08 March 2013


by Andy Weddington
Friday, 08 March 2013

"Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day." Samuel Goldwyn
The more I read, converse about, and mull over this peculiar matter of women serving in ground combat units, especially the infantry, I wonder if the senior officers - all men - now on record supporting the feminist's cause have, from the vantage point of foxholes (Marines use the term 'fighting holes'), outfoxed the foxes?

Perhaps acquiescence plotted and the inevitable, the necessary, lowering of physical standards is by sly design conceived by - through mere brilliance of the male superior mind - the smart idiot.

What if the Joint Chiefs are saying, gentlemanly, of course, to the stupid geniuses, "Have at it, Babe. Go get 'em! And the more the merrier. We'll draft you, if need be." 

That is, the brawny sages are looking out for the best interest of brainy men - so they can stay home, barbecue and drink beer with pals, hunker down in man caves (foxholes - soon to be, if not already, a non-PC military term - are for women) to play video games and watch sports on giant flat screens with surround sound, and be happy.

Ridiculous? Who knows. Cynical? Surely. Satirical? Maybe. Farcical? Apparently not - not in these crazy times.

What we might be witnessing is nothing more than the chaotic collision of smarts, stupidity, idiots, and geniuses. Logic indicates that's exactly what's happening. For only humans are capable of making such a deliberate mess. And it's a beauty (in some cases). 

That said, a couple of retired Marine general officers, brawny men - infantry officers both so brains go with the territory (though, in jest, company grade sometimes raise an eyebrow), recently opted to speak out.

Major General Jarvis Lynch, USMC (Retired) wrote a letter, in reply, to the commandant addressing women in combat. And, Lieutenant General Greg Newbold, USMC (Retired) wrote an article addressing the myths of women in combat. Their thoughts follow.

General Lynch...

Dear General Williams -

Thank you very much for sending the Commandant's letter to the retired generals. As you doubtless know, it addresses a subject that has caused considerable amounts of angst, disgust and frankly, more mistrust of Washington among many if not most retired Marines of all grades and ranks. I ask that you forward my thoughts below to General Amos.

Dear General Amos -

This morning proved to be an emotional roller coaster. Early on, before going to mass, I skimmed through the Tampa Tribune. A "special" to the paper's op/ed page caught my eye. It's title was, "New women - in - combat policy defies common sense." The author was identified as, "Steve Emerson of Valrico … a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel." I do not know him. His penultimate paragraph stated, "Last March I had occasion to speak with Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. He was visiting a wounded Marine's house in South Tampa. Out of the blue he mentioned he was under incredible pressure to open ground combat specialties to women. At first I thought he was joking. During the course of the conversation I realized he was serious about the ensuing pressure and was adamantly opposed to this policy." That paragraph greatly eased my mind. The eased mind status did not last long. 

Upon returning from mass, I found your letter of 24 January on the screen and was stunned by its content. Stunned by confirmation of the fact that the Joint Chiefs had indeed recommended the current course. Stunned by its implicit confirmation of General Dempsey's assertions that the addition of women to combat fields will enhance our combat capabilities absent explanation of just how that might be done. And stunned by the assertion that, "it's the right thing to do."

I do not mean to be offensive or argumentative and greatly respect your position; however, there are things that need to be said.

I was the S-3 of BLT 2/26 from July of 1968 to March or April of 1969. We fought from the DMZ (literally, the Ben Hai River) and its environs southward through the 1st Marine Division and American Division areas of operation to the Batangan Peninsula, several miles south of Chu Lai. On 16 September 1968, we had over 150 dead and wounded in less than 20 minutes at a place called LZ Margo. When we left the DMZ several weeks later, as the result of deaths, wounds and sickness, one company had 35 Marines and officers, the other 3 had roughly 60 each. The mortar platoon had enough troops to serve 3 or 4 tubes. The recon platoon had no officer and maybe a dozen or so Marines. We were that way for months and for weeks on end we were in the bush … leeches, malaria, jungle rot, wearing rags, getting enough rations for a meal or so a day,  …. the beat went on. I don't know any women who could have done what those Marines did and more to the point, our combat experiences were not unique and I cannot think of anything that the addition of women would have done to improve our combat capabilities. 

In short, it would seem that a years long study to determine what women can do in combat organizations is unnecessary. However, there seems to be an undercurrent of civilian - inspired thought that combat in the 21st Century will be different. That illusion may account for the need to have a study. In reality, the belief that war and killing will be different in the 21st Century is a belief that ought to be the subject of study. 

In short, General Barrow, an officer who saw more combat than any of us in three wars…the American way, in three different climes and places ... had it right when testifying to the Senate in the early 90's. The fundamentals of the killing business on the ground have not changed for millennia and they won't change in the 21st Century…except to possibly get worse. 

One thing has changed, however. The politics. In my opinion, neither the Commandant nor the Chief of Staff of the Army will ever get to the point of recommending anything regarding women in combat units. The politicians will make that decision based on political considerations; their decisions will be made before the end of the years of study; and their decision will be the wrong thing to do. In order to succeed, a gender neutral military would have to fight a gender neutral war. And that is not going to happen.

You must be in an extremely difficult position, one that I do not envy; however, as much as I would like to help the Commandant, I personally cannot provide the support you requested. It's wrong. It exudes the stench of Washington politics with which we have become all too familiar and when the inevitable (unless things change), happens, we will not see a strengthened military, we will see the opposite.

Very Respectfully,

J.D. Lynch
Major General, USMC (Retired)

And, General Newbold...

Seven Myths about “Women in Combat”
G. S. Newbold
Lieutenant General, USMC (Ret)
Myth #1
     “It’s about women in combat.”  No, it’s not.  Women are already in combat
      and are serving with unsurprising professionalism.  The issue should be more
      clearly entitled, “Women in the infantry.”  And this is a decidedly different

Myth #2
    “Combat has changed.”  Wrong, for several reasons.  First, any competent student of military history will cite numerous historical examples about how generations over millennia believed that warfare had changed forever, only to find that technology may change platforms, but not its harsh essence.  To hope that the future of warfare will be antiseptic, or mirror Hollywood fantasies, is delusional and dangerous.  A second point about the “combat has changed” myth is that the enemy gets a vote.  For example, war on the Korean Peninsula, as might occur in numerous other places, would be a brutal, costly, no-holds-barred nightmare of mayhem in close combat.  The final point on this myth reinforces the Korea example and it bears examination -- Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, where warfare was reduced to a horrific, costly, and exhausting scrap in a destroyed city between two foes who fought to the death.  The standard for ground combat unit composition should be whether social experimentation would have amplified our opportunity for success in that crucible, or diminished it.  Realistic benchmarks – not convenient ones – have to be our metric.  We gamble with our future security when we set standards for warfare based on the best case, instead of the harshest one.

Myth #3
“If they pass the physical standards, why not?”  Physical standards are important, but not nearly all of the story.  The grit and horror of direct ground combat reduces humanity to its most base state, and those who can accommodate it survive; those who can’t are victims who only serve to let down their comrades.  Napoleon – “The moral (spirit) is to the physical as three is to one.”  Unit cohesion is the essence of combat power, and while it may be convenient to dismiss human nature for political expediency, we have had little to no success in this regard.  Brutal facts of sexual harassment in the military, civilian workplace, and academia are evidence enough.

Myth #4
“Standards won’t be lowered.”  This is the cruelest myth of all.  There are already accommodations (note that unit cohesion won’t be a metric), there will be many more, and we will pay a bloody price for it someday.  Pity the truthful leader who attempts to hold to standards based on realistic combat factors, and tells truth to power.  Most won’t, and the others won’t survive.

Myth #5
“Opening the infantry will provide a better pathway to senior rank for the talented women.”  Not so.  What will happen is that we will take very dedicated and talented females with unlimited potential and change their peer norm when we inject them into the infantry.  Those who might meet the infantry physical standard will find that their peers are expected, as leaders, to far exceed it (and most of their subordinates will, as well).  So instead of advancing to a level appropriate to their potential, they may well be left out.

Myth #6
“It’s a civil rights issue, much like the integration of the Armed Forces and allowing gays to serve openly.”  Those who parrot this either hope to scare honest and frank discussion, or confuse national security with Utopian ideas.  In the process, they demean initiatives that were to provide equally skilled individuals the opportunity to contribute equally.  In each of the other issues, accommodation and lowered standards was not the consequence.

Myth #7
“It’s just fair.”  Allow me two points.  First, this is ground warfare we’re discussing, so realism is important.  Direct ground combat, such as practiced in the wheat fields of France, the rubble of Stalingrad, or the endless thirty day jungle patrols against a grim foe in Viet Nam, is the harshest meritocracy, with the greatest consequences, there is.  And it’s a team sport, where the failings of one can have grave consequences for all.  Psychology in warfare is germane – the force that is respected (and, yes, feared) has a distinct advantage.  Will women in our infantry enhance a psychological advantage, or hinder it?  Second, if it’s about fairness, why do women get a choice of whether to serve in the infantry (when men do not), and why aren’t they required to register for the draft (as men are)?  

It may be that we live in a society in which honest discussion of this issue, relying on facts instead of volume, is not possible.  If so, our national security will fall victim to hope instead of reality.  And myths be damned. 

Bravo! Finally, some senior Marine officers speak - sanely. The generals make good points. But good points, with facts, are proving not to matter. At least not yet.

So though he was not a Marine, I'm with Samuel Goldwyn - give me the smart idiot.

As time eventually sorts out all of nature's chaos, man-made disaster or otherwise, so it will; again. And the fittest - that undefeatable foolproof mix of brawn and brain - will prevail.

In the meantime, fox or not, stupid geniuses up!

Post Script

For a bit more insight into Lieutenant General Newbold's thinking, and character. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1181629,00.html

And then ask, 'Where are the senior active duty flag officers, and most assuredly there are some who adamantly disagree with women in ground combat, willing to put their stars on the line - to retire in protest?' Or, might they, too, be party to the brilliance?

Author's Endnote

General Robert H. Barrow, USMC - Senate Armed Services Committee testimony. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy--whDNNKk


Jacob said...

While I am not an advocate for women in the infantry, most of the arguments I have read on the subject seem to be based more on emotion disguised as logic than anything else. There is one oft-repeated position in particular that needs to be challenged: While it is true that the nature of warfare has not changed, the way in which we fight has - dramatically. If Chesty Puller were in command today, he'd end up in Leavenworth. The numerous retired generals who are beating the drum on the women in ground combat issue served honorably and valorously in their time, but have to realize that their time has passed and that the majority of society sees them as irrelevant relics. Our present American society has proven that it cannot stomach the loss of a few thousand servicemembers over the course of a decade; can you imagine the reaction if we fought Iwo Jima or the Chosin Reservoir today? War has not changed, but the socio-political environment has. The war-stories of old gray generals ring absolutely hollow to a general public that has little knowledge and less understanding of past conflicts. This is a counterinsurgency fight - we have to win the hearts and minds of the politicians who make policy and those who support them.

If we truly want to make a solid argument against the introduction of women into the ground combat specialties, we need to be willing to challenge the very premises on which our arguments are made, discard those that don't stand up to scrutiny, and focus on those that are water-tight. Stop talking about what women can't do (most of it is total BS anyway) and tales of past wars and focus on more relevant topics. Pounding the drum on fallacies like "women can't endure hardship like men can" and "women can't kill like men can" just makes us sound like idiots, because they are totally untrue. The fear that standards will be lowered is another boogeyman. We have to train our male Marines to get them to a particular standard, so why should we assume that women can't be trained to the same standard? If anything, this should be our loudest rallying cry - "YES! Gender-neutralize the standards without lowering them!" This is the best trap we could possibly lay: if the current male standards became gender-neutral, it would disqualify so many women that the drive to put them in the combat arms would be completely undermined. If politicians or interest groups complained about the reduction in women, then they would be forced to admit that women cannot compete with men on a level playing field and are not, in fact, equal. Win-win.

Here are a couple of arguments to stand on that will carry more weight than anecdotes of war from bygone eras:

1.) Women are more likely to suffer physical injury and require longer recovery than men. Studies of sports injuries are ample enough support for this argument, and it's based on solid, measurable facts. Injuries are expensive in both lost productivity and medical costs. In today's fiscally-constrained environment we can't afford either.
2.) Pregnancy is a problem. Any male Marine who through gross negligence or deliberate act created a physical condition that took him out of the fight for over a year would probably be charged with malingering. This standard will have to extend to women as well, and the Corps is going to have a heck of a fight figuring out how to crack that nut.

So to wrap up this long comment, if we want to win this fight, we have to stick to relevant and rock-solid arguments and focus on those who directly and indirectly make the decisions. Maneuver warfare is what we do - this is our kind of fight.

A Colonel of Truth said...

Jacob (et al.),

Thanks for opining.

More seasoned Marines (old and gray or not) can, with fact, counter the position(s) you cite. And have. But they are tired of the nonsense.

Bottom line: An all-female ground combat unit, of any sort, should be able to perform as capably (or better) as an all-male unit.

The inclusion of women, however done, should serve only to strengthen unit combat readiness and efficiency - and ultimately odds of survival when all hell breaks loose. No one has yet to proffer that argument.

And that goes to national security - socio-political arena and the ignorant American people, clueless both, be damned. They don't care because they don't know what they don't know (as a wise old gray general once opined).

PS That your argument, and tone, dismisses the experiences of past warriors (especially Marines) is in line with the sad reality that our shallow, disposable culture tosses aside most everything of value (that has a little wear and tear) - including old people. And that is shameful. Many cultures, with far more longevity than ours, revere the aged. That alone merits more than a fleeting thought.