Women and Warfare


Female recruits at the Marine Corps Training Depot. Source: Bruce Smith, AP

Before diving into tonight’s blurb, let me preface it by saying that I appreciate the service of all of America’s military members, men and women. They’re the best we have to offer, and I don’t wish the following to be construed as a negative indictment on the efforts of anyone seeking to endure the rigors of boot camp and subsequent service. Having said that…

The primary purpose of a soldier, boiled down to the barest necessity, is to fight effectively and win wars. When subjected to the urgency of a firefight, with mortars exploding and bullets zinging past one’s ear, the side hoping to gain the victory can not afford even the hint of physical insufficiency. Tides ebb and flow on the actions of even a single soldier in the right place at the right time. The United States has the most physically and technologically imposing military force in the history of warfare; precisely because we send the most physically imposing soldiers onto the field.

Which is why recent news from the Marine Corps stating that greater than half of female recruits in boot camp can’t complete a minimum-standard three pull-ups is of concern, and once again the wisdom of placing female soldiers in combat positions is brought to the front burner.

Again, I’m not here to denigrate those women trying to serve in combat jobs, but we need to be honest: three pull-ups is an extremely low benchmark to hit, and 55% aren’t able to. Eight pull-ups is considered a perfect score, and even this, at face value, seems to be low. Particularly when, in combat situations, it’s not uncommon to be tasked with lugging heavy equipment (or even a fellow soldier) across an entire battlefield. Can someone incapable of completing three pull-ups in the space of several seconds be expected to reliably carry, or even drag, a 200 lb. man out of a hot zone? Hard to see how.

Training can, obviously, ameliorate early weaknesses, but it can only go so far. The simple fact of the matter is that, all things being equal, men are biologically stronger than women. That’s not an offense. Just the way it is. No point sugar-coating it. If the point of soldiers is to win wars, we must ask a crucial question: Can women in combat help us do so? All things equal, can the average woman fight a man, who on average will be larger and stronger, in hand-to-hand combat and win, on average? Can a women’s body hold out under long-term and myriad physical stresses as well as a man can?

There are other, no less important questions to be asked a second time, as well. Are women well prepared to tolerate the, shall we say, seedier parts of warfare embedded with male counterparts? Peeing in water bottles in the back of an APC, in full view of other occupants. Language that confirms the “swearing like a sailor” moniker, or even just language that is largely male-centric (which we all have heard). Of course, there will be those who can tolerate such things just fine. But in general, will they hold out for extended deployments in such conditions?

Let us not discount a final concern: social psychology. Are the American people not only ready to face an inevitable steep increase in the number of dead women returning from war in flag-draped coffins, but more importantly, are we ready to turn on CNN and discover that female soldiers are being taken captive by Islamist extremists who lack a conscience and will thereby brutalize, torture, rape and then murder them? Terrorists would very likely target women for that very purpose: that it would have a profound effect on unit and public morale. Also, can we say with certainty that a man, seeing a woman in danger on a battlefield, won’t appeal to male instinct and try to rescue her, even at risk of jeopardizing a mission? We ought not take such a strong instinct lightly.

It will be interesting, in coming weeks, what the response to this finding will be. Will the Corps, still anxious to appeal to “equality”, lower the standards to accommodate more women, and risk a physically weaker force? Or will they reinstate the current standards, or even renege on the policy all together? Time will tell.

What do you think?


About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA


  1. Never Mind Muscles, Why Did The Political ‘Strength Credit’ Fail Women Marines? | Third News - January 4, 2014

    […] Women and Warfare […]

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