A thoughtful argument against having women serve alongside men on the frontlines

Posted by: ST on January 24, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Courtesy of James Taranto, a thoughtful letter from Marine Corps veteran Kenneth Johnson on the “women in combat” debate (hat tip: @CatholicMomVA):

As a Marine Corps veteran of three combat tours, the first as a rifle platoon commander during the Vietnam War, my concern is what this policy will contribute to further breaking down the already-troubled relationships of men and women in our society.

Friedrich von Hayek wrote that profound social knowledge is embedded in tradition that has evolved through the millennia of human experience. In “The Fatal Conceit,” he taught that a society breaks these traditions just because someone has a “good idea” of what would be fair. When these notions are enacted through legislation and court decisions, there is a very real risk of wasting this profound knowledge.

In my view, traditions in the military and civil society are severely broken and the embedded wisdom lost forever where women have combat roles. Totally independent of whether women can physically and mentally contribute to American military effectiveness and efficiency, I am concerned about the broader social implications of a civilization that believes that combat is an appropriate role for women.

For the record, I have ordered men to undertake missions where the entire platoon was at risk. During Operation Dewey Canyon in 1969 (the real one, not the incoming secretary of defense’s one), I lost all seven of the Marine casualties I had during my tour. One died five feet from me. We moved on. Others died moments before I got to their position. We moved on. After one firefight, we carried a gut-shot Navy corpsman, who knew how much trouble he was in, for miles up a steep hill out of Laos.

How does a man not give special comfort to a wounded woman? My last Marine died in my arms from a wound I thought he would have survived. Could I have held her in my arms without reservation?

I had to decide how to handle the situation where a new squad leader beat a Marine who fell asleep on watch, the latter punishable by death in time of war. The decision process I went through is captured in a speech I gave to the Valley Forge Military Academy almost a year ago.

My concerns:

What kind of a man is it who can send women off to kill and maim? What kind of society does that?

What kind of men sharing a fire-team foxhole with a woman and two other men don’t treat the woman more gently?

What kind of society bemoaning that men don’t seem to respect women can’t see that part of the respect they demand is predicated on the specialness of the other?

Perhaps it is possible in a firefight to distinguish between how one treats women and men, but I doubt that I could do it. And if I am trained to treat men and women the same throughout my career, can this have no significant effect on how I treat women otherwise?

Pretty much everything he wrote on this issue I wish I had.

Your thoughts?

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6 Responses to “A thoughtful argument against having women serve alongside men on the frontlines”


  1. redneek24 says:

    I was in the army 4 years and worked on a loading dock and I know what this means. The men will now have to do their work and half the womans. When I observed men working with men, they expect and try to give an equal amount of work. When men work with women, the men will take up the slack if the woman can’t or won’t. I have done this myself. To see the difference between the strength between men and women, go to a 10K road race. The best women will be several minutes behind the best men. I am not saying they will not do their best. Its just their best, as in a road race, can never be as good as a man. Solders still have to run and take “the hill” and if half your unit is still running up the hill, solder, both men and women, will die.

  2. Why these commiecrat presidents like Clinton (the “Unabanger”) and Obhammud think the military is fertile ground for their social experiments can be traced directly to the fact neither wore a uniform in defense of this country because they thought themselves too worthy.

  3. Tango says:

    …I will repeat the same thing I said 20 years ago when this issue first reared its head during the Clinton administration: just because a woman CAN serve in a combat role doesn’t mean she SHOULD.

    We find ourselves in a era where our military is being used badly. And every indication is, that it is going to get worse.

    This social experimentation using our people in uniform only guarantees more body bags and children growing up without a parent.

  4. EBL says:

    Then we should not have women serving at all. As every Marine knows, every Marine is a rifleman. There is a reason for that saying. The understanding that any service member can find themselves on the frontline, intended or not.

    I agree this is not well thought out policy and mostly a poor decision. But it is limited and voluntary. Some women will want to serve because they really can serve. Some to get promoted. And some both. Let’s see how it turns out. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.

  5. Joe says:

    Does this mean that Sasha and Malia (and all otger young women) will be required to register with Selective Service?

  6. Polly says:

    If you think Sasha and Malia will contribute anything to society, let alone the military you have slipped a gear!

    Some really good thoughtful thinking posted here including Joe who I am not picking on!