Opinion Journal posts an article by Collin Levey (a woman, if it matters) that discusses some of the issues involved with allowing women to take part in combat operations. She rightly points out that in most circumstances women are able to be as effective as men in combat. 90% of military job types are open to women, and 15% of the American military is female. She further notes that:
In a small nation like Israel that's constantly fighting for survival, young women have always been seen as fit to serve. Keeping half the population out of warfare is a luxury of a country that can choose its wars carefully. Still, if doubts about the capabilities of women soldiers have been put to rest, our own capability to endure seeing them come home in body bags has yet to be tested.
She is right, it is a luxury. There are very compelling reasons to exclude women from special forces and front-line ground combat, but for the other 90% of military jobs the only real reasons are based on emotion. Seeing Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson on video in Iraqi custody made me feel sick to the stomach in a way that seeing the men did not. Why? Probably because, to some degree, I'm sexist.
Would it be right for society to forbid women's participation in high-risk military positions for emotional reasons? We make a lot of decisions for emotional reasons (such as government entitlements), and I'm generally against such motivations. Maybe I'm more reluctant in this case because I share the emotion.
An except from the New American link above:
The issue of violence against women was crystallized when former prisoners of war appeared before the Commission, including one of the two women captured during Operation Desert Storm. Testimony about the indecent assault on one of the women drew further attention to POW training programs already in place that "desensitize" male POWs to the brutalization of women with whom they may be held captive. An interview with trainers at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training center at Fairchild Air Force Base uncovered a logical but disturbing consequence of assigning women to combat:
"If a policy change is made, and women are allowed into combat positions, there must be a concerted effort to educate the American public on the increased likelihood that women will be raped, will come home in bodybags, and will be exploited. The consequence of not undertaking such a program would be large-scale disillusionment with the military should the United States get in a protracted military engagement."