Is President Obama willing to draft Julia?
The Obama administration framed its decision to put women into combat as a matter of choice and fairness.
“Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier,” outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “but everyone is entitled to a chance.”
But there is little about war that is either about choice or fairness.
Here’s a big question President Obama ought to be made to face head on: Is he willing to draft Julia on an equal basis with John and if not, why not?
Because President Obama has just gutted the legal rationale for excluding women from registering for the draft.
Why aren’t women required to register for the draft? Because they are excluded from combat, the Selective Service System succinctly reports:
“A Supreme Court decision in 1981, Rostker v. Goldberg, held that registering only men did not violate the due process clause of the Constitution”
In that decision, Chief Justice William Rehnquist ruled, “[t]he existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’ decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.”
The law excluding women from the draft is now a sitting duck, bereft of any legal support, unless President Obama steps forward to provide a new rationale.
Will Obama moms put up with the prospect that their daughters could be sent to war involuntarily, just like men? Will anyone put the question to them or to President Obama in a politically effective way?
The decision to put women in combat is a good vantage point from which to view the larger problem conservatives are facing: liberalism, dominant among elites, has now figured out how to dominate more systematically by learning how to frame the message environment. Liberals launch memes. Conservatives run from them.
I suspect this is partly from the Soros-funded success in pulling together mainstream reporters around unified messaging themes. It also partly reflects the new reality: mushy middle and (especially) younger voters now receive their news from Hollywood and entertainment media—Comedy Central or TMZ.com.
Ronald Reagan taught conservatives that they could talk over the heads of the mainstream media and speak directly to the American people. His heirs today no longer believe this. GOP political elites believe all messages will be framed by liberals and explode in their face, after which they will retreat sheepishly. Better to retreat at once.
And so a unified Democratic message of congratulating Julia on her big equal opportunity breakthrough ran into a splintered conservative coalition with no leader and no voice.
The Boston Globe called women in combat, “the controversy that wasn’t,” noting the quick endorsement by Sen. John McCain:
“THE MOST striking aspect of the Pentagon’s decision to lift a 1994 ban on combat duty for women last week was the lack of any substantive opposition in Congress. . . . No comparable controversy erupted last week, as such Republicans as Senator John McCain embraced the change.”
An increasingly confident liberal elite crafts the image, dominates the messaging. Reality is not allowed to intrude. One side embraces and pushes, the other quickly retreats, and so the American people figure it must be okay.
But sending women into combat is really not okay, and we cannot allow the issue to simply die.
We owe our soldiers and our fellow citizens and, yes, our young women more than to merely lie back and take it for granted.
We cannot allow the question to die, but nor should we go into political battle unarmed. Congress must use its power to find out the truth about what the costs and risks of women soldiers and women in combat would be to the military, to the taxpayer, and to the women themselves.
Three questions must be raised, and the data collected to answer them:
1. What is the cost to military effectiveness of sending women into combat?
2. What is the cost to the taxpayer?
3. What is the cost to young women themselves?
By and large, the Pentagon is not regularly reporting the answers to any of these questions. But research by other scholars and by women in the military at least permits us to sketch out ample reasons for concern.
Men and women are different, in ways that affect women’s ability to serve. Physical strength, muscle mass, endurance, women’s medical and hygiene needs. Men respond differently to women, especially under combat conditions, than they do to other men. The sexes’ taste and stomach for violent aggression differs.
The physical differences are the most obvious and the most glaring problem.
Even with sharply lowered physical standards for women in the Army, for example, women’s failure, injury, and attrition rates are much higher than men’s. (Meaning that the cost of recruiting one female soldier is much higher.)
Writing last summer in the Marine Corp Gazette, Marine Capt. Katie Petronio noted:
“At OCS, the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent.”
The greater attrition rate took place despite, “physical fitness standards that are easier for females.”
A 2001 study in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise by J.J. Knapik and colleagues found that women undergoing the standardized exercises in Army Basic Training sustained twice the injury rates of men—again, in spite of the lowered physical standards to which women are held.
A 1999 study reported that women (47 percent) are much more likely than men (28 percent) to leave the military prior to the end of their enlistment terms.
These statistics already suggest a cost to military readiness brought about by the large-scale recruitment of women—one that is being “managed” by the military, but with significant consequences.
Let us consider alone the cost that pregnancy poses to the military and to the taxpayer.
The best evidence indicates that more than 10 percent of women soldiers—and perhaps as many as 15 percent—are pregnant in any given year. Let me pause a minute to let you digest that fact.
One out of ten active-duty women soldiers are pregnant, unintentionally.
The military itself releases few statistics on pregnancy or its cost to taxpayer, the military, or the pregnant woman.
“Overall numbers are hard to come by,” the Washington Times noted back in 2004, referring to the question of how many women soldiers are non-deployable for reasons of pregnancy. “We’re definitely not tracking it,” said a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Scholars have noted the same difficulty. In a 2005 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, scholars Jennifer Lundquist and Herbert Smith noted, “The military releases few statistics regarding female enlistees and pregnancy.”
In 1997, Sara Lister, then-Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, explained why—because, “Those subjects quickly became fodder for conservatives seeking to limit women’s role in the Army.”
The Pentagon’s strange lack of interest in the question comes even after, in the 1990s, considerable evidence demonstrated that pregnancy was affecting deployability in the Persian Gulf War
A 1999 research report by Army Major Meredith A. Bucher noted, “The impact of pregnancy on U.S. Army readiness came to the forefront following the Persian Gulf War and the large-scale deployment of military servicewomen. Some deploying units reported that non-deployable rates for pregnancy among women were as much as 30% of those assigned.”
But in spite of the Pentagon’s reticence, the data is starting to build.
A 2005 study reported in Military Medicine that telephone interviews with a random sample of 2,348 active duty Air Force women in early 2002 found that 12 percent reported being pregnant in 2001, with 54 percent unintended. Roughly 7 percent of Air Force women had an unplanned pregnancy in a given year.
A 2004 prospective cohort study by Wisen and Guzenhuasser looked at 5,577 active duty women soldiers stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington between 1995 and 1997. Sixteen percent of active duty women soldiers stationed stateside became pregnant during the study period, and almost 11 percent gave birth.
A 2013 study by Kate Grindlay and Daniel Grossman based on surveys of 7,225 active duty women published in the February issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology found almost 11 percent of women soldiers said they had been pregnant unintentionally in the past year (a rate 50 percent higher than the general population). (This figure does not include intended pregnancies, suggesting the actual pregnancy rate is significantly higher.)
If one out of ten men were unavailable for combat each year because of an unexpected medical condition, our military would literally be decimated.
The American military has managed to make a workaround because women are only 15 percent of the military, which means that only 1.5 percent of soldiers are non-deployable each year because of pregnancy—and these women are segregated in the less combat-relevant departments.
The taxpayers, meanwhile, bear an unequal burden in hiring women soldiers who serve less time, sustain more injuries, and are much more likely to be non-deployable.
The military bears the more serious burden of working around these problems.
What of the women themselves?
What about the risks to the woman themselves compared to male soldiers?
Marine Capt. Katie Petronio noted last summer that the risks to the women and to the military’s readiness are simply not known—the military is not collecting or releasing this data: “There is a drastic shortage of historical data on female attrition or medical ailments of women who have executed sustained combat operations,” she writes.
With more than a decade of women being deployed around combat zones, the military ought to have a wealth of data on this question, but if so, it has not released it.
Once again we look to private scholars to fill the gap.
A 2011 report of the medical literature on the effect of service on women’s veteran’s health by Batuman and colleagues called the literature on the subject, “relatively limited to date.”
How does deployment near combat affect women’s reproductive health? The health of their babies? We don’t really know. According to Batuman:
“The evidence on the influence of military service on reproductive health is mixed and relies on a modest literature base.”
In addition, the evidence of the effect of deployment on miscarriages, still births, and ectopic pregnancies is, “contradictory.” No research appears to investigate the effect of combat-like conditions on infertility. About half of studies report higher rates of birth defects (but not reaching statistical significance) for deployed women; no studies appear to examine whether deploying mothers (especially single mothers) overseas damages their children’s physical or psychological well-being.
The psychological data we have suggests women who witness combat experience disproportionate trauma:
“The evidence on post-trauma sequellae among OEF/OIF women (soldiers and Veterans) is also relatively limited,” the review notes. But, “Female soldiers had higher risks of hospitalization for mental disorders, and were more likely to be psychiatric evacuees from the field.”
Women in the military also need to be protected from their own fellow soldiers.
A 2012 study by Kristin M. Mattocks finds that recent evidence from OEF/OIF veterans suggests that 15.1% of women and 0.7% of men reported military sexual trauma when screened (Kimerling et al., 2010). “There are studies showing anywhere between 20 and 40 percent of servicewomen (experience) rape or attempted rape during their military career, and the vast majority don’t report it,” Dr. Daniel Grossman, who co-authored the February study on unintended pregnancy in Obstetrics and Gynecology told Reuters Health.
No one is talking much about this, probably because liberal elites fear it undermines the image of the woman warrior. Republican elites no doubt fear that if they object, they will be labeled pro-rape.
But the military is not a pro-choice environment. It is a “total institution” (in the words of Erving Goffman), and one that is an intensely hierarchical, hyper-masculinized environment organized around killing, which takes soldiers away from their families and support systems and from which vulnerable young women cannot exit. After she has been harassed or worse, she must continue to live, sleep, eat, and work with the man who sexually traumatized her.
He, meanwhile, may have misinterpreted “harassment” as “begging.” A newly-released survey of 53,000 Marine troops found male Marines report significant fears that they will be falsely accused of rape or harassment (as well as concerns about physical capacity, pregnancy, and favoritism as a result of more women in combat).
But even without psychological trauma, women may simply deteriorate physically under grueling combat condition more than men (leading to reduced military effectiveness, higher taxpayer costs per soldier, and awful and unnecessary sacrifices by the young woman herself).
Women soldiers with the most experience of combat appear to be the least enamored with the idea of going into combat themselves on an equal basis with men.
Just a few weeks before the Obama administration announced it was lifting gender-based combat restrictions, the AP asked the question, “Do women want the toughest fighting jobs?”
The clear and resounding answer even the Associated Press found was: “No.”
“Interviews with a dozen female soldiers and Marines showed little interest in the toughest fighting jobs. They believe they’d be unable to do them, even as the Defense Department inches toward changing its rules to allow women in direct ground combat jobs.”
“The job I want to do in the military does not include combat arms,” Army Sgt. Cherry Sweat said of infantry, armor and artillery occupations. ”I enjoy supporting the soldiers,” said Sweat, stationed in South Carolina. ”The choice to join combat arms should be a personal decision, not a required one.”
Another West Point grad at the Pentagon says that of the thousands of women she has known in her 20-year Army career, few if any are interested in combat posts. “She asked to remain anonymous because in the military’s warrior culture, it’s a sensitive issue to be seen as not wanting to fight,” according to the AP.
What do these women know that President Obama is not telling the American people?
Listen hard to Marine Capt. Katie Petronio, who was deployed twice under combat conditions with the engineering corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. She once thought of volunteering for the Marine infantry. Her own experience of exposure to combat-like conditions changed her mind:
“As a combat-experienced Marine officer, and a female, I am here to tell you that we are not all created equal, and attempting to place females in the infantry will not improve the Marine Corps as the Nation’s force-in-readiness or improve our national security.”
She raises a point that I have not seen raised anywhere, based on no data but her own experience. “In the end, my main concern is not whether women are capable of conducting combat operations . . . my main concern is a question of longevity. Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with integration?”
She is pointing out, based on her own experience, that even women who can pass the same “test” as men to enter combat may not actually survive combat conditions in the same way that men can.
She writes, “Five years later, I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyze and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.”
“At the beginning of my tour in Helmand Province, I was physically capable of conducting combat operations for weeks at a time, remaining in my gear for days if necessary and averaging 16-hour days of engineering operations.”
However, “By the fifth month into the deployment, I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. My agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering my response time and overall capability. It was evident that stress and muscular deterioration was affecting everyone regardless of gender; however, the rate of my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions.”
She lost 17 pounds and is now infertile, a change, “brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment.”
This happened even though she was carrying a fraction of the physical load men carried.
She is a brave woman, but she points out that, “should the Marine Corps attempt to fully integrate women into the infantry, we as an institution are going to experience a colossal increase in crippling and career-ending medical conditions for females.”
The cost to the woman could be lifelong injuries she didn’t suspect could happen because she is not being told the data the military has or should have. The cost-per-recruit-retained is going to be considerably higher for the military if we attempt to find women who can qualify for combat.
“Even if a female can meet the short-term physical, mental, and moral leadership requirements of an infantry officer, by the time that she is eligible to serve in a strategic leadership position, at the 20-year mark or beyond, there is a miniscule probability that she’ll be physically capable of serving at all. Again, it becomes a question of longevity,” Marine Capt. Petronio points out.
This is moving testimony from a woman who knows what we are asking women to do.
For Julia’s own sake, as well as for the sake of our national defense and our taxpayers, Congress should demand accountability on the costs of this new experiment: the costs to the military first and foremost, the costs to the taxpayers, and finally, the costs to the women themselves.
How can this be done? We do not necessarily need to fight for and lose on a “ban” on women in combat so much as use the power of Congress to collect information and demand a yearly accounting by the Secretary of Defense on the costs of integrating women into combat.
Congress should insert into the defense appropriation bill a requirement that the President of the United States and/or the Secretary of Defense issue an annual report with very specific information relevant to military effectiveness, taxpayer costs, and gendered costs of service (i.e. the cost to women themselves) including:
The cost per male recruit and female who: a.) passes basic training and serves; b.) is retained through more than one cycle; and c.) at the 20-year mark of service. How much does each woman soldier cost the military and the taxpayer net of losses to pregnancy, injury, or failure to re-enlist?
Congress should ask for data on a gendered basis regarding the days of active duty lost through injury, issues of mental health, and the time lost to pregnancy by male and female soldiers.
In order to evaluate the effect on the military, Congress should ask for a statistically representative and anonymous survey of troops’ experiences, again collected separately from both men and women soldiers asking for specific information on whether women in combat make the military more effective, reduce effectiveness, or have no effect.
Congress should require the Defense Department to collect gendered data on the mental and physical health effects of combat service on female soldiers (compared to male soldiers)—and for the first time, collect data on the effects of military service on the psychological and physical well-being of men and women soldiers (including single mothers).
If women are assuming greater risk to their health or their children by volunteering for combat duty (or military service) compared to male soldiers, they ought at least to know it.
All of these inquiries need to feed into a fourth question which President Obama and the Department of Defense must be called on to answer: What is the legal justification, if any, for excluding women from the draft?
Is President Obama content to draft Julia or not?
Let me give Marine Capt. Katie Petronio the last word:
“The bottom line is that the enemy doesn’t discriminate, rounds will not slow down, and combat loads don’t get any lighter, regardless of gender or capability.”
Petronio states that the question we should all be asking (and to which Congress should demand an answer) is, “Does this integration solely benefit the individual or the Marine Corps as a whole, as every leader’s focus should be on the needs of the institution and the Nation, not the individual?”
For myself I know what I think: sending single mothers to war is uncivilized, and unworthy of a great civilization.
To take on this issue, the American people need and deserve the truth. Political elites need to confront the reality of what they propose to do and not hide behind the carefully cultivated media images that cause the GOP elites such fear.
Thank you again for spending this time with me. Each week, I hope to provide you with insight and perspectives you will not get anywhere else. If you agree, can you pass this email on to a friend and offer them our free subscription service?
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Associated Press, Feb. 1, 2013. “Marine Survey Lists Concerns on Women in Combat.” http://bigstory.ap.
Batuman F. et al., 2011. “Health Effects of Military Service on Women Veterans,” Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.
Bucher, Meredith A., 1999. “The Impact of Pregnancy on Army Readiness,” A Research Report Submitted to the Faculty of Air University. http://www.dtic.
Grindlay, Kate and Daniel Grossman, 2013. “Unintended Pregnancy Among Active-Duty Women in the United States Military, 2008,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 121(2):241-246. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Knapik, J.J. et al., 2001. “Risk Factors for Training-Related Injuries Among Men and Women in Basic Training,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 33(6):946-954. http://europepmc.org/
Lundquist, Jennifer and Herbert L. Smith, 2005. “Family Formation Among Women in the U.S. Military: Evidence From the NLSY” Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(1):1-267. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.
Mattocks, Kristin M. et al., 2012.”Women at War: Understanding How Women Veterans Cope with Combat and Military Sexual Trauma,” Social Science & Medicine, 74(4): 537-45. Available at http://digitalcommons.unl.
Petronio, Capt. Katie, July 3, 2012. “Get Over It: We Are Not All Created Equal!” Marine Corps Gazette. http://www.mca-marines.org/
Reuters Health, Jan. 24, 2013. “Unintended Pregnancies on the Rise in Servicewomen.” http://www.reuters.com/
Rhenquist, Justice William, 1981. Rostker v. Goldberg 453 U.S. 57 (1981). http://supreme.justia.com/
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Scarborough, R., 2004. “Pregnant Troops Leave the War: Central Command not Counting,”Washington Times, June 16, 2004, p. A1. http://www.washingtontimes.
Selective Service System, “Women and the Draft: Women Don’t Have to Register,” accessed February 4, 2013. Available at http://www.sss.gov/fswomen.
NBC News, “Female Vets Cheer New Era for Women in Combat,” Jan. 23, 2013. Available at http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_
U.S. News & World Report, “Gender Wars,” Aug. 11, 1997.
Washington Times, June 16, 2004. “Pregnant Troops Leave the War: Central Command not Counting,” p. A1. http://www.washingtontimes.
Wisen, Andrew R. and Jeffrey D. Gunzenhauser, 2004. “Laboratory-Measured Pregnancy Rates and Their Determinants in a Large, Well-Described Adult Cohort,” Military Medicine169(7): 518-521. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/