The American military is advancing.
Last week, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with the support of the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, announced the Pentagon would lift the ban restricting women from combat positions. This policy change is the latest step toward making the military a stronger, more inclusive force, following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell last year.
By making it possible for military leaders to select candidates based on ability rather than gender, the Pentagon is allowing for a stronger force. Women who are qualified and able to take part in ground combat should not sit on the sidelines.
Critics of the new policy argue that placing men and women in combat situations together will create sexual tension that may distract soldiers from completing their mission. American troops live, work, fight and die together. The idea that sexual attraction would prohibit some of America’s most trained and talented military personnel from completing a mission they are quite literally risking their lives for is offensive to these individuals. If this policy change sparks a discussion about the culture of sexual violence often associated with the military, Americans would be better for it. However, qualified women who want to serve their country in direct combat should not be denied simply because the military worries she may see a man naked or catch the eye of a lonely comrade. Any woman, if she is deemed physically and mentally prepared for a ground combat mission, should be allowed the opportunity.
Though this change is a landmark for both women’s rights and the history of American civil liberties, this policy should not force the military to undergo major structural changes, especially during wartime. The military should work to integrate women into combat positions while keeping its ability to function as its top priority, even if that means delaying integration of women into the combat. Gender inclusion is an important goal for the U.S. military, but maintaining a strong military is an American necessity.
Overall, the end to the ban on women in combat should be hailed as a defining moment of the 21st century and should set a precedent for the benefits of inclusion worldwide.