The Magazine

Coed Combat Units

A bad idea on all counts

Feb 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 20 • By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
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It was evident that stress and muscular deterioration was affecting everyone regardless of gender; however, the rate of my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. At the end of the 7-month deployment .  .  . I had lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which personally resulted in infertility, but is not a genetic trend in my family), which was brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment. Regardless of my deteriorating physical stature, I was extremely successful during both of my combat tours, serving beside my infantry brethren and gaining the respect of every unit I supported. Regardless, I can say with 100 percent assurance that despite my accomplishments, there is no way I could endure the physical demands of the infantrymen whom I worked beside as their combat load and constant deployment cycle would leave me facing medical separation long before the option of retirement. I understand that everyone is affected differently; however, I am confident that should the Marine Corps attempt to fully integrate women into the infantry, we as an institution are going to experience a colossal increase in crippling and career-ending medical conditions for females.


Men and Women 

The key to success on the battlefield is unit cohesion, which all research has shown to be critically important. Advocates of opening combat specialties to women have tried to change the definition of cohesion over the years, but the best remains that of the 1992 report of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces: “the relationship that develops in a unit or group where (1) members share common values and experiences; (2) individuals in the group conform to group norms and behavior in order to ensure group survival and goals; (3) members lose their identity in favor of a group identity; (4) members focus on group activities and goals; (5) unit members become totally dependent on each other for the completion of their mission or survival; and (6) group members .  .  . meet all the standards of performance and behavior in order not to threaten group survival.” 

The glue of unit cohesion is what the Greeks called philia—friendship, comradeship, or brotherly love. In The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, J. Glenn Gray described the importance of philia: “Numberless soldiers have died, more or less willingly, not for country or honor or religious faith or for any other abstract good, but because they realized that by fleeing their post and rescuing themselves, they would expose their companions to greater danger. Such loyalty to the group is the essence of fighting morale. .  .  . Comrades are loyal to each other spontaneously and without any need for reasons.” 

The Greeks identified another form of love: eros. Unlike philia, eros is individual and exclusive. Eros manifests itself as sexual competition, protectiveness, and favoritism. The presence of women in the close confines of a combat unit unleashes eros at the expense of philia. As the late Charles Moskos, the great military sociologist, once commented, “when you put men and women together in a confined environment and shake vigorously, don’t be surprised if sex occurs. When the military says there can be no sex between a superior and a subordinate, that just flies in the face of reality. You can’t make a principle based on a falsehood.” Mixing the sexes and thereby introducing eros into an environment based on philia creates a dangerous form of friction in the military.

The destructive effect on unit cohesion of amorous relationships can be denied only by ideologues. Does a superior order his or her beloved into danger? If he or she demonstrates favoritism, what are the consequences for unit morale and discipline? What happens when jealousy rears its head? These are questions of life and death. 

Feminists contend that these manifestations of eros are the result only of a lack of education and insensitivity to women, and can be eradicated through indoctrination. But all the social engineering in the world cannot change the fact that men treat women differently than they treat other men. 


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