Women in Combat

Kingsley Browne, law professor at Wayne State University in Michigan, is used to being called a male chauvinist. In a previous book he argued that biological differences between the sexes—rather than injustice—explain the existence of the glass ceiling. His new book, "Co-Ed Combat: The New Evidence That Women Shouldn't Fight the Nation's Wars," due out Nov. 8, argues that women are not physically and psychologically suited for combat. His contention: their presence on the front lines even endangers the military itself. Browne explained his views to NEWSWEEK's Martha Brant. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Women fly missions and serve on warships, but they aren't yet in the infantry. Is there really any possibility that women will fight alongside ground troops?
Kingsley Browne: It's an issue that could be substantially affected by the 2008 presidential election. It has come up in the Democratic debates, and the candidates expressed doubts about excluding women from any military positions.

If you talk to the military brass, they are always very supportive of women in their ranks.
For the last couple of decades one doesn't advance very far up the ladder without demonstrating a clear commitment to the advancement of women. There are a lot of military people who think women in combat is a horrible idea, but it's career suicide to say it. Many think they shouldn't be on warships or flying combat missions.

You go one step further and argue that women shouldn't be part of forward-deployed support units.
Today the Department of Defense policy excludes women from being embedded within the infantry, but that policy is being routinely violated. There are many tasks that women perform in Iraq and Afghanistan where the enemy is trying to attack them. When the shooting starts, you can't count on just being able to do your assigned task. If your supply unit gets hit, you have to engage the enemy. Your job might be a cook, but suddenly someone's life depends on your being able to drag them out of the line of fire.

But today's military is just as much about brains as brawn.
Brawn clearly still matters. Soldiers today are often carrying at least 60 pounds of gear. That doesn't even include food, water, batteries. That's huge. Remember the EP3 spy plane that got shot down over China? The pilot weighed 220 pounds. He said it took every ounce of his strength just to keep the plane steady.

Women aren't generally as physically strong as men. What about psychologically?
Women are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder at higher rates than men. We know that women in general feel more negative emotional consequences from physical aggression. Surveys show that women in the military, especially enlisted women, don't want to go into combat. The percentage of women enlistees is going down, and that seems to be tied to their exposure to combat.

What "new evidence" are you offering to show that women aren't fit for war?
The evidence comes from the field of evolutionary psychology, which recognizes that the human mind is a product of our evolutionary history. The reason men don't like women comrades in dangerous situations is they don't trust them when the shooting starts, and that is probably because women don't possess whatever cues evoke trust in men. And trust is central to combat cohesion. Men don't say, "This is a person I would follow through the gates of hell." Men aren't hard-wired to follow women into danger. It is largely an emotional reaction.

When African-Americans were integrating the armed services there were lots of similar-sounding arguments about unit cohesion.
The reasons that people oppose women in combat are much more clearly tied to biological, not social, difference. The integration of the races in the military has been fairly successful. The integration of women is much more difficult, and there is a lot of reason to think that the problem is intractable.

Join the Discussion