Resolved: Women In Combat Results In A Suboptimal Military: Update

womansoldierEvery woman soldier I’ve seen on TV and in the movies is just as tough as—wait, strike that—is tougher than any man.

There always comes the scene where some muscle-bound he-man disses the angry chick and pow! she lets him have it. Ouch! After this not-male-bonding-slash-humiliation the once-he-man learns to respect. He’s learns his lesson. Women are no different than men.

And this is only right. Every combat situation in which women are filmed they wield the same swords as men, fire the same guns, walk as far, run as fast, carry as much, curse better, fight as hard, and kick more ass. The 80s are over: there isn’t a movie now which doesn’t end with the lone woman left alive to best the bad guy—which she always does.

That’s entertainment. Reality is a tad different.

For starters, women in the military don’t really have the same requirements as men. They don’t have to walk as far, run as fast, carry as much, or anything else. For example in the flying high Air Force, in which Yours Truly spent many quality years, the women were required to do push-ups just like the men, but on their knees to make it easier.

I went to sick call only once for a gastro-digestive condition properly labeled “violent” (this was in Okinawa, and I’ll eat anything). Sick call was early; when you got there you had to talk to a nurse, retrieve your medical records, then sit and wait. There were about 30 people waiting the morning I arrived: me, another guy, and a bunch of women.

My record was a manila folder in which was a piece of paper saying I was me. The other guy had similar paperwork. The women looked like they were working on scrapbooks; each record was bulging, in one or two cases the manila folders were augmented by second or third folders.

Now that is what is known as an anecdote, the source of anecdotal information, information which is frowned upon by your better class of empiricists. It shouldn’t be. Anecdotes are fine evidence, particularly when they are corroborated, as this one is. I discovered my experience was not unusual: women in general receive more medical care than men. This is just what we hear from progressives and feminists, too. It’s in the press daily.

The reasons why women are on average frailer, smaller, and softer are biological, scientific, mathematical even. But these are details which needn’t concern us here. We need only accept this humble truth, while also acknowledging the corollary that some woman are just as sturdy, large, and hard as some men (but not at the top; for example, this). Given all that, we can write this proposition:

Women should not be in combat because allowing women in combat results in a fighting force less optimal than one comprised of men.

That proposition follows from the truth we accepted conjoined with the premise that robust physical abilities are overwhelmingly necessary in optimal fighting forces.

The proposition remains true if we add evidence to it. For example, the observational truth “Women have served honorably and died in combat.” They have also served dishonorably and lived. Another: Other countries do it. Counter: Still other countries don’t. Another: “I can’t see a good reason why women wouldn’t make good soldiers.” Counter: I can. Another: Physical strength and endurance aren’t always necessary. Counter: They almost always are in combat. Another: John McCain said it’s okay. Counter: Is this the John McCain you didn’t vote for?

There’s no point in continuing. Everybody except academics knows and accepts the proposition, even the people who say they don’t believe it. So why did Leon Panetta (at the behest of his boss) say women should be in combat? He knows, as just said, that this will result in a sub-optimal fighting force.

It must be that he thinks our military is so strong that it can take a “ding” like this and still be able to beat up any other country’s military with one of our branches tied behind our backs. It will be, too, for a while. Or maybe it’s because the political rewards for accepting sub-optimality outweigh the decline in fighting ability. Lot of warm, glowing praise from the press, and there’s nothing a Washington insider desires more.

On the other hand, it could be that Leon Panetta watches too many movies.

Update I had thought it obvious, but I guess not. See Ape Man’s comment, and other comments about the higher (on average) aggressiveness of males, a quality also known by all, and the differences between sexes in how they think. All taking the counter position must at least answer this question: should women destined for combat roles be held to the same, undiminished standards as men?

If you say “yes” then you are at least consistent, if you say no—and accept the current situation where standards are much lower for females—then you are being inconsistent.

No fair lying. I mean, you can’t say, “Sure they should” all the while knowing in your heart that they won’t be (and they won’t be).


  1. Luis Dias

    I can however see an argument where a soldier’s performance isn’t as fundamental today as it were, say, 50 years ago, and this last proposition is (and will be) increasingly true, viz a viz technologies which take care of stuff like “horsepower” and so on. (for instance check current research about exoskeletons that are able to carry 150 kg per soldier without sweat). OTOH, the presence of women in the military can be viewed as of an increasing importance as a sociopolitical message to the third world country’s utterly despicable mysoginy. “Hey, our women are not only our equal, they can kick your ****in ass too!”

    I’m not saying I disagree with you (I don’t), I am just forwarding a possible argument that isn’t completely stupid.

  2. Rich

    Granted the fact of military suboptimality, what about its degree? If “combat” is today overwhelmingly a matter of firearms rather than hand-to-hand doesn’t our earlier argument about the equalising effect of firearms mean that a partly female military will be almost as good as an all-male military rather than seriously and battle-losingly below par? This occurs to me as the news item run in GB about this had hot chicks with assault rifles with the voice-over.

  3. Les Johnson

    If women are smaller, frailer and weaker, why do most husbands have the bejesus scared out of them by their wife?

    And yes, I am included in the above group as well.

  4. Briggs


    Domestic conflicts are an entirely different sort of warfare. Best on most occasions to surrender unconditionally.

  5. Sander van der Wal

    “Monstrous Regiment”, by Terry Pratchett.

  6. Les Johnson

    Briggs: I heartily agree. Occasionally, beating a retreat to the local pub helps, but only in the short term.

  7. Kevin B

    There is a theory, popular among grunts everywhere, that once all the pretty boys with their pretty toys have knocked each other out, war devolves into a mano a mano slugfest in which the age old infantry virtues are once more put to the test.

    The ability to plod through mud, (for all battlefields turn to mud), while carrying heavy loads, (for the trucks all broke down long ago), and then to fight becomes paramount.

    Those grunts who survive to fight that fight will, I submit, be mostly male.

  8. TJ

    Kudos (I suppose) to WM for not directly pulling out the whole “Women make men act like apes and men and women can’t work together in a pressured situation” argument you often get.

    I think you are vastly overestimating how “robust physical abilities” you need to be to be a good soldier (and not a pack mule). Among the male soldiers you have a large variation in natural “robustness”, some are large, some are small, and I have yet to see a call for testostorone tests that keep the less potentially muscly men out of the army. male and female soldiers should have to pass identical tests to do combat service, which, looking at the tests, definitely wouldn’t keep women out. (well trained women surpassing the maximum requirements for the female PFT leading to tests being revised, )

    The biggest flaw in your argument is your insistence on “optimal”, military units, maybe save special forces, are not “optimal”, military personnel is well-trained and capable, but the military takes in _everyone_ then gives them basic training and ships them out, it is important that they are physically fit, but if you really think that the existing forces composed of all men are “optimal”, I think you are deluding yourself, and your argument that the inclusion of women who want to fight somehow makes the army so much less optimal that it would lead to losing our war against third world slightly trained peasants, you a making a very specious argument.

    I am not arguing that women are as strong as men, they aren’t, it’s a biological fact that women can not build as much muscle as men, but that’s not really the question, you don’t need to be a beefcake to be a good soldier. What is relevant is whether women can be strong enough to be relevant combat forces, and given the variety of male soldiers, I think you need stronger arguments than the fantasy-induced optimality one you have made here.

  9. As a female, I have to ask myself “why”? Maybe I fell for the “women are mothers and nurturing” line that God (nature, if you don’t believe in God) at one time bestowed upon women. In addition to violent video games, no male model, now mommy marches off to war to kill people. Killing and fighting are now normal for both sexes. We do see this female behaviour occurring in gangs, but this can only accelerate the mess. Watch for “Betty takes on the 8th battalion” video games soon.
    Physical prowess is necessary and the requirements will be watered-down. We had a female news anchor allegedly pass the “almost no man can pass” firefighter test. A news anchor. The fire department swore they did not change anything on it……
    One bright piece of information with the news. Only 113 women put in for 1000 openings available for women in combat. Maybe men want this more than women? Politicians certainly seem to.

  10. JH

    The question is whether patriotic women should be allowed to perform certain combat duties if they pass the same standards. Nobody is denying that men are more physically fit than women in general, but undoubtedly there are women who can meet those standards. Isn’t it better to choose qualified soldiers than to pre-eliminate candidates due to their lack of certain body parts?

  11. Sylvain Allard

    Well, of course, people like you prefer to disregard that women have already been in combat, and perform just as well as other men.

    Not all men are able to carry the same weight and no women will be able to carry as much as those men that are at the top. But, for the stronger women will be more than likely to be able to compete with the average male. While it would be surprising to see a women succesfully pass the requrement for seals, there are many that will be able to meet the standard of the average male.

    The same argument have been used against women everywhere. At the work place before women had to step in to replace the men gone to war. Firefighters, police, doctors, it was all the same fight, yet women proved themselves to be just as able. And now, very few people other than misogynous male.

  12. Ken

    RE: Women in combat

    . IT’s NOT just about talent, capability to perform the duty.
    . In fact, that might be a superflous consideration relative to politics.

    Recall the US Army’s Jessica Lynch situation–female soldier in a support role happens by bad luck, etc. to become a prisoner of war (POW)…and this makes national/international news and leads to a special rescue mission–with international press coverage. Nobody ever claimed that young woman soldier couldn’t do the job–that consideration was irrelevant.

    And don’t think for a minute that all that press didn’t influence how many aspects of that war was being conducted, or not, in ways that never would occur if no female were involved. The fact is, all that press attention DID drive military operational & tactical decision-making in ways that would not have occurred otherwise.

    That’s “political pressure” from the population–including citizens of foreign countries–directly influencing & modifying US military tactical & strategic battle planning & prosecution.

    How is that good–especially political pressure from foreign country citizens to which our elected leadership is sensitive relative to prosectuing US national interests via military action?

    CONSIDER FURTHER: When those young women, combat soldiers become ex-POWs, come home abused in ways males do not, and some come home pregnant by their foreign enemy/ies, and some will (and given that the US military all volunteer force attracts a predominantly active Christian subset of the broader population we can be certain that a sizeable proportion of those pregnant gang-raped ex-POWs will not select abortions)…how do you think that will affect how the elected civilian leadership directs — in response to pressure from the population [both US & foreign!]– the US military leadership in conducting military operations?

    Perhaps more vindictive attacks…perhaps a cowardly retreat…we don’t know how/what form it will take…..

    ….but recent history proves that such factors WILL have a profoundly distracting influence all out of proportion to the military or broad strategic objectives.

  13. Tom Bri

    All true, Mr Briggs, but unless we start mandating more women and fewer men, it probably won’t matter much. There just won’t be that many women who will want to be in combat. I expect a lot fewer females enlisting, if they think they’ll have to fight.

  14. harrywr2

    Les Johnson on 25 January 2013 at 8:03 am said:

    “If women are smaller, frailer and weaker, why do most husbands have the bejesus scared out of them by their wife?”

    Because mothers instill into their sons minds at the ripe old age of 1 or 2 or possibly 3 that they are all seeing and all powerful.

  15. Ape Man


    Have you ever read a study of the average real combat loads of a modern infantryman? For some MOS it is above 100 pounds. For the average dismount it is over 80. And combat loads don’t care how big you are. You still have to carry the same mount of ammo, weapons, commo gear, first aid kits, MRE’s, Water, and whatnot.

    But the biggest problem with the way the modern military does things is that it holds females and males to a different standard. PT standards are different for Males and Females for the same MOS. Why bounce a man out of a job for having a PT scores that would allow a female to pass with flying colors?

    The bottom line is that no one truly believes that females would get certain jobs at the same rate as males if they were held to same standard. So the standards are changed for the sake of diversity.

  16. Yawrate

    Most women are not as physically capable as most men. But if the physical fitness requirements for men were applied to women, then this argument is moot. And I could rest assured.

    However, the biggest obstacle is small unit cohesion. Human nature being hard to ignore, the squad & platoon leaders WILL have intimate relationships with the women serving in their units. This WILL affect the operation of the unit in the field. Will the unit leaders take their relationships into consideration when dangerous assignments arise? You bet they will! Will women work themselves into a position to benefit in these circumstances? Oh, yes!

    If combat positions are now open to women, why are they not required to register for Selective Service?

    One last point. Why did Israel change it’s policy about women in combat roles?

  17. Agree with Sheri and Ken. We’re cutting back on military, Why do this now? It’s not a NEED, It’s a WANT. So the reason is obviously political.

    Briggs is spot on with his post but irrelevant. The issue was never about how deadly women can be, IMO it is driven be the reality a majority of the highest level command positions historically go to candidates with direct combat command experience, and the corollary most female candidates have been barred from receiving said skills. THAT’s the problem facing the WH. The political reality many of their fans are not treated equally at command promotion time.

    My further opinion is they’ve picked the coward’s solution. Their decision seems to address the problem but kicks that can down the road for a decade or two, at least. What’s not to love? Win-win.

  18. Further to my last paragraph above, with retrenchment going full steam /sarc/ the WH can now ensure an itty-bitty handful of hand-picked candidates are “merged” into a combat unit or two, and for the next four years arrange assignments so those units are never, ever placed in harms way. Beginning 2017 and on future administrations can worry about the handsprings they must perform when another “Jessica Lynch” event occurs. So it’s all good, then.

  19. Katie

    I think this is residue of “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better” chorus of the women’s movement, whose mission wasn’t necessarily about protecting the welfare, well-being, and economic power of women, but rather to further blur the “gender” lines and undermine women’s reproductive capacity.

  20. I am taller and stronger than the average woman, but only around the 80th percentile. So about 20% of women are physically stronger than me. I could probably dominate half of those by virtue of a more highly testosterone-fuelled aggressive nature, but that leaves about one woman in ten who could probably have whupped my ass in my prime if properly trained to. If I had been in the right age cohort and location I could easily have passed muster to enter combat-ready military service, but one of those “nasty” women would have been a better protector for my country.

    In general, it only makes sense to pre-select on the basis of population averages when the variable(s) of interest are hard to assess directly.
    Perhaps, dear Briggs, its time to review some Statistics.

  21. Tom

    If a woman wants to serve in combat, there should be no hurdles.

    Republican Platform – We Believe in America.

    “We offer our Republican vision of a free people using their God-given talents, combined with hard work, self-reliance, ethical conduct, and the pursuit of opportunity, to achieve great things for themselves and the greater community.”

  22. Briggs


    Oh tsk tsk. See the update and answer the question.I don’t think people fully appreciate the differences we’re considering.


    You do see how your opening statement can be turned around, I trust (think sports)?


    Click on Mike Johnson’s links. We like Fred here.


    Absolutely, 100% yes, yes we should remove those who lack certain body parts from combat duty. My goodness yes we should. What a strange thing to think we wouldn’t.

  23. Katie

    When will men, frustrated with the high bar for men’s physical fitness, start to say that they should be held to the same standard as women to be considered fit for active duty?

  24. Doug M

    I am going to have to disagree with your premise.

    There exists a subset of women who meet or exceed the minimum qualifications for various combat job. If your goal is to find the best people for each available military job, should you automatically exclude as women for a particular job title then you will not maximize effectiveness. The optimal ratio may turn out to be 90% male, but it would not be 100% male.

    Performance at the top… Wasn’t the best Olympic shooter female?

    I am under the impression that one of the leading groups of agitators are female officers who think that their lack of combat experience is limiting their potential for advancement too higher leadership positions.

  25. Briggs

    Doug M,

    The number who do so (see the Fred link for a better description) is miniscule. And then there’s the agressiveness and other mental attitudes requisite in a combat solider.

    No, the number of women who make it would be tiny. Having to make substantial considerations, compromises for such a small number isn’t worth the costs.

    As I’ve said many times, the worst crime there is in our society is to hurt somebody’s feelings.

  26. Briggs


    The relevant Fred quote:

    …Let’s take 100 males just out of basic training, and 100 females, also just out of basic and chosen at random. Let’s take them all to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in a rainy October. We’ll put sixty-pound packs on them, give them rifles and a full load-out of ammo.

    Then we’ll force-march them, at a fast pace set by an infantry sergeant, until they drop. I mean literally drop: can’t stand up any longer. No stress time-outs, no little green cards to wave, no trucks to carry their gear, no slowing down. Hump till they fall. This is what happens in combat: grim, unremitting physical effort with no sleep…

    If the women keep up, I’ll shut up. If they keep up, all critics of putting women in the infantry will have to shut up. Here is a wonderful opportunity for radical feminists everywhere. But know what? I’ll get a lot of screeching and howling because of this column, accusing me of sexism and patriarchy. What I won’t get is a call by feminists to make the test. They know what would happen.

  27. rank sophist

    Briggs, you’re a very good statistician; but you have a bad habit of making uninformed, prejudiced guesstimations based on random anecdotes and cherrypicked data. Remember your rant about how Obama would lose because of something some taxi driver told you? Remember how you linked me to that conservative study that omitted all but two right-leaning polls to prove that Romney would win? Yeah. It’s like that. This is the kind of thing that separates the good from the brilliant–someone like Nate Silver, who is capable of looking at the data with fresh eyes.

    If you want to present real data to back up your claim that women make the military weaker, particularly when they’re fighting with high-tech guns instead of (say) broadswords, then go right ahead. I realize that it isn’t something that can be easily quantified. That’s the point. What you’re doing here is engaging in diarrhea of the mouth. You have taken X amount of anecdotal evidence, combined it with Y number of generalizations, and then reached a conclusion that was presupposed in your own model. Isn’t that what you criticize scientists for doing?

    Let me offer an equally compelling counter-narrative. Since we know that some women are stronger than others (your data), and that male soldiers aren’t all at the very top of the scale you posted (law of averages), it follows that there are some women who will be as tough or tougher than some soldiers. Now let’s make another generalization: women don’t usually like violence, aggression and extreme physical exertion. But any woman joining a combat section of the military is signing up for all three. This leads me to posit that the women who sign up for combat duty are in the minority.

    The question is raised: is the minority of physically strong women also the minority that likes aggression and exertion? Intuitively, the answer seems to be yes. Data-wise? I don’t know. It would have to be studied. But, as it stands, it’s no less believable than your case.

    Regardless, I think I’m going to stop coming to this blog for awhile. The witty, incisive commentary on bad statistics that drew me here has more and more given way to incoherent conservative rambling based on pre-existing biases and manipulated numbers. I learned a lot–and I continue to be grateful for the opportunity you gave me to write for your blog. I share your dislike for liberalism, even if not to the same degree. I think that America is going to hell in a handbasket. But I don’t watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh, and I try to avoid outlets of the same spittle-flecked blind rage, which forsake reason in favor of presupposition. Both the left and right have been consumed by this tendency–and, I’m sorry to say, so too has this blog.

  28. Briggs


    Pretty good!

    But one mustn’t confuse obviously hyperbolic posts like the taxi driver, and my mistaken model (far from the only one, cf Gallup; and which I admitted fully on the wishcasting analysis), with informed commentary, such as this post.

    Now one cannot in 750 words spell out each and every argument. We have to come at these with some assumed shared knowledge.

    Like this: It is a fact that women are portrayed in the media as physical equals of men. It is a fact and not a theory that women now in the military must meet lower standards to be considered “equivalent.” It is a fact that we do not (yet?) have pocket lasers weighing only a few grams which can be toted by anybody; weapons are heavy and the conditions to carry them are arduous (see Fred for eloquent description). It is a fact that men are stronger, tougher, etc., and certainly far more aggressive, etc. etc. etc.

    From these and other similar indisputable facts I make the inference that women should be denied entry into combat positions. The few who manage to perform the same as the men are not worth the trouble to accommodate because of other obvious reasons. Vive la différence and so forth. I am far from the only one making this inference; many “brass” make it, too.

    I’m betting you haven’t served and haven’t the practical experience that some of us had? That so? Can you challenge my sick call anecdote, for instance? Are you saying that if tomorrow the military instituted the same, undiminished standards for females that the resultant cry and fury would not deafen? Given that many top jobs require previous combat experience are you sure this isn’t just politics? Do we want OB/GYNs to be on the battlefield? Or do we dismiss women from combat duty so that they can become pregnant, when they are pregnant, and when they are nursing? Of course, then we’d have to “credit” them with “experience” while they are so laid up, lest they fall behind their male counterparts. Etc.

    And even if we all accept that if the women who want and can muster the same exact effort should be allowed combat duty, do you really think—I ask again—that this criterion would stand? Women would wash about in enormous numbers. The New York Times would be displeased. We don’t need to “study” this, and it’s disingenuous to say we should. We already have thousands of years of “data”.

    No, sir. You’re going to have to do better than to just say my arguments are “incoherent conservative rambling.” You’re going to have to counter the if possible.

    I’m also sorry to hear that you don’t watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh—why is it, incidentally, admitting this is taken as a badge of honor among so many? it’s like those folks who say, “I only listen to NPR”; yeesh. I particularly like the views on Special Report, especially Charles Krauthammer, that spittle-flecked correspondent for the Washington Post. If you want to limit your sources of information to the major networks, that’s fine.

    And if you don’t want to drop by here anymore, well, that’s okay, but we’d miss you. If you have actual arguments to make against my side, instead of just vague charges like “incoherent conservative rambling”, then by all means make them. I’ll be happy to show where you’re wrong. Or, in the rare instances where I’m wrong, I’ll admit to my mistake.

  29. Briggs


    I’m asking you that question, Tom.

    As far as NCAA, sports go. Eliminate Title IX! Cointegrate all. Let the best person make the team regardless of sex. Let’s see what happens. No separate contests in any event. Male runners and female runners side by side. What fun!

    Only we must promise no lawsuits for “discrimination” if the hoped for quotas aren’t met. Deal?

  30. rank sophist


    Since you were kind enough to provide such a long response, I’ll stick around at least long enough to answer.

    First, I don’t deny that the portrayal of women in media suits a liberal agenda. Showing them being the physical equals or superiors to men is just the tip of the iceberg–consider the omnipresent overtones of radical “sexual liberty” and so forth. Nor do I think that it’s a good idea to train men and women according to different standards, since this does indeed weaken the military overall. If you put a strong-bodied man and a frail man into boot camp, would you let the latter carry less just because he’s unfit for duty? I can’t think of a justification for this move. Likewise, if we’re talking about equality, then women need to be treated according to the same standard.

    However, once you start talking about how men are naturally stronger, naturally more aggressive, naturally tougher and so forth, you are making a claim about statistical averages. Even if the average man is stronger than the average woman, neither person is more than a statistical fiction created out of trends and extremes. The average man does not join the military, because the average man does not exist. Only single men, who actually exist, can join the military. Now, out of these men, some are strong; others weak. Some are naturally aggressive and others are timid. Some are fit for duty and others are not. In the same way, only single women can join the military; and some will be fit for duty, while others will not be.

    Now, your argument against allowing these fit women to serve in combat positions is that it will create sexual tension. However, considering the statistics we have of sexual abuse in the military already, I seriously doubt that allowing women to serve officially and thus get promotions will make this any worse. (Notably, these women and, more rarely, men also generally suck it up when they’re abused, which requires a serious amount of psychological fortitude.) If anything, it might improve the situation by giving women more representation at higher levels. On the other hand, if the concern is romantic attachment in a unit rather than sexual abuse, then it seems misplaced. The brotherly attachments that male soldiers already form in war, due to the extreme circumstances, are often deeper than romance as it is–and I’ve never seen those blamed for dysfunction in a unit.

    I’m betting you haven’t served and haven’t the practical experience that some of us had? That so? Can you challenge my sick call anecdote, for instance? Are you saying that if tomorrow the military instituted the same, undiminished standards for females that the resultant cry and fury would not deafen? Given that many top jobs require previous combat experience are you sure this isn’t just politics? Do we want OB/GYNs to be on the battlefield? Or do we dismiss women from combat duty so that they can become pregnant, when they are pregnant, and when they are nursing? Of course, then we’d have to “credit” them with “experience” while they are so laid up, lest they fall behind their male counterparts. Etc.

    I have not served in the military, it is true. And I cannot challenge your anecdote except on the grounds that anecdotes make for lousy statistics. However, I don’t think that a feminist outcry is any reason to prevent women from serving under the same rules as men, nor do I think that it’s wrong to allow women to get those top jobs you mentioned. Why would it be, by the way? Top jobs in the military are not physically strenuous, so I can’t see why a capable woman shouldn’t be allowed to get one through ground experience. On the matter of pregnancy, I have no comment–except that a military woman on leave should know better than to get pregnant if she expects to serve again soon.

    And even if we all accept that if the women who want and can muster the same exact effort should be allowed combat duty, do you really think—I ask again—that this criterion would stand? Women would wash about in enormous numbers. The New York Times would be displeased. We don’t need to “study” this, and it’s disingenuous to say we should. We already have thousands of years of “data”.

    We also have thousands of years of data in which women were not educated, and thus were by and large considered to be irrational. Even Thomas Aquinas, whose philosophy I try to live by, took it for granted that women were not particularly intelligent. Further, until the last few hundred years, combat involved hacking at one another with sharp objects: something that very few women, particularly in those times, would be strong enough to handle. We live in a new era, and we have to gather new data. As for the feminist and liberal complaints, they’ll quiet down eventually. The New York Times even saw fit to publish a letter recently that argued for equal treatment in the military–perhaps a suggestion that liberals are starting to understand how war works.

    I’m also sorry to hear that you don’t watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh—why is it, incidentally, admitting this is taken as a badge of honor among so many? it’s like those folks who say, “I only listen to NPR”; yeesh. I particularly like the views on Special Report, especially Charles Krauthammer, that spittle-flecked correspondent for the Washington Post. If you want to limit your sources of information to the major networks, that’s fine.

    I don’t trust news sources in general, particularly in the US. Basically every news organization in this country is laced with spin of one kind or another, and so you always have to be careful not to fall into confirmation bias. However, Rush Limbaugh and most of Fox News seem to me to be the angriest and least rational sources of information in this country, aside from people like Bill Maher and Chris Matthews, or a channel like MSNBC. Hatred and bitterness clash with what I understand Christianity to be about, and so I avoid them. In any case, though, I don’t pay a ton of attention to the news when it isn’t election season–and, when it is, I try to draw from as wide of a pool as possible to avoid brainwashing myself.

    And if you don’t want to drop by here anymore, well, that’s okay, but we’d miss you.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re not fed up with me yet, but I think I’m still going to take a break. I find politics to be draining rather than enriching–I prefer a good metaphysical debate any day.

  31. anona

    We need more politicians in combat, especially the ones who want to keep thrusting the US into ever more needless wars.

  32. MattS


    “We need more politicians in combat, especially the ones who want to keep thrusting the US into ever more needless wars.”

    The earliest form of germ warfare was using catapults to launch diseased corpses over the walls of castles and other fortifications.

    I here by propose that we build a giant catapults in Alaska and Texas. They will be used to launch career politicians into Russia and Mexico.

  33. Noblesse Oblige

    Hey, Didn’t all begin in the 80s, with Sigourney Weaver as superbabe and last man standing in the original Alien?

  34. Sander van der Wal

    Aren’t wars won by having superior weaponry, logistics and political skill? If you are the person able to survive that brutal marching ordeal that and your opponent is capable of using that fact in a political ploy to paint you as a mindless brute, what is the point?

  35. DAV

    Fred’s a fibber unless that first Fred link was written 10 years ago. In

    Maybe you haven’t been afoot in a war zone. I have. In the mid-Sixties in was in armor in Viet Nam with the Marine Corps

    then later

    I’m 53, five-feet-ten, 180, …

    If he is 53 today then he was born no earlier than 1959. To be “in armor in Viet Nam” in the mid-60’s means he was less than 10 years old.

    But what he says about combat life is true all the same.

  36. A lot of the arguments against this post seem to be based on the fact that there are a lot of women who are fitter and stronger than the average man. This is, of course, true.

    But male combat soldiers are not the ‘average man’. They are at the physical top of the pile. Let’s pick just one measurable element of physical performance: say, upper body strength. Let’s say that to be selected for combat the soldier must be in the top ten per cent of the male population in upper body strength, a not unreasonable assumption given the training and selection.

    So how may women would achieve the same minimum standard?

    One, for every fifteen thousand men.

  37. Briggs: ‘It must be that he thinks our military is so strong that it can take a “ding” like this and still be able to beat up any other country’s military with one of our branches tied behind our backs. It will be, too, for a while.’

    Absolutely, and one must always — as soldiers implicitly do — regard the political aims of the nation as above even their own lives. But do remember, that each woman unable to pull a wounded soldier out of the line of fire, despite her exceptional bravery, through simply the lack of muscle mass with which she has been endowed by nature, will be contributing to the death of her team mate. And if brave, her own.

  38. But perhaps my views should be discounted. I am emotionally invested in this subject since my son is presently serving in the Australian Army in Afghanistan.

    Safely, I hope.

  39. DEEBEE

    rank — given your self professed new consumption habits, your rants become explicable. SImialrly is your comment on Maher, Matthews and MSNBC

  40. I found this: which is a study from 2000 on women on submarines. While some does not apply, the research does seem to back up some of the anecdotal evidence here. And, yes, the military did go ahead and put women on submarines and dealt with this.

    As for women and pregnancy, they should know better, but in reality, humans don’t behave that way. Since pregnancy is treated as a disease now, women can go right back into the service as soon as they can pass the PT. If this is held against them, I expect women’s groups will scream loudly until that nonsense stops and the pregnancy absence has no effect on a woman’s service time.

    Even if a woman is physically fit as a male, women are NOT treated as equal. They demand special treatment, expect extra services, etc. If a woman is a POW, huge PR problem for the military (as noted in a previous comment on this thread). If too many wash out, there WILL be cries to include more. Biology aside, the politics of women is brutal, selfish and tears down any thing its way to prove women are superior, even if they are not. Reality does not enter.

  41. Craig Loehle

    In the gulf war (first one?) Jessica Lynch, a truck driver, was captured. The nation went ape over a woman POW, perhaps because sexual abuse is likely whereas the men are (mostly) just tortured. In a real war, hundreds of female POWs are possible. Are we OK with that?
    One of the important tasks of a soldier is to carry out other wounded soldiers. Can women do this? Mostly not. So what happens? We leave our wounded to die?

  42. Tom


    Thank Goodness the female kicker doesn’t know you.

  43. Rod

    Regarding your anecdote of visiting the medical clinic:

    We all know that men ate notorious for foolishly and stubbornly neglecting their health.

    A man might come down with a case of prostate or testicular cancer in the heat of battle and put his comrades and the entire mission at risk.

  44. Rod

    If we men went to the doctor as often as we should there might not be any wars at all.

  45. Rod

    Yeah DAV. Fred’s site’s good but… 53? If the photos are Fred he looks about 70.

  46. CN

    I was a combat engineer in the Army, served in Afghanistan doing route clearance operations (finding bombs, engaging in combat).

    Forget the physical requirements (they are extensive). Forget the mental aspects (its tough). Here is the part nobody talks about…the bathroom.

    When you are out on a 2 day or more mission, living in a vehicle or on patrol, you don’t have showers, or toilets. The guy next to you, when he has to pee, he drops his pants and goes in a water bottle. When your gunner has to crap, he grabs an empty MRE bag and you pray his aim is good. You are sleeping touching the person next to you.

    Combat places you in an environment where you will be personally encountering the bathroom practices of everyone you fight with.

    Does anyone see why this is an issue?

  47. Ray

    Fred should be about 70 years old. I am 70 and was in vietnam in the late 1960s. I was on a destroyer, not in country, but we used to go into Vungtau and Danang. I was in the Pearl Divers diving club at Pearl Harbor and we had women in the club. A single (steel) tank scuba rig with all your gear weights about 50 lbs and most of the women had a problem with that load. A double tank and gear weights about 100 lbs and the strongest women could hardly stand up, let alone walk. I’m not expecting to see any women in the seals anytime soon.

  48. Rod

    Hey Ray. I think we are right (if not totally happy).

    I had a brother in law whose three brothers and father are still or were firemen. They were descended from the man who discovered fire (who also went on to become a fireman). I’m just a guy who worked in nursing for about 20 years.

    About 20 years ago they relaxed the requirements for height, weight and physical fitness. Maybe so as not to discriminate against the crippeled (doesn’t seem to allow me to spell the word).

    This is not misogyny, it’s fact.

  49. JJD

    No need to speculate about the pros and cons of having females on the front lines. The Canadian military has “equal opportunity” for women in combat, so it should not be difficult to find some facts and statistics to see how that works out in practice.

    For those who aren’t aware, Canada did part of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan while the USA was busy with Iraq, so the records should include data from serious combat.

  50. Ladies and Gentlemen, and DAV, this is not the first time this particular question has raced past the post of public opinion. Fred’s comments could have been written for one of the earlier flybys but still apply today. Once again it is not a decision made to field the best possible force, but a choice to waste public funds, and potentially lives, merely to appease a political base.

    CN’s bathroom comments are spot on. A combat team in any imaginable violent situation is not the place to make stakeholders a continent away happy at the expense of the effectiveness and lives of team members. It’s just plain stupid policy.

  51. DAV

    49erDweet, I see you have astutely noted that I am neither a Lady nor a Gentleman. 🙂

    Wasn’t saying Fred is wrong. I was merely pointing to a possible inconsistency.

  52. DAV


    Could be. The Network Solutions entry for the site was created 17-Jun-2000 which means today he would be 53+13 = 66.

  53. Sylvain Allard

    It is really amazing to see the idiocies that you guys are writing.
    Yes, on average women are weaker than men and in any sport the strongest man will beat the strongest woman. Yet the difference is not miles apart and the best women are stronger than a vast majority of male.
    In speed skating the difference in world records between male and female for the 5000m is less than 30sec.
    In London, last summer, at the triathlon and on the same course the time difference between the male winner and female winner was about 13 min. for a course of 54.5 km. or in speed 0.057km.
    Soldier who fought alongside women in combat, in the last ten year are vastly in favor of allowing women in combat, while soldier who object have usually never fought alongside women. And remember that there were similar comments about gays in the military. Yet many gays have received medals of Honor in combat and not a lot of soldier complain about have openly gays in their unit.
    As for forced walk, I don’t remember a lot of soldiers walking during operation Iraqi freedom since they were all in transport vehicule.

    Women are not all incapable and frail human being has some of you seems to think.

  54. In answer to your Update question:

    YES, of course they should! (and I said so in my blog post)

    (Sorry for the delay in responding, but my request for email notification of follow-ups seems not to have been effective)

  55. CN

    Not a lot of walking?

    I clearly remember walking in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan. I remember hiking miles in full battle gear over mountain tops. Depending on the area of operation, we often did our clearance dismounted…..a lot of walking.

    Non-combat units don’t do a lot of walking on missions. Transportation companies or MP escorts going from point A to point B don’t do a lot of walking. Combat units do.

  56. john robertson

    Ignoring the political correctness of the defence dept, women who want to and can do should not be prohibited from serving.
    If one has the physical and mental toughness to do a soldiers job, especially in this age with our leaders trying to hamstring you as you fight,our media heaping abuse and lies on soldiers heads and ignoring their post service plight, then go for it.
    Past conflicts have shown us sex is no inhibition when it comes to effectively killing other people, sometimes physical strength becomes a combat weakness and alternative ploy’s will defeat an enemy more cheaply.
    Canada makes little distinction and I have not heard too much whining from the rank.

  57. CN

    There is also a lot of confusion about the difference between being in “combat” and being in a “combat unit”. Someone can be sitting on a FOB when that FOB comes under fire….technically that is combat. One can go on a one day mission moving from point A to point B, get ambushed, return fire, and move on….that is being in combat. Women do that.

    Being in a combat unit means being in a unit that will actively go forth and seek combat…..not just stumble into as part of a separate mission. It means going out looking for a fight. The difference is profound because what you will have to do on a regular basis when looking for a fight is quite different than the infrequent engagements that happens sometimes when doing something else.

  58. TomVonk

    Strange to see so many confused, anecdotic or inconsistent words when this question can be answered easily to first order accuracy with only a few numbers.
    So what is the OPTIMAL combat force ?

    What is expected from a soldier in combat is having strength, stamina and accuracy over some fixed limit. After all a combat is all about carrying fast and far a lethal equipment meant to deliver destruction with reasonable accuracy.
    So now suppose that you design a test for these parameters. Those who did military know that this test in all armies of the world consists of carrying 20-30 kg over a distance of a few tens of km from point A to point B under stress and in a limited time.
    Now let us suppose that this time is designed such as 50% of men in age 20-40 will pass the test.
    You make the test public and I hope that everybody agrees that what will come out is an optimal fighting force as far as strength, stamina and accuracy is concerned.
    Let us eliminate accuracy because there is no known gender difference in accuracy.
    For strength and stamina we can look on marathon results where statistically significant results exist (there are more but marathon is a good test of stamina and strength.
    Men do it in average in 4h25 with standard deviation of 1 hour. Women do it in 5 hours with standard deviation of 1 hour. This gives us already an interesting and quite general result – the standard deviations for physical tests are similar for women and men. Only averages are different.
    This allows a reasonable assumption that the distribution is normal with the same standard deviation. It follows that the female average is about a half a sigma from the male average. Now to be more accurate, it is known that the difference in upper body strength is about twice the difference in the lower body strength what allows to estimate that the upper body average for women is about 1 sigma below the average of men. The overall test being a test of both upper and lower body strength and stamina and to be on the safe side, let’s assume that females will be 1 sigma below males.
    And that’s enough to estimate to first order the composition of the optimal combat force :
    50% of men tested will pass. This is how the test was designed.
    16% of women tested will pass.
    Assuming that the same number of men and women was tested, our optimal fighting force will contain about ONE THIRD of women and TWO THIRDS of men. And this with rigorously identical test for both genders. As all armies are far below this optimal number, it shows that cultural and soft (psychological) considerations play a much bigger role than the wish to optimize the fighting force on combat performance only.

  59. TomVonk

    I would add that if the physical test was much harder so that only about 16% of men pass, then the female average would be at 2 sigma and the percentage of women would fall dramatically.
    In that case only about 2% of tested women would pass leading to an optimal composition of 1 woman for 9 men.
    This explains why there are (and can’t be) practically no women in the “elite” forces where the physical requirements are much higher than in the standard combat forces.

  60. Mike Ozanne

    “For strength and stamina we can look on marathon results where statistically significant results exist (there are more but marathon is a good test of stamina and strength.”

    Well no, a marathon is a test of stamina and the ability to manage hypoglycemia, nothing to do with strength. If you look at the top marathon men they are all skinny. Add fatigues, helmet, nbc kit, body armour, weapon ammo, spare belts for the squad auto, spare rockets, water, rations, bedroll,etc.. some of them aren’t making it out of the car park…. So I don’t feel that the analysis you have drawn from this assumption can be considered valid.

    ” it is known that the difference in upper body strength is about twice the difference in the lower body strength what allows to estimate that the upper body average for women is about 1 sigma below the average of men.”

    Well if we look at JANSSEN,HEYMSFIELD,WANG,and ROSS

    Concerning Skeletal muscle mass in men and women we note for example that a 18-29 year old women has a mean SMM of 21.8 Kg with a SD of +- 4.6 Kg with upper body being 8.7 +- 2.6 and lower body 12.5 +- 2.6

    For men in the same age group we have 33.7 +- 5.8 , 14.3 +- 2.9 , 18.5 +- 3.3

    Given this I’m not convinced that your assumptions in the degree of overlap in strength are justified.

  61. Bob Ludwick


    Before accusing Fred of being a ‘fibber’ it may have been useful to check his birthdate and other general bona fides on Wikipedia ( ), where you could have easily learned that he was born in 1945 and was indeed a Marine Corp vet of the Vietnam conflict.

    For those readers whose only familiarity with Fred is the two articles linked above, I think that you would find most, if not all, of his columns to be well written and interesting, whether or not you agreed with him on everything, including ‘a’, ‘and’, and ‘the’ or not. You can find them here:

    in chronological order, newest on top.

  62. DAV

    Bob Ludwick,

    If he published that article yesterday; really was born in 1945; and said he was 53 then he would be fibbing about his age. Notice my sentence read “… a fibber unless…”. The article was undated. Knowing his “birthdate and other general bona fides on Wikipedia” lend no support. Just out of curiosity, how do you know what’s on Wikipedia is true, anyway?

  63. Bob Ludwick


    Actually, this is not the first time that the ‘women in combat’ subject has reared its ugly head and Fred has addressed the subject several times in the past. The columns linked above by Mike Johnson were indeed written by Fred years ago, the one mentioning that he was 53 being #135 in a series that is now at #542.

    At any rate, it is all moot, as you did in fact say ‘IF the column was recent he was fibbing.’ It demonstrably wasn’t and based on the chronology of Fred’s columns was very plausibly written when Fred was indeed 53. (By the way, in the course of writing this, I went back up through the comments and found that I am not the only one defending Fred’s honor; he has been around for years and has inspired a loyal ‘cadre’. They’re doing a fine job, so I’ll stop.)

    As for the Wikipedie credibility issue, I find Wikipedia to be reliably leftist on matters political, but have found no reason (so far) to doubt it on mundane things like regular folks’ birthdays and birthplaces if there is no obvious political connection that would lead them to ‘fudge’ a bit in the cause of leftism. I think Fred’s birthday is safely believable under that caveat.

    If Fred is ‘new’ to you, the fact that you are on this blog and were questioning Fred’s age while agreeing with his premises leads me to believe that you would enjoy many of his other columns, including his ‘Cop Columns’, written for ‘The Washington Times’ years ago. They are still germane. I recommend simply starting at the beginning and slogging onward as time allows. They can all be found at:

  64. Ben

    Couple things.
    I was in the army and fought in Iraq.

    I was on a small fob that only held one battalion ~1200 soldiers roughly 100 were female (medics/intel/mechanics/HQ/supply). One of the points commonly made especially after an incident where a female soldier was involved in an exchange of fire was that everyone around her protected her instead of making the same combat choices they would have in a different situation.

    We Americans at least those who tend to join the military still have some sense of chivalry and it is not natural for us to put women in harms way. Given the choice most men would sacrifice themselves for any woman. This is not even a conscious choice but it is made every time the situation comes up. Unless we stop seeing women as more “important” then men this will not change.

    Several women did get pregnant and were of course sent home others made a fortune shall we say at the oldest profession some with direct superiors which had obvious effects on duties and assignments. Again this is not something that will change but can have a large impact on a fighting force.

    These issues do not even bring up what happens on 36 Hour missions or foot patrols. People will die but its war people always die in the end attitudes will change or they will change the rules back to how they were.

    I don’t care how strong my daughter is I would not want her in a combat unit but would support her being in the military all the way.

  65. Jess

    Enlisted, NCOs, and JOs in the USA military have my sympathies, as always. If they want to understand these changes, they should consider that the USA has goals other than fielding the “optimal” fighting force. The main point of our military is the money funneled to defense contractors and thence back into the political system. Other priorities are subordinate to the maintenance and multiplication of that resource stream. It’s a fair bet that all these new women Senators have expressed strong preferences as to the gender makeup of the combat units. The generals are nothing if not customer-focused.

    We spend more money on our military than the rest of the world put together. As poor a job as our generals do, not even they can overcome that sort of spending margin. If they had to face a decently-run (by the standards of WWII or the French Revolutionary Wars) force with similar resources, we would be pancaked in short order. Thankfully few other nations have political systems that are broken in precisely this way. Pakistan is one, but that military-industrial complex feeds off a much poorer populace, and also is constrained by India. They won’t be a serious threat to the USA anytime soon; in forty years we might have to revisit that assessment.

    It’s clear that gender integration of combat units will have detrimental effects on tactical capability. Fortunately, tactical capability is the one place our military is running a surplus. If the objective requires mere destruction, we can do that. That is one area for which the simple-minded optimization our general staff perform is sufficient. More strategic matters such as occupation, asymmetric warfare, and the national interest are what elude our generals and the politicians they snowjob. I’m not foolish enough to hope that more women in the general staff will alter this dynamic, but they have had that effect in corporate America so it can’t be excluded as a possibility.

  66. John Morris

    Think everyone is missing the point. Ben above came close but didn’t spell it out. I do not fear being politically incorrect so will.

    The problem with women in combat isn’t strength. Assume some women can pass the same physical requirements. Assume they would fight equally as well as the men. Assume any problems related to six within units are solved through application of the same miracle which is to solve the related problem with open homosexuality. Assume we will only get into wars with civilized countries that would honor the Geneva Conventions and not abuse our female P.O.W.s. Assume all that. Still a bad idea.

    Because of the men. We have a volunteer army and most only serve a limited time and then reenter the civilian world. Only two scenarios are really possible:

    1. We retain civilized norms. Men WILL protect women in danger. Is it really required to spell out how this won’t work in a military setting?

    2. The U.S. Army does what it always does, it succeeds. Given orders to place women into combat it develops training methods to remove the inherent protective urge from male soldiers. Great!… We have the same fighting force as before only with a bigger talent pool, total win! Oops, now you have created thousands of males who must never, under any circumstances, be reintroduced into civilized society. Unless you also postulate the highly fictional notion that such conditioning is also 100% reversible.

  67. Meghan Gagnon

    What an incredibly unintelligent and poorly written article. I have to laugh at the arguments the author uses however, I understand this article relates to the US military which thankfully, I am not a part of. I am current serving member of the Canadian Forces, a wife and a mother. The CF standards do not discriminate between the sexes (I have to do the same as any man when performing our fitness test). I am a medic and will often carry more weight on back when out with the troops and when the troops stop to rest, I will still be busy, tending to their needs. The vast array of patients I have seen are predominantly male with various health issues. The author uses arguments drawing on his ‘Air Force’ experience from years ago. I am embarrassed for the author and I have never been more happy to know that I am not American or a serving member of the US military.

  68. While I was in the military for 12 years, I served as a REMF. I was a fuels specialist stationed domestically in the NJ Air National Guard.

    I recall reading Fred’s piece about a decade and a half ago.

    Yes, **some** women have historically served:

    Yet even that chronicle supports two points addressed above: 1] Women served in insignificant numbers compared to men, and 2] disguised as men, women did not elicit the same protective and disruptive influence on unit cohesion.

    In short, the brave exploits of these individuals in no way reflects support for the politically-correct impetus to place women in front line combat roles today.

    I say let’s test this theory empirically so long as when the disastrous outcome predictably occurs, we can hang Secretary Panetta and President Obama for treason against the welfare of the United States.


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