Virtual Voices
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (left) and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey at a news conference last Thursday announcing the lifting of a U.S. military ban on women in combat.
Associated Press/Photo by Cliff Owen
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (left) and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey at a news conference last Thursday announcing the lifting of a U.S. military ban on women in combat.

Courage isn’t the issue, winning is

Military

Super Bowl Sunday should focus national attention on a glaring issue of inequality. As the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers charge on the field to the screams of rabid fans, we need to be asking, “Where are the women?” Why are the fabulous salaries, endorsement bonuses, and post-gridiron career opportunities limited to men only? Studies and experience have shown that women are just as competitive and fierce as men—just try to tangle with a bargain-seeking mom headed for the electronics department on Black Friday, if you dare! How about it, NFL? When are you going to drop your petty prejudices and unleash the power of estrogen on the gridiron?

Well, that’s just silly. As silly as recruiting Amazons to fight our battles on land and sea—oh, wait …

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Since last Wednesday we’ve heard (again) all the reasons for opening ground combat units to female personnel: We must allow women to gain the experience that leads to promotion opportunities, we should recognize the service that women have already performed while in harm’s way, we need to demolish the last barriers to full integration, and so on. Most of these reasons are stated by civilians and military staffers, not grunts. The closer one is to an actual battlefield, the less likely he or she is to be enthusiastic about female combat personnel.

Years ago George Orwell, that clear-eyed skeptic, wrote about the immense human capacity to believe things we know to be untrue, twisting facts in any way necessary to support those beliefs: “Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

Seizing a rifle or cannon swab in the heat of battle is one thing; women have performed heroically on an ad hoc basis throughout history. But cramming beside your comrades for days as you roll across the desert, or charging a machine-gun emplacement with bayonets drawn, or going house to house to fire point-blank rounds into cringing combatants, is something else. It’s called sustained offense, and as every football coach from Pop Warner to the Harbaugh brothers knows, that’s how you win.

“Battles are ugly when women fight,” says Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis, who served in World War I, knew very well that war is ugly, period. But it’s even uglier if you don’t fight to win. In a word, it’s pointless. Experience and common sense and your own two eyes will tell you that men are better suited, physically and temperamentally, to the particular demands of combat. Courage is not the issue, and exceptions tell us nothing. In this great nation there’s probably a fast, sharp, muscular female who would make a pretty good quarterback, but I’ll bet neither John nor Jim Harbaugh are concerned about finding her. Diversity isn’t their goal, winning is.

If only the Pentagon cared as much.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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