Be Careful What You Wish For – You Might Just Get It
by PETER FARMER
July 20, 2012
As noted in a 12 July U.S. News/MSN story by Jeff Black, entitled "Women in the infantry? Forget about it, says female Marine officer," the United States Marine Corps has announced that, in September, it will for the first time in its history allow women to attend the platoon leader Infantry Officer's Course at Quantico, VA. A group of female Marine volunteers will act as a pilot study group on the feasibility of using women in more-extensive combat roles, including - as some have speculated - in the infantry and other ground combat arms (armor, artillery, combat engineers and special operations).1
Undoubtedly, feminists and their political allies are celebrating this decision as a sign of progress and yet another barrier against women being torn down. Upon hearing the news, this writer's reaction was very different. First, paraphrasing the words of the great military writer W.E.B. Griffin, he wondered whether the Marine Corps had "eaten ‘loco weed' and gone crazy." Second, he remembered the old aphorism, "Be careful what you wish for," and thought of all of the young women who say they want to go into the infantry.
Do these young women, raised in the relentlessly ideological and pro-feminist "You go, girl!" culture of the early 21st century, really know what they are asking for? One suspects not, given the near-universal ignorance of history among the young. To that end, the following is a brief tutorial for readers, especially young women, who want to know what awaits them in the ground combat arms, phrased in an easy to use "If-then" format. Please note that the following examples are fact, not fiction, and are drawn from actual events in military history; that is, they actually happened to an infantryman, tanker, cannon cocker, engineer or special ops trooper somewhere at some time. Let's begin...
If... you want to march all day (and sometimes all night), no matter what the weather, carrying a heavy ruck (pack) plus your weapon and body armor... then you want to be in the infantry.
If... you don't mind being a beast of burden loaded down with 80-100 lbs.* of gear, night-vision goggles, weapons, ammo, communications equipment, first aid supplies, food and water, plus individual and crew-served weapons.... then you want to be in the infantry. ( * - add 50-100 lbs. additional for special operations)
If... you like long walks in the woods, desert or mountains with a heavy pack, while get shot at, mortared, shelled by artillery, grenaded, bombed, strafed, booby-trapped and otherwise attacked without warning.... then you want to be in the infantry.
If... you don't mind digging a fighting position after marching fifteen miles, and then setting up an all-night ambush, before getting a wink of sleep... then you want to be in the infantry.
If... you don't mind living like a wild animal, going days or weeks living in your own dirt or filth without the opportunity to bathe or change your clothes... then the infantry is you.
If... you do not mind defecating and urinating outdoors, possibly in the very same trench in which you live... then the infantry may be for you.
If... you do not mind being infected with intestinal parasites, infested with lice, being covered with leeches, and bitten by every insect known to man and science... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can handle seeing your best buddy's arms, legs or other body parts blown off or seeing a mass of red mush where his face or chest used to be moments before... then the infantry is for you.
If... you are capable of killing not only at long range, but up-close and perhaps with your bare hands, a knife, an entrenching tool, or whatever weapon is at hand... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can stand to hear the screams of pain of your enemy as you plunge your knife or bayonet into his belly... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can stand to hear the screams of agony of wounded civilians or perhaps a buddy burned to a crisp by napalm or a white phosphorus grenade... then the infantry is for you.
If... digging trenches, constructing positions and filling sandbags all day long, without any mechanical assistance whatever, is your cup of tea... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can handle seeing your best friend bleed to death in front of you from an arterial wound and being powerless to stop it... then you belong in the infantry.
If... you do not mind being too hot, too cold, dehydrated, frostbitten, sunburned, suffering heat rash, or otherwise being uncomfortable much of the time... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can handle being caught behind enemy lines without resupply, surrounded and outnumbered... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can live in a foxhole whose bottom is filled with water, or exist in a swamp or jungle where you are never really dry and you get trench foot.... then the infantry is for you.
If... you like eating raw snakes, rodents and insects in training and maybe on operations (see special forces)... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can handle the smell of bloated bodies in the sun, or of charred flesh, without vomiting uncontrollably... then the infantry is for you.
If... you do not mind going without sleep, sometimes for days on end... then the infantry is for you.
If... you do not mind going without food or water, sometimes for days on end... then the infantry is for you.
If... the prospect of clearing houses or charging an enemy position, while being fired upon by automatic weapons, is fine with you... then you belong in the infantry.
If... you are willing to risk being killed or maimed for life, or seeing your friends killed/maimed for life... then the infantry is for you.
If... you are in charge, and you make a mistake that sends good men to their deaths unnecessarily, and you can live with that... then you should join the infantry.
If... you are captured, and you can endure being tortured, raped, starved, beaten or perhaps even executed out of hand... then you belong in the infantry.
If... you can handle being "expendable" as cannon fodder due to errors by the high command, or while your side recovers from a surprise enemy counter-attack or offensive... then you belong in the infantry.
If... you do not mind endless stretches of numbing boredom, punctuated by periods of fear so intense that you may lose control of your bowels or urinate involuntarily... then the infantry is for you.
If... you do not mind sacrificing peaceful sleep, possibly for every night the remainder of your life, and suffering near-constant nightmares about combat... then the infantry is for you.
If... you do not mind risking your very sanity in the inferno of combat... then the infantry is for you.
If... you do not mind the prospect of having your personality permanently changed, perhaps for the worse, by the experience of combat... then the infantry might be for you.
If... you do not mind following sometimes-idiotic orders that may get you killed... then the infantry is for you.
If... you don't mind following the orders of politicians and senior officers who may not be as smart as you... then the infantry is for you.
If... you can handle the guilt that comes with knowing that you survived combat, but your buddy right next to you did not... then you belong in the infantry.
If... you do not know whether you will live to see tomorrow, let alone next week or next year... then the infantry may be for you.
There are many other factual "If-then" statements about warfare and ground combat that could be written - but one hopes the point has been made. The cultural left has pushed relentlessly for women to be admitted to the ground combat arms, the last all-male bastion of the military - and their efforts will probably "succeed" at some point, notwithstanding the efforts of those who oppose such a move (including this writer).
As a military historian, this writer has studied combat soldiers and war for more than forty years. As a medic, he has seen, up-close and personal, what violence does to the human body. The bullets are real; the bombs and high explosives are real - and so is the damage that they cause. War is neither a game nor an action movie. This isn't "Call of Duty" where you can go home and raid the refrigerator after a game. Nor is it a movie like "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" where the women are as tough - or tougher - than the men but look like fashion models.
There is at least one female Marine who sees reality clearly. Capt. Katie Petronio, an engineering unit commander still on active duty, says placing women in infantry units is just a bad idea, "Infantry is one of those fields we need to leave alone." Petronio told msnbc.com. As another female Marine noted, "No one questions why there aren't any females in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, etc. Olympic athletes are the elite of the elite. No one questions why the women compete against women and men against men. Those are great sports and achievements. But lives and missions aren't on the line. In our world, if you move slower one day, you don't get bumped off the medal stand, you could die or get someone else killed." 2
Ground combat is probably the most Darwinian and unforgiving environment known to the human race. If you are a young woman, and think ground combat is what is you want, this writer would urge you to reconsider and remember the complete version of the aphorism above, "Be careful what you wish for - you might just get it."
1 - Note: A rifle platoon usually contains around 40 Marines; platoon leaders are typically O-1s (second lieutenants) or O-2s (second lieutenants).
2 - "Women in the infantry? Forget about it, says female Marine officer" Jeff Black, U.S. News/MSNBC, <http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/>, 12 July 2012
Peter Farmer is a historian and commentator on national security, geopolitics and public policy issues. He has done original research on wartime resistance movements in WWII Europe, and has delivered seminars on such subjects as political violence and terrorism, the evolution of conflict, combat medicine, and related subjects. Mr. Farmer is also a scientist and a medic.