Interview with Kingsley Browne
'You hear about slack discipline in mixed sex units because members are devoting too much attention to the opposite sex'. Author of 'Co-ed Combat' talks to Kate Fillion about why all women in the U.S. military should be out of Iraq
KATE FILLION | November 8, 2007 |
A: There clearly is at least an incipient movement, you see it in much of the press, where there have been a lot of stories about how women in Iraq are basically doing the same things as men and how the services there, particularly the army, are chafing under the restrictions of the prohibition on [female participation in] ground combat. Survey numbers show that about 10 per cent of military women say they themselves would be willing to volunteer for combat, but larger numbers say that women who want to should have the option.
Q: What would be wrong with letting that 10 per cent volunteer?
A: The argument that's made frequently is that combat is no longer a test of brawn but of brains, so while it's true that men are stronger than women, it doesn't matter. But strength still matters! In the infantry, the typical soldier is carrying at a minimum 60 lb., and a lot are carrying 75 to 100 lb. That's a very heavy load, and it's not just that you have to carry it across the street, you have to carry it for miles, then have sufficient energy reserves to dig into what might be very hard ground, and then do what you went there for: engage in a fight with the enemy. Strength matters even on warships. You might have a job — cook, say, or radioman — that doesn't require much strength when things are operating normally, but if the ship gets hit by a missile, suddenly everybody's job is damage control. When a U.S. ship hit an Iranian mine in the Persian Gulf in 1988 and almost sank, the captain ordered the magazine emptied of ammunition so it didn't blow up the ship, and the shells were 50 lb. apiece. Twenty per cent of the ship's crew was in a bucket brigade, passing these shells down the line. When bad things happen you often do need strength. Let's say you're a pilot whose airplane is attacked by hostile fire. One 220-lb. pilot who was in that position said it took every ounce of strength he had to keep the airplane steady. And he was a big, beefy guy.
Q: Is there any other reason women shouldn't be flying combat aircraft?
A: Well, the possibility of being a POW, which raises special problems. Once captured, female prisoners face a substantial risk of rape, and that's something that, for the most part, men don't face.
Q: If a woman is willing to take that risk, shouldn't she be allowed to?
A: The thing is, it doesn't just affect her. The captors may very well also have male prisoners, and can use the abuse or threats of abuse of female prisoners as a means of extracting information or other kinds of co-operation from male prisoners. We know from the air force training that even in simulations, men are much more distressed by abuse of their female comrades than their male comrades. You don't want to give the enemy an extra tool. Another issue is the effect on national morale when females are taken prisoner. The Jessica Lynch example showed pretty clearly that it's perceived as a greater blow to the nation when females are captured — and we see now how public perceptions of how we're doing and the costs we're paying affect the resolve to continue a conflict.
Q: You say we're not getting the full picture of women's military performance in Iraq. What information is being withheld?
A: The mainstream press in general seems favourably disposed toward the service of women, so we get stories only of their good performance, we don't hear about their bad performance. But you do hear anecdotal reports, not so much about women's performance under fire as much as about slack discipline in the mixed sex support units, because the members are often devoting too much of their attention to the opposite sex. There's too much monkey business.
Q: I was surprised that a central command officer told you no one is collecting information about the number of soldiers who get pregnant in Iraq.
A: I cannot believe the U.S. military is so unconcerned with the causes of personnel loss that they aren't keeping track, but releasing it is another matter. They don't see any advantage in saying that even a small number of women are leaving because of pregnancy. A statistic that you see frequently is that at any one time, about 10 per cent of the women serving in the military — not just in Iraq, but in every part of the military — are pregnant. So far, 155,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan altogether, so I'd guess that hundreds, and likely more, have become pregnant and returned home, or weren't able to deploy in the first place because they were pregnant.