At the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outgoing defense secretary Leon Panetta announced today that female service members will now formally be allowed to serve in combat roles.
According to the Washington Post:
The Army, by far the largest fighting force, currently excludes women from nearly 25 percent of active-duty roles. A senior defense official said the Pentagon expects to open “many positions” to women this year; senior commanders will have until January 2016 to ask for exceptions.
Congratulations to the forces for taking another step towards gender equality. I think anyone who would like to risk his or her life for U.S. safety should be commended, and I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Anu Bhagwati, a former marine and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, who said, “Every time equality is recognized and meritocracy is enforced, it helps everyone, and it will help professionalize the force.”
Unfortunately, some of the more short-sighted among us, including Newsweek editor David Frum, don't see it this way. Frum went on CNN to enumerate his concerns.
In response to Frum's "three points."
1. Women will cause—and have already caused—a decrease in overall military qualifications.
The U.S. Army has not lowered physical fitness or endurance standards for all because women are in the forces. Period. There are different physical standards for men and women in some parts of the military. In others, such as the U.S. Army Rangers, men and women are held to exactly the same fitness standard. To insinuate that everyone now gets to do forty push-ups and join the army because that's what women can pass with just isn't accurate. (Spoiler alert: All active-duty women can do more push-ups than David Frum.)
2. There is a risk of harm to female personnel in combat, including rape and sexual abuse.
First off, we must dispel the notion that women don't serve in combat already. This announcement makes it formal, but women have long served on the front lines. Many people—women AND men—are raped every day in the military, both in combat and simply via solider-on-solider crime in their units. Sexual abuse and torture are problems that plague all people in war zones, not just women. The problem is already there; it is not waiting to happen.
3. The stress on military families is too great.
Families break up under the stress of deployment, PTSD, death in combat as well as a host of other issues that accompany military service. Numerous families have a father or mother deployed right now. The challenges these families face will not change. There will just be new, formally recognized opportunities for women who are already in the forces.
Women formally serve in combat in many countries already, including Canada, Israel, New Zealand and Australia. America has set a smart precedent by joining their ranks.