The Warrior Cult - Why Women Cannot be a Part

by Captain John F. Luddy, USMCR

Marine Corps Gazette, December 1994

"I was once asked by a friend to recommend his son for the U.S. Naval Academy. I asked in response, 'Does your son want to be a professional killer?' 'Well no, of course not. He wants to be a peacemaker.' I replied, 'Well, then tell him to enter a seminary.'" -- John Silber, Straight Shooting, 1989.

In 1983, when I was just beginning to fancy myself a man and was looking for a place to prove it, some well-known slogans offered an answer: "The Marines are looking for a few good men;" and "Maybe you can be one of us ... the few, the proud, the Marines." Another was even more direct: "We never promised you a rose garden." The message was clear: To join America's warrior elite would mean some harsh treatment, much physical discomfort, and perhaps emotional discomfort, and no sympathy. I did not expect to be appreciated for the "diversity" I might bring to the Corps or to get much "sensitivity" in return. Like tens of thousands before me and thousands since, I was not to be disappointed. And, although it may seem hard for many of today's critics of the military, I didn't want it to be otherwise.

Much has changed in the past decade. When I was an officer candidate, the worst a drill instructor could say to you was: "Candidate, do you want to be an individual?" But in judging the quality of the force today, individual opportunities are becoming more important than the effectiveness of the group, and gender and racial representation are becoming more important than performance. Indeed, such exalted ideas as "diversity" and "sensitivity" are now among the Pentagon's foremost concerns. While the utility of these notions is questionable, even in the most tranquil civilian environment, they are entirely incompatible with the military's main purpose: to transform a group of individuals into an efficient unit for the purpose of inflicting extreme and deliberate violence -- in the words of one Army major, "to kill people and break things." Not long ago the Marines stopped calling for "a few good men," not because they, or for that matter the other Services, no longer need them, but because it is no longer politically correct to define the military service in masculine terms.

Accompanied by mandatory "sensitivity training" and considerable praise from some military leaders, notions that strike at the very core of military life have been advanced without some very basic questions being asked. How can the military accommodate women in an activity as thoroughly masculine as combat? How can it encourage diversity when, in achieving victory, individuals generally mean nothing but units almost always mean everything? And how can it foster sensitivity to care in an organization whose principal purpose requires developing the insensitivity to kill? As the military is feminized, diversified, and sensitized, these questions need answers. For if this misguided preoccupation with the individual continues, history will record the next decade as a time when the armed forces of history's greatest military power mastered all external threats, only to be vanquished by foes right here in America.

America's False Sense of Security

Insulated by wide oceans on two flanks and benign neighbors on the other two, most Americans view their nation's defense through lenses of ignorance and apathy; this is largely a good thing, certainly far better than the familiarity with war of a Bosnian, Afghani, or even many western Europeans. Many Americans are slightly uncomfortable with the Armed Forces and fail to understand the fundamental differences between military life and their own. This creates fertile ground for well-meaning, malicious, or simply foolish agendas.

Each period of relative peace -- after both World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam, and now the Cold War -- has brought to the military both rapid dismantling and questionable experimentation. Today America -- including the military, which generally knows better -- must function without any clear external threat to focus its mind. Her global interests and the threats to them have not gone the way of the Cold War, but we Americans seem to have a hard time learning this lesson in any but the hardest way possible, as when Saddam Hussein teaches us. Until it does -- and it always does eventually -- the public is inclined to ignore the military and lose sight of the importance of the warrior's essential characteristics.

If the United States were the Netherlands, none of this would matter so much. But we're not. No other nation has the worldwide commitments we have. When a crisis erupts anywhere in the world, no one calls the Dutch to solve it. Other nations cannot afford to be so foolish. Israel, for instance, is surrounded by enemies and must place the combat effectiveness of its forces above all other considerations. Addressing the question of whether to place women in combat units, Israeli historian Dr. Martin van Crevald recently noted that, contrary to popular belief, the Israelis do nothing of the sort. He went on to observe:

We would not survive probably for five minutes if it weren't for our superb, well-trained, well-prepared combat-ready forces. Everything in the Israeli armed forces is geared towards that ... To me, the very fact that this issue is being discussed and this meeting is being held simply shows that you really don't take the military very seriously.

The Demise of the American Warrior

Although diversity and sensitivity are indispensable ideals in a pluralistic society, the military must play by a very different set of rules because it has very different expectations of its members. American society tolerates a level of independent behavior that would cripple any military force. While the American military strives to reflect society's composition and values wherever possible, soldiers inevitably surrender many freedoms that civilians take for granted because, unlike civilians, they regularly face death just because they're told to. The military is not "just another part of society."

America depends on the Armed Forces to serve as a defensive line behind which a society based on individual freedom and opportunity, diversity, and sensitivity can flourish. To man this line, we must transform young civilians into warriors. Diversity? In order to form effective units that can win wars as quickly and painlessly as possible, the civilian recruit's individual identity must be subjugated to the needs of the unit and the realities of the battlefield. Sensitivity? Because a warrior's principal purpose is killing people, much of his sensitivity must be stripped away. Cohesion, unity, and single-minded commitment to the overriding cause of combat effectiveness are the essential ingredients.

The call for sensitivity first came after Vietnam, when it was thought that the end of the draft made it necessary to enlist large numbers of women to meet manpower requirements. Practical factors, such as differences in physical strength and the restrictions on cohabitation as well as strong cultural resistance to deliberately requiring young women to kill and be killed, kept women in such support roles as clerks, logisticians, communicators, and nurses. The so-called combat arms, such as infantry, artillery, and tank units, whose sole purpose was to hunt down and kill the enemy, remained a male preserve. Thus a fundamental tension was created between what were effectively two different aspects of military life.

The fact that both aspects were equally important, and that the killers could not function without those in support positions, kept everyone fairly content as long as military service was viewed as a team effort. Trouble was, the same recruiting pressures that required the Services to seek women in the first place also forced them to change their sales pitch. Military service was no longer an act of selfless patriotism, typified by that famous "I Want You" poster of World War II. It became instead a means of personal growth and wider career opportunity, as in "Be All That You Can Be."

The difference between these two messages is vast. Once opportunity became the objective, "equal opportunity" could not be far behind. Soon the military was caught between the rock of selling itself to meet manpower levels and the hard place of telling women that being "all they could be" only went so far. Among a relative handful of career women officers and against the shrill cries of feminists on the outside, the wise and necessary distinction between combat and non-combat roles was lost.

The warrior's existence is always harsh and often brutal and demands a willingness to share great suffering. To some this sounds barbaric, especially after the Gulf War's pristine images of precision weapons controlled by computers usually at great distances from the enemy. But the inner spirit, which for centuries bound men together in the face of death and destruction, remains vitally necessary. At this most basic level, the profession of arms is inherently and undeniably masculine. And, since combat requires men on occasion to be downright beastly, warriors must possess an aspect of masculinity that women will and should find distasteful.

As Michael Levin writes in Feminism and Freedom, "Because the maintenance of order requires physical strength and aggressiveness, it has been a male task in every society that has ever existed." Combat veterans regularly attest to the primal masculine power necessary to overcome fear and win in battle: from Gettysburg to Omaha Beach, this spirit has often been the only means of overcoming the stark terror men have felt when facing almost certain death. If the brevity of the last war made us forget this, the brutality of a future one may make us remember.

The argument for opening combat assignments to women, now a major feminist objective, goes something like this: The military ought to set job standards and let the best person have the job. If battles were fought and won by individuals, this approach might work. But in spite of individual acts of heroism and leadership, combat is a team endeavor, where success depends entirely on the team's level of cohesion -- the "male bonding" that some women like to belittle. The awful truth is that male bonding works, which explains why military leaders preparing for combat spend most of their time trying to develop it. Male bonding is what takes the hill. And male bonding just doesn't happen with women around.

The cohesion required throughout the military, and especially in combat, cannot develop in an environment of sexual tension. Along with disrupting the way men relate to each other, it is an inescapable fact that men and women have been programmed for millennia to view each other in ways that sometimes get in the way of good judgment and that distract from a sense of shared purpose. Similarly, if we accept their persistent claim to be just like everyone else, we must assume that young homosexual men will be as distracted in a barracks full of men as their heterosexual peers would be in a women's locker room. Neither 30 years of sexual revolution nor all the "sensitivity training" in the world will change this human reality. And what makes it so serious a problem in a combat unit is that the price of bad judgment is so much higher than in the civilian world -- not embarrassment or a lawsuit or getting fired or losing a promotion but getting mutilated or killed. Sexuality distracts, distractions hamper good judgment, impaired judgment in combat gets people killed.

In Weak Link: The Feminization of the American Military, Brian Mitchell describes the effect that women had on the Service academies when they were integrated in the 1970's. It foretells what women would bring to the necessarily intimate confines of a combat unit:

A new factor had entered the equation. A force more powerful than the call of duty, the pride of honor, or the bonds of comradeship so completely reversed the polarity of social relationships ... that even when men contained themselves they could not rest indifferent to its presence ... The men were charmed. They could never see the women as just cadets, and they could never treat the women as they treated other men ... [The academies] were no longer the strange and cold conclaves of unsentimental militarism, where young men first learned the pain of separation, where love was delivered in sealed envelopes at distant intervals ... where cadets could be prepared for lives of sacrificial hardship and deprivation, where they could learn leadership and gain confidence without the fearful disruption of suddenly running into someone with whom they were falling in or out of love.

Ultimately, the women-in-combat argument falls apart because of a profound paradox. The presence of women in their midst requires men training for war to be sensitive, even as women are expected to join them in becoming insensitive enough to bayonet people. Secretary of the Army Togo West recently declared that prohibitions against women in combat prevented them "from reaching their full potential." Surely no one who has ever seen combat could think this way. Given war's necessary brutality, the attempt to adapt women to the business of war is an ultimately futile endeavor, and assigning them to units that might reasonably become engaged in combat and training them for such emergency engagements are misuse of an important resource. Indeed, it is folly.