Women in the Military - a 3rd Call for Common Sense

August 10, 2000

Comment: #376

Discussion Thread:  #s 375

Something weird is happening on Versailles on the Potomac - common sense may be breaking out.

It is too early to tell if this is a widespread or isolated phenomena, however. I just received the following response from a member of the Congressional Staff (a location not known for common sense) to Comment #375 on the subject of women in combat. He has a rational proposal for answering one of the most vexing questions of our time. I urge you to read it.

[ Background: Staffer XXX is a defense specialist on the Congressional Staff who specializes in Defense and has worked for Republicans as well as Democrats. I apologize for the anonymity, but it is necessary, given the vindictive culture of Versailles where interests and faith (medieval scholasticism) usually take precedence over facts and reason (the scientific method).]

Email Proposal by Staffer XXX:

"That was a thoughtful piece on women in the military.

You made two particularly important points: The first highlighted the contradiction between the argument that women in combat units would harm a units' unit cohesion when DoD's personnel policies have done nothing to build up and everything to undermine cohesion. The second point pertains to need for realistic common standards for men and women (as opposed to relativism of gender norming). This is of central importance to morale as well as the effectiveness of a combat unit.

I do think, however, you missed a third crucial point, as did Carl Bernard, whose experience and views I highly respect.

That point is that we do not know the answer to the question. It remains to be seen whether or not women in combat units, American combat units, is a good or a bad idea.

There are lots of theories, speculation, and dogma on both sides of the argument, and while there are reams of data on individual strength characteristics, intelligence, motor skills, etc., the simple fact is there are no reliable data to answer this question from the perspective of a combat UNIT'S effectiveness - i.e., from the perspective of how an all female or mixed-gender combined-arms TEAM performs in the fog, friction, and emotional conditions of combat vis-a-vis the traditional all male team.

My proposal is to generate some real data that addresses this intellectual black hole.

This can be done by conducting an extensive series realistic experiments in the form of free-play combat exercises with units competing against each other under a variety of Third and Fourth Generation warfighting scenarios.

These field experiments would compare the performance of segregated and mixed UNITS - i.e., all male, all female, & mixed. They would be designed by combat veterans, military historians, experts in the design and quality control social science experiments. The free-play exercises would be refereed and scored by professional evaluators from a neutral entity. The organization of the observation teams would, however, include provisions for a PASSIVE overwatch by partisan observers and advocates from both sides of the debate. While these passive observers would not be permitted to influence the conduct of the exercises, they would be permitted to make independent evaluations of the design, conduct, and outcome of the experiments which would be attached as official annexes to the final report.

The experiments would be conducted over a long time, with multiple units and unit types in a variety of situations. The aim would be to make them as generalizable as possible by competing the different units against each other in a wide variety of FREE-PLAY combat exercises.

Some designers may object to the idea of FREE PLAY because it is too hard to control, but FREE PLAY is ESSENTIAL to the realism of combat testing because the psychological effects of initiative and unpredictability, move and counter-move, ambiguity and deception are all central to the atmosphere of real war, which is, after all, a clash of minds and wills, not machines.

Naturally, we can expect partisans from both sides of the debate to oppose this idea—for fear their own dogma will suffer. The (current) uniformed and civilian "leadership" of the military services and OSD will ignore this idea in favor of their current non-solutions (lowered and/or selective physical requirements and performance standards, a fluid policy that is neither fish nor fowl but is politically acceptable inside DoD and with the White House).

There are also some historical data that could be exploited which the various sides to the US debate are studiously ignoring : the Soviet WWII experience with all women and mixed combat units; the Israeli experience (if anyone can get it straight), and others, like Col Bernard's all-women Viet Cong mortar teams.

However useful and important, these data will not be sufficient for an intelligent and informed US decision and policy, because the historical data are from very different cultures and overall situations. Nevertheless, they may give useful insights for American culture that could aid in design of and be fleshed out by experimentation.

Until such historical records and new American data are available, anyone's good sounding idea or theory will remain just an expression of their particular bias and experience, and we'll never know who is more or less right."

End email proposal from Staffer XXX

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]