Let’s look bluntly (I’m not sure how you look bluntly, but I’m going to have at it) at whether women should be permitted in ground combat. And then I will make a splendid and fair-minded proposal, which will be applauded by radical feminists everywhere. My guess is that I’ll be awarded life membership in the National Organization for Women.
Should women be in ground combat? Good lord no. Females have no place in the infantry, artillery, or armor. They are too weak, too delicate, and too small. They fade after about a day of heavy marching and lifting. They just get in the way. They will get men killed. The idea is bad, everyone who has been in the military understands it, but no one has the moxie to tell feminists “No.”
Maybe you haven’t been afoot in a war zone. I have. In the mid-Sixties in was in armor in Viet Nam with the Marine Corps, spent a fair amount of time carrying a rifle, went through infantry training in Camp Geiger, which you don’t want to try unless you are one healthy young buck. Let me tell you some things about ground life in war zones.
It’s brutally physical. Try unloading a truck carrying mortar rounds. Hump sixty pounds uphill in Asian heat for an hour. When I was a Marine a flame-thrower weighed, if memory serves, seventy-five pounds. Try humping that sucker up hills of greasy North Carolina clay when you slide back almost as much as you go forward and your lungs are burning till you can hardly breathe. Try breaking track on armor when a platoon in trouble needs fire support right now. Don’t talk about it. Don’t theorize. Try it. In Lejeune we force-marched day after day, on three and a half hours sleep. No, that’s not exaggeration. Try it.
OK. Go to your local gym. If you aren’t a member, pay the ten bucks for a day pass, and watch. Stand around for a couple of hours, and watch what men lift. Watch what women lift. See whether you can detect a pattern.
Women don’t lift slightly less than men, and aren’t slightly weaker. They lift enormously less. They are catastrophically weaker.
Don’t take my word. Go. Look.
I’m 53, five-feet-ten, 180, in better shape than average for my size and age, but nothing spectacular. I never amounted to much as an athlete. I go to the gym to stay strong enough to carry my scuba tanks. If I walked into a Marine gym and said I was the strongest guy there, the Corps would have to be disbanded, because you can’t fight while uncontrollably laughing.
But I’m far and away the strongest woman I’ve seen at Gold’s in ten years of membership.
For example, I do fifteen sloppy reps on the bench machine with 250, and fifteen reps with 200 on the lat pull-down machine (the chin-up machine, if you will). It’s respectable. That’s all it is. There are guys there who could lift that much with me sitting on top of it.
I’ve never seen a woman bench more than eighty (which is real rare, but not even warm-up weight for a man). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman pull eighty on the lat machine. Twenty to forty is normal for them.
Don’t call me sexist. Don’t tell me I’m trying to be “macho.” (Or do: I don’t care.) Go look.
Want documentation? There is a branch of research called exercise physiology, which has studied the physical capacities of men and women in near-infinite detail (largely to help in training athletes.) Check relative cardiac capacity, erythrocyte counts, muscle-mass-to-body-mass. I’m not making wild assertions. You can find all of this in any university library.
Now, what do these physical differences mean for society outside of the military? Almost nothing. A woman doesn’t need strength to be a surgeon, professor, senator, journalist, or CEO. But weak women will get men killed in war. I’ve seen wars. I’ve been on casualty wards. So have a lot of men. For us, war isn’t abstract, and getting men killed to appease feminists isn’t cute.
I promised to make a splendid proposal. Here it is. Let’s take 100 males just out of basic training, and 100 females, also just out of basic and chosen at random. Let’s take them all to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in a rainy October. We’ll put sixty-pound packs on them, give them rifles and a full load-out of ammo.
Then we’ll force-march them, at a fast pace set by an infantry sergeant, until they drop. I mean literally drop: can’t stand up any longer. No stress time-outs, no little green cards to wave, no trucks to carry their gear, no slowing down. Hump till they fall. This is what happens in combat: grim, unremitting physical effort with no sleep. Maybe it’s humping with rifles and seven-eighty-two gear, maybe it’s breaking track on a P-5, maybe it’s unloading those miserable six-bys. It’s physical.
If the women keep up, I’ll shut up. If they keep up, all critics of putting women in the infantry will have to shut up. Here is a wonderful opportunity for radical feminists everywhere. But know what? I’ll get a lot of screeching and howling because of this column, accusing me of sexism and patriarchy. What I won’t get is a call by feminists to make the test. They know what would happen.