Seeing the Elephant

by PETER FARMER January 29, 2013

On Thursday, out-going Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced an end to Pentagon rules barring women from combat positions within the military, effectively overturning Department of Defense policy in effect since 1994. Acting upon recommendations by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Panetta reversed more than two centuries of American martial tradition with a simple stroke of the pen.

This writer, being the unapologetic traditionalist that he is, does not support Secretary Panetta's ruling, but - being a realist - he also recognizes a political victory when he sees one. There can be no denial - American feminists have just scored a long sought-after "triumph" after more than a quarter century of effort. Somewhere, former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D-Colorado) is smiling in delight.

In a previous column, it was asked rhetorically whether these gung-ho women knew what they were getting into; this writer cautioned would-be "G.I. Janes" to be careful what they wish for when it comes to combat - they just might get it. It now appears that, ready or not, they will get what they have sought. In the slang of a soldier, many of these women are off to "see the elephant" (go into battle) for the first time.

Now that they've gone "all in" - and overturned more than two centuries of storied American martial tradition, some questions are in order for would-be female combatants and their supporters....

Progressives (or leftists, as we like to call them in this editorial space) have long claimed that modern women can cut it in the high-testosterone world of the combat arms, if only those unenlightened and ever-so-ignorant traditionalists and conservatives would get out of the way.  No special accommodations would be needed for women, since - after all - they are in every respect the equals of men. Anything the guys can do, women can do better - and all of that "I am woman, hear me roar" stuff. After many years of bashing on the door of the all-boys clubhouse, demanding to be let in - they've finally broken it down. They're inside. Now what? The answer to that question is simply this: talk is cheap, it is action that counts.

Gals, it is time to put up or shut up. You've pushed and pushed and demanded entry into the heretofore male fraternity of combat arms. Finally, you have gained admission. Talk will no longer be enough; you will be expected to perform - no excuses, no short-cuts, no special accommodations, and no handicapping system.

Combat is perhaps the most-Darwinian environment on earth; the gods of war do not care that you are a woman - and neither will the Chinese, North Koreans, Iranians or whoever else we fight next. In battle, you either perform or go home in a body bag. The "lucky ones" may escape with being maimed for life. It will not be only your life at risk, either; if you fail to cut it, you may condemn that soldier next to you to an early grave, because you didn't do your job when all of the chips were down. 

After the battle, no one will remember that you were a young woman with the best of intentions; they will remember whether you succeeded or failed. If you fail, no one will care that you tried your hardest; they will remember that you couldn't carry mortar rounds quickly-enough to your crew to prevent your outpost from being overrun, or that you couldn't drag a bigger and heavier wounded comrade to safety. There will be no "time-outs" on fifteen mile road marches with seventy pound rucksacks, because you are a woman. To be an infantryman is to be a beast of burden - so carry that weight and no complaints. After all, you asked for it.

Over the last 25 years, through the procedural sleight of hand known as "gender-norming," the army and other services have been able to pretend that women meet the same PT (physical training) and other standards as men. Gender-norming was a form of handicapping designed by the Pentagon to make female performance appear equivalent to male performance. However, since you have broken down the last barriers against women in the military and no longer need a handicapping system, we can now dispense with that. Going forward, you will be judged by the exact same standards as military men. Either you cut it - or you do not. Don't even think of complaining. The mission comes first, not your wants or desires.

Oh, by the way - you and your girlfriends do plan on registering for the draft on your eighteenth birthday, don't you - just as your male peers do? If you insist upon the privileges associated with military service, you have to assume the risks, too. So, get yourself down to the post office and register - and be quick about it. Up to now, you and your feminist pals have been skimming the cream off the top - demanding the best billets for yourselves (fighter pilot, submariner, etc.) but often bailing out when an inconvenient deployment or a war came along. Pregnancy and "female issues" certainly make handy excuses, don't they? Well, that won't fly anymore. Don't feel like deploying or going to war? Too bad; you'll go anyway - just like the men do when they are called up. Welcome to the war, baby!

You've now officially what is known in the arcane lingo of the grunt as "cannon fodder." In return for your taxpayer-supplied salary and benefits, you will be expected to take a bullet if called upon to do so. That's what soldiers do - they stop bullets so civilians don't have to. Thanks ever so much for doing that... it is very considerate of you.

One last thing: this writer would like to wish you good luck - you'll need it - and remind you that the complaint department is now closed. If you do indeed find that - as advertised - war is hell....well, just remember that some of us tried to warn you and that you demanded to go anyway. If it is any consolation, remember the words of English writer Oscar Wilde as the bullets fly: "The only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it." Don't forget to duck...

Copyright 2013 Peter Farmer

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. 



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