One crucial question has been ignored amidst the brouhaha over the petition to the Chief of General Staff by a group of hesder yeshiva students concerned about the effect of the IDF's integration of women into combat units on their ability to serve: What impact will women in combat units have on the fighting ability of those units? Forgotten is the fact that nations maintain armies to fight and win wars.
To even raise the issue is to risk being accused, in the words of Meretz MK Ran Cohen, of seeking to turn Israel into Iran. In America, where full integration of women into the armed services is far more advanced than in Israel, it is today considered a career-ender in the military to question the efficacy of women combatants.
Efforts at integration of women, however, will always flounder on one basic fact of nature: Women are not as strong as men. They have, on average, half the upper body strength and 37% less muscle mass.
As a consequence, they are unable to perform many military tasks or endure the same rigorous training that men traditionally have. According to Brigadier-General Suzy Yogev, women in some Israeli units suffer 30% more stress fractures than men in training.
Ideologues, however, hate to be confronted with empirical reality. Rather than admit that men and women are not physically equal, the American armed services undertook to lower their training standards. Obstacle courses have been renamed confidence-building courses and made easier. Recruits are no longer required to do push-ups on a count, but to do the "best they can" in a timed exercise.
Because few women can do even one pull-up, the new standards require only holding onto a chin-up bar in a bent-arm position. Something similar has already taken place in the IDF, where the weight carried by troops in training marches has been decreased dramatically to accommodate women.
In addition, the elaborate set of rituals by which men have always bonded into cohesive fighting units has been abandoned as unsuitable. As Barbara Pope, a former undersecretary of the Navy for manpower, described the goal: "We are weeding out the white male as the norm. We're about changing the culture."
Stephanie Guttman, in a superb article entitled "Sex and the Soldier" (The New Republic, February 24, 1997), describes the result: "a kind of feel-good feminization of boot camp culture, with the old (male) ethos of competition and survival given at least partial way to a new (female) spirit of competition and esteem building."
But again, no one has bothered to ask the question: What will be the effect of changing the ways that male units have traditionally tried to ensure their survival on the battlefield by bringing the weakest links up to snuff? Will groups of men form cohesive units when women are placed in their midst?
Armed services can ignore the facts of nature, but the results will be felt in money and lives. The US Army twice attempted to develop "gender neutral" strength tests for different military operational specialties. The effort had to be abandoned when preliminary studies showed that most women were not strong enough for 70% of the military specialties. Yet allowing women into those specialties without such standards has resulted in a situation in which women are disproportionately incapable of performing the military specialties for which they have been trained.
In such cases, the cost of retraining comes to $16,000 per soldier.
In short, standards can be lowered for basic training, but the conditions of actual military operations cannot be made equally forgiving. And attempts to do so can be costly. Online, where military commanders shed some of their political correctness, Guttman found plenty of grousing. One Marine commander complained of the demoralization caused by continually having to turn his formations around to pick up the females left behind.
"I would hate to see how many Marines I would lose if we were in combat and had to be somewhere fast," he wrote.
Kara Hultgreen was one of the first female fighter pilots in the US armed services. During training she recorded seven crashes in combat conditions - a record that would have grounded a male cadet. She was also pushed to retake the training for landing after having initially failed the test. Unfortunately, she was killed in a crash after overshooting the runway on an aircraft carrier.
Though the official Navy statement attributed her death to engine failure, two internal Navy investigations revealed "multiple instances of pilot error."
Ironically, Hultgreen had earlier written to a Rear Admiral, "If people let me slide through on a lower standard, it's my life on the line."
America faces no enemies on her borders and no military adversaries that threaten her vital interests, much less her very existence. Israel does not enjoy that luxury.
Take a look at the horrifying movies of the military training of Palestinian youth in which they take apart and assemble submachineguns blindfolded. We can be sure that our enemies are not concerned with developing a new kinder, gentler ethos for their armed forces, but with turning out the most efficient killers possible. They do not see the army as the mechanism for changing society, but as an instrument for winning wars.
Our razor-thin margin of survival was brought home to me last week on a visit to Kibbutz El-Rom. There we viewed a movie on the 1973 tank battle in the Valley of Tears on the northern Golan. Less than 200 Israeli tanks, under the command of Avigdor Kahalani, confronted 1,500 Syrian tanks at the outset of the Yom Kippur War. By the end of the three-day battle, only four Israeli tanks were still operational, but they had succeeded in holding off the Syrians for three days, and in the process, probably saved the Golan.
Kahalani describes how at one point his tank and a Syrian tank came face-to-face, and the only question was which would fire first. Had a woman been in Kahalani's tank and required to load the heavy tank shell, the result of that showdown would likely have been the opposite. We would have lost one of our few remaining tanks and the unit's commanding officer.
Thinking about that confrontation makes the failure to discuss the impact of women in combat in empirical terms truly frightening.