Women don't belong in combat

Anita Doberman

Women were first admitted to West Point in 1976 after President Ford signed legislation opening the nation’s service academies to females. That first year, 119 young women enrolled at West Point, and the proportion of women has slowly but steadily grown.

For the class of 2011, more women than ever entered West Point, bringing the number of female cadets to 225, fully 17 percent of the class.

This is good news for women, and good news for the military.

Diversity in our military means a wider range of ideas, opinions and capabilities. I would be extremely proud if any of my four girls wanted to join the academies or the military, and so would their military dad. There’s no doubt women’s contribution to our military has been invaluable, but not without a lot of debate and controversy, especially when it comes to women in combat, where, for the most part, women are still barred from direct roles.

I am grateful to those women who joined the military in the past, and blazed trails that opened options for my own daughters in the military, and in society at large.

But I don’t think women should be in combat.

It’s a sensitive issue, and unfortunately one that has been taken over by politics rather than reason. There is a strong push to “democratize” combat roles, but it’s an effort that is tellingly not led by many people who have been in actual combat. The legally protected equality that women enjoy in much of our society would be impossible without the contribution of women’s advocates on the political left — but they’re generally on the wrong side here. Men and women are not the same, and pretending they are does not make it so.

Part of the ideology of women’s rights, understandably perhaps, was the idea that many of the apparent differences between men and women are culturally imposed. Remove the obstacles in front of women, the thought went, and the differences disappear. Girls don’t play with dolls because they are more docile than their toy-car toting brothers, but because we give them dolls rather matchbox cars, or so the idea goes. Modern research has backed up some of this philosophy, but dispelled a lot of it too. There’s no doubt we raise our girls to be girls and our boys to be boys, but there’s less doubt than ever that biology plays a powerful role.

And even if we assume that boys and girls really are nearly interchangeable, men are still much more suited to combat than women. Women are simply not as strong as men. Believe me, I wish we were. I’ll put a jar of food back in the pantry rather than ask my husband for help. Men average around six inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than women. But even pound for pound, men are far stronger. Especially in upper body strength, men are about half as strong as women of equivalent weight.

Technology has not changed the battlefield enough, nor will it even in the foreseeable future, to overcome the need for strength. Even ignoring the morale difficulties of a mixed sex fighting force, that might be just as compelling a reason to argue for combat remaining all-male, there is no room on the battlefield for someone who is a physical liability.

There are some women who are stronger than the average man, but not many. This makes the military uncomfortable, because it’s been forced into the unenviable position of being one of the country’s great defenders of political correctness. So while we can find women who are physically capable of combat, it would be expensive and unnecessary — the very hallmark of a decision made for politics and not logic. I want all my girls to have every opportunity that men can have, but I won’t elevate my genuine desire for equality over the needs of our military and the lives of the men who fight.

Anita Doberman is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida. The family expects to be moving to Cannon Air Force Base soon. Contact her at: