Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kingsley Brown at VC discusses the role of women in combat

Kingsley Browne, guest-blogging at Volokh Conspiracy, is winding up a string of posts regarding the efficacy of women in combat assignments. This is a subject that only slightly interests me, but anyone with a burning interest in the question can go to that site and drink deeply from a bottomless barrel of essays and reader comments on the subject.

We should never forget that the average soldier would really like to run away from the fighting. The group prevents him from doing this. If group morality allows for an “honourable” means of flight, it will be accepted gratefully.

Exactly this dynamic may have been in play in 2004 when a mixed-sex platoon of reservists refused a direct order to drive a fuel convoy, although the Army’s reticence about the incident compels one to rely on (perhaps unfair) speculation. The reservists argued that it was a “suicide mission” because their trucks were not armored. News reports did not indicate who the ringleaders of the mutiny were, although it came to light when a female specialist left a message on her mother’s voice mail asking her to “raise pure hell.”

One could easily see how the sex composition of the group could have contributed to the incident. Expressions of unwillingness by female soldiers would give cover to the men to go along. By supporting the women who did not want to take on the mission (if that is what happened), the male soldiers could convert in their minds a cowardly refusal to take on a dangerous mission into a brave – even honorable – willingness to accept discipline to “protect” the women. The mission may be aborted, but honor within the group would be preserved.

Even if women actually were as courageous as men, they are not expected to be. That lower expectation of their courage – irrespective of their actual levels of courage – would almost inevitably result in reduced combat performance.

My views are contaminated by a personal aversion to war altogether as a suitable means of conflict resolution. Readers of this blog already know my position that not everyone is fit material to become a good warrior. And those who fit the bill can serve peaceful missions (like quickly intervening in a disaster like the Bengal tsunami two years ago) better than any other resource.

Having said that, I have to say that good warriors can be found in both sexes. It is clear that the subject of my previous post is cut from the right fabric to serve in combat with the best of them.

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