By Jörg Muth
Best Defense guest columnist
From the point of view of a professional historian the
integration of women into combat units is not surprising and it was also long
overdue. Historically women have pulled their weight in all other professions
that had been male dominated before. Each time such a barrier was broken and
women were allowed access to such a profession the objections about the
supposed descent of that profession were manifold but that decline actually
never happened. The world is a better place because women now work as doctors
and police officers, and the U.S. Army will reap the benefits of the decision
to allow women in combat roles, maybe not now, but in a few years. Women often
offer a different perspective and therefore will come up with solutions to
military problems, the development of new gear and weapons systems, the
solution to a conflict, that men have not thought about.
I am coming from the world of traditional martial arts and I
have witnessed since I was a teenager girls and women breaking bricks or two-inch
thick wooden panels with their feet or fists. For two decades now I have been
teaching self-defense, boxing or Thai-Boxing classes, either mixed gender or
all female and I am going to teach new classes soon. Well, this is not war, but
it is close combat and full contact. To those who argue that close combat in
war is different, I answer, you have never really seen a woman fight. Women
possess every inch the ferocity, the courage, and the determination that men
have and they have proven that long ago.
An athletic woman today would outperform physically many
male soldiers who fought half a century before. New training methods and a
different nutrition allow women to rise to new heights of physical performance.
Still, many will not make the cut into the most elite fighting units of this
world because the physical performance levels required are rarely achieved.
However, they deserve to be allowed to try and those few who make it deserve to
become fighting members of those units.
The all-female units of the Red Army were a painful thorn in
the side of the Wehrmacht in World War II. And, yes, the captured female
soldiers were often tortured and raped when caught, but it is the decision of
the individual woman to make if she wants to enter such a hazardous environment
and face the consequences, it is not for the males to make such a decision for
her. For many women, entering combat will be as catastrophic an experience as
it has been for many men. Combat is not healthy for anybody, not even the
Historically, all military problems with integrated units
have been leadership problems and not problems with the consistency of the
unit. All services of the U.S. Armed Forces have fielded several studies to
that effect since the introduction of Black men into the military and women
afterwards. When female cadets today still have to fear sexual assault at an
American military academy, this is a leadership problem. When a female soldier
needs to find the single capable old senior NCO in a unit to believe her that
she was touched improperly by her superior, this is a leadership problem. When
a female soldier does have to fear not the enemy but fellow soldiers, this is a
A good leader will be able to make any unit an outstanding
fighting unit that consists of people of different ethnicities, genders, and
sexual orientations. A bad leader will not be able to integrate Mormons with
Mormons, or Texans with Texans.
It is now the job of the heads of the U.S. Armed Forces to
make sure these outstanding leaders are selected, educated, and promoted,
because the present system has proven to be insufficient. The current command
culture needs an adjustment and the bar has to be set higher for leaders and
that is good for soldiers of any gender. Women will not fail in a combat role,
but their senior leadership might fail them if they don't make sure that they
get the officers they deserve.
Jörg Muth, Ph.D., a lifelong student of military history, is
the author of Command Culture: Officer Education in the
U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for
World War II, which
was placed by the Army chief of staff,
General Raymond T. Odierno, on his professional reading list. In addition, the
commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General James F. Amos, made Command Culture required reading for all senior enlisted men and all intermediate
officer ranks of the Marine Corps.
Center of Military History/U.S. Army