While this subject has largely fallen into the “settled” category for the most part, it’s still being brought up for discussion among the public. We’re once again talking about women in combat. Back during the Obama administration, Ash Carter was directed to open all combat roles to women. At the time, we were assured that female recruits would have to meet the same physical standards as their male counterparts. Slowly but sure, however, that principle was eroded.

As Heather Mac Donald writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the standards did indeed change. But even with those relaxed standards, only two women have made it through the U.S. Marines’ infantry officer training course.

Only two women have passed the Marine Corps’s fabled infantry-officer training course out of the three dozen who have tried. Most wash out in the combat endurance test, administered on day one. Participants hike miles while carrying combat loads of 80 pounds or more, climb 20-foot ropes multiple times, and scale an 8-foot barrier. The purpose of the test is to ensure that officers can hump their own equipment and still arrive at a battleground mentally and physically capable of leading troops.
Most female aspirants couldn’t pass the test, so the Marines changed it from a pass/fail requirement to an unscored exercise with no bearing on the candidate’s ultimate evaluation. The weapons-company hike during the IOC is now “gender neutral,” meaning that officers can hand their pack to a buddy if they get tired, rather than carrying it for the course’s full 10 miles.

Lowering these physical requirements risks reducing the American military’s lethality. A more serious effect of sex integration has become taboo to mention: the inevitable introduction of eros into combat units. Putting young, hormonally charged men and women into stressful close quarters for extended periods guarantees sexual liaisons, rivalries and breakups, all of which undermine the bonding essential to a unified fighting force.

We had those physical standards for combat troops for a reason. You need to be able to handle those grueling conditions if you’re expected to go into a combat zone. Weakening them, as Mac Donald points out, risks lessening the lethal capabilities and rapid response abilities of our armed forces. Rather than empowering and advancing women, we’re degrading our combat effectiveness.

As regular readers already know, I’m one of those dinosaurs who is opposed to sending women into combat even if they can match the men’s physical standards. (Something I wrote at length about six years ago, admitting my own hypocrisy and double standard on this issue.) I come from a time where war was a primal – and entirely male – undertaking, filled with a duty to “protect our women back home.” Further, while imprisonment by the enemy is a horrific prospect for anyone, it’s especially bad for women as they will almost certainly fall victim to rape as a weapon of war, particularly when fighting terrorists that are little better than animals. Actually, that last sentence is an insult to animals.

I seem to have lost that debate. So be it. But if we must have women in combat roles, I think Heather Mac Donald has it exactly right. They should have to meet the same physical standards that the men have traditionally been subjected to. Demanding any less is not a victory for women. It’s a loss for our military and the nation’s security.