral quandary in life. The implied statement that accompanies this discussion is that somehow men have too much “emotional energy” to be able to frame this topic rationally. The hypocrisy of this argument hardly needs explanation. The inertia for this discussion is generated by those advocates with an emotional belief that men are maliciously discriminating against them by excluding them from the combat arms, and that true equality of the sexes means complete disregard for natural capabilities. Ought we seek the equality of paternity and maternity leave, fitness standards, or grooming and appearance regulations? This is intellectual nonsense and its practical application is utter foolishness. As easily as one would dismiss a husband’s claim to be able to experience the sorrow of a miscarriage in the same way as his wife, so too we assert that there is no true argument, only illogical postulations based on a highly emotional false belief that women should be able to be men.
Poor Arguments Abound
We acknowledge that poor arguments against women abound and serve as redoubts for insecure men. These are attempts to justify something they believe, but cannot or will not identify truthfully. We have all read those angry snippets to editors about “when women compete against men in the Olympics…” or “when prize fights are coed….” We assert that the physical discussion is a shallow argument, although it is easily won by history, physiology, and the insecure men promoting them. To borrow the tired, though inexact, analogy, there are no women in the National Football League for a reason. The physical is important, but not everything. The true arguments are ones of morality, unit cohesion, sexual distraction, and a degraded perspective.
Morally wrong. “Women and children first” has been a tenet of all emergency rescue efforts for time immemorial, yet we are evidently now prepared to dismantle this fundamental principle of western society for the sake of equality. It is an abdication of natural masculine responsibility to forfeit our role — even in small part — as protectors and defenders. Should we expect our teenage daughter to go down with the ship so a man might live in the name of equality? No matter how much she begs for the “opportunity,” would you let her?
Sexual attraction. There is no tasteful way to address this topic. The natural attraction between college-aged people results in jackassery.2 Ask any commander of a mixed-gender unit, or hearken back to your college days. The contradiction in terms is that mature men and women in the latter half of their careers expect young enlisted singles to conduct themselves with the maturity of 40-somethings in a sterile office environment. No matter how disciplined the man, sexual attraction — or at least distraction — is as involuntary as a woman’s natural response to a baby’s cry.
At this point the reader may be tempted to roll his eyes in exasperation as the thought “men are selfish pigs” darts through his head. Yet one would not be so critical if the human desire in question was food, water, warmth, or conversation. While the former three are actual requirements for human life, and sexual fulfillment is not, we leave you to consider the significance of the latter in the well-being of the individual as a sufficient parallel to convey the irrefutable significance of physical attraction in our lives. No matter how disciplined the men, sexual attraction will corrode the very fabric of a unit, destroying that precious esprit de corps that allows one group of men to triumph over another in a death struggle. When the possibility of sexual attraction is removed from group dynamics, so too is all pretense, thus allowing for true sacrificial relationships.
Weighed down. Personal anecdotes abound, but one need only observe any formation run or conditioning hike and note the demographics of those who lag far behind the formation.3 Undoubtedly, a few ladies remain with the pack, outpacing many males even, but this is not the norm. The dangerous and unspoken dynamic at work in a unit’s psyche is that a man who falls back “just needs to be conditioned more,” whereas a woman is immediately the object of scorn because the unit knows that—in general—she isn’t capable of keeping up. This only serves as the impetus for counseling in units where physical training is simply about meeting height and weight requirements. In the infantry, however, repeated physical failure spawns contempt of the individual and undermines the common trust in the belief that every man can keep up on patrol, buddy rushing, or carrying a litter.
This issue is not just about the physical viability of the unit; it is about their mental fortitude too. Women inserted in small numbers in infantry units will not completely dismantle their effectiveness. It will, however, place an unnecessary doubt in the unit’s collective confidence. Men who cannot perform in combat units are usually singled out, sent to the company office or armory, and otherwise marginalized. This would hardly do for political appearances if women in the infantry were similarly treated.
Degraded perspective. The unique advantage of the integration argument is that negative data against the argument can neither be truly presented nor will it be accepted. This is much like the body armor argument where data can always support the value of increasingly heavy vests and plates in terms of rounds stopped and lives saved. Yet, for those outside the infantry, there is little interest in capturing the results of unnecessarily cumbersome equipment and its direct relationship to increased heat injuries, immobility, and unit ineffectiveness. As the last decade has provided ample vignettes of womanly courage, frontline service, and exposure to violence, there has been little desire to evaluate the actual effects on these women or the units in which they operated. From the male perspective, it is quite clear that any comments we might have as the duty experts on ground combat are unwanted and thought to be shamefully prejudicial.
The dignity of women. Consider that photos with captions highlighting women on patrol present a false understanding of the dynamic at work amongst that infantry squad. The reality confined within that frame is that she is not “on patrol,” she is “along for” the patrol. The female engagement team is not an addition to the lethality of that squad; they are an escorted entity, much the same as reporters or visiting dignitaries. The dangerous dynamic at work is that this reoccurring imagery will slowly convince us, much like magazine covers and centerfolds, that these women represent reality. There is no airbrushing in combat.
Winning at war. The true tragedy of this initiative is that we will become a less effective ground combat force, riddled with a plague of time-consuming misconduct issues and lower expectations regarding proficiency and conduct. We will put men and women in a position to fail, discipline them when they do, and tell commanders the old adage, “this is a leadership issue.” There will be no regard for the fact that we will have created a reality based on a belief of how some wish things to be, rather than the reality of natural capabilities and design.
As a brief aside, those who have not served in the infantry or in close combat would not dream of telling us they understand our jobs or experiences with regard to tactics or combat stress, yet they feel complete authority to do so under the label of “women’s rights.” Who has conferred our individual human rights upon us? Our society, our government, the mythical “nature,” or someone greater? Who has preserved those rights? Has it been the demonstrator, the advocate, the legislator? These three categories are the wonderful luxuries of civilized society, but the accomplishments of the western world were made possible through shrewd diplomacy coupled with force, and a healthy understanding of truth. The ability for us to have this conversation is a result of the prosperity and complete security purchased for this Nation through the violence of men. The sterile planning environments and crisp political chambers are the rear area of any conflict, and exist only because filthy, sweaty, scared young men stand ready to kill or die. This is reality. Do you believe it?
A Man’s Place
The question looming, hidden and afraid in masculine hearts, as this discussion rages, is nearly impossible to ask: Where now does a man go to prove his manhood in society? This is dismissed in our postmodern culture, but in the history of the world, the individual man has always had opportunities to prove his strength, valor, and skill as part of a grand adventure or the challenge of apprenticeship. If you do not accept the need for men to know intrinsically that they have proven themselves as men (protectors, providers, leaders) in a way only they can, consider the devastation of a woman unable to conceive.
Our culture is seeking a false equality. The presence of women in the military does not justify their inclusion into all areas of the Service, especially the infantry. As an organization, the Service is aptly defined because it is not an institution meant to serve the individuals who comprise it; the mission of fighting and winning is its sole purpose, and all involved are in the “service” of that end. Our enemies do not recognize gender rights, and it has only been our realistic understanding of the nature of war that has preserved our society’s ability to create the opportunities currently enjoyed by women.
We are the men who want to fight for you. The enemy we have fought will not discuss, cite studies, or entertain debate. He will just rape or kill you.
As junior officers, our perspective is limited, but its relevance is confirmed by our recent experiences in close combat and the long legacy of warriors preceding us. Our responsibility remains to influence and lead at the tactical level, but our hope is that our unabashed assertions will be acknowledged as attempts to state truth in the timeless reality of the struggle of opposing wills. LtGen Victor “Brute” Krulak’s wise understanding that our Corps is not needed, but wanted by the American people cannot hobble us with an insecurity that prevents us from being something a portion of our society may dislike. The truth remains that we have no obligation to be what society wants us to be, only to fight and win to preserve that society — and truth.
1stLts Brewster and Wallace, both infantry officers, have completed several combat deployments and have personal experience serving with women integrated at the tactical level. Both are married and each has three young sons.
Reprinted with permission of and copyright retained by the Marine Corps Gazette.
- Burrelli, David F., “Women in Combat: Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC, 13 December 2012, cites recommendations 9, 18, and 20 of “From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership and the 21st-Century Military” by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC, 13 December 2012, pp. 127, 129, and 130.
- Marine Corps term for immaturity and rowdiness resulting in misconduct; similar to “tomfoolery.”
- Results of the 2012 Ground Combat Physical Performance Standards test show less than 10 percent of females outperformed the male average in 5 physical categories. Most telling are the average times for the 25-meter casualty drag where female officers doubled, and enlisted women tripled the average male time. As presented at Marine Corps Combat Development Command’s Officer Professional Military Education Brief, Quantico, 12 October 2012. See also “Female Physiology & Performance, Injuries at Entry Level Training,” USMC Women in the Service Report, Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service Brief, 22 September 2011. Stephanie Gutmann’s The Kinder, Gentler Military (Encounter Book, San Francisco, 2001) is a decade-old treasure trove of data and anecdotes on this topic.