The conservative reaction to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that the military would abolish its arbitrary restriction against women serving in positions defined as “combat roles” is predictable but a bit behind the times. As Adam Serwer at Mojo quickly pointed out, a lot of women are already placing themselves in the line of fire without technically being in a combat role. Check out Serwer’s response to the Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson, who has been prominent among opponents of the rule change:
Carlson is a political journalist, so he might be expected to know that there is a woman US Army veteran amputee named Tammy Duckworth currently serving in Congress. Duckworth, who represents Illinois’ 8th congressional district, lost her legs after an attack brought down the helicopter she was piloting in Baghdad.
But this development is actually a bit older than you might think. Back in 2002, on the brink of the second Iraq War, in a Washington Monthly article, Phillip Carter predicted thousands of women would serve in de facto combat roles in Iraq, based on earlier experience:
Since the Gulf victory in 1991, a series of largely unnoticed policy changes have opened new opportunities for women to fight alongside, and even to lead, front-line troops. The Navy and Air Force, with some fanfare, allowed women into the cockpits of fighters and bombers. But less well known is how vastly the Army has expanded the role of women in ground-combat operations. Today, women command combat military police companies, fly Apache helicopters, work as tactical intelligence analysts, and even serve in certain artillery units—jobs that would have been unthinkable for them a decade ago. In any war in Iraq, these changes could put thousands of women in the midst of battle, far more than at any time in American history.
Carter, like Serwer, notes that having combat roles officially opened will be extremely helpful to women who want a professional career in the armed services, since combat experience is often crucial to promotion opportunities. And in any event, elimination of the gender barrier does not mean women unqualified for combat roles will assume them, any more than unqualified men, a point Serwer makes:
Most men cannot meet the necessary mental and physical requirements for service in combat. Any woman who can meet those standards should not be denied the opportunity because of an arbitrary gender restriction. Moreover, removing the restriction is not about celebrating militarism. The military has long been a path for historically disfavored groups to claim the full benefits of citizenship. Justifying discrimination against blacks, gays and lesbians, or women becomes much more difficult when they’re giving their lives for their country.
Perhaps that’s an underlying motive for conservatives deploring the change: it helps give discrimination a bad name!
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