The Obama administration framed its decision to put women into combat as a matter of choice and fairness. “Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier,” outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “but everyone is entitled to a chance.”
But there is little about war that is either about choice or fairness.
Here’s a big question President Obama ought to face head on: Is he willing to draft "Julia" on an equal basis with John and if not, why not? ("Julia" was the Obama campaign's fictional construct of the average American woman, whose support they sought.)
Will Obama moms put up with the prospect that their daughters could be sent to war involuntarily, just like men?
Because President Obama has just single-handedly gutted the legal rationale for excluding women from the draft.
In 1981, the Supreme Court upheld a males-only draft registration law for one reason alone: “Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft.”
That law excluding women from the draft is now a sitting duck, bereft of any legal legs to stand on unless President Obama steps forward to provide a new rationale.
Will Obama moms put up with the prospect that their daughters could be sent to war involuntarily, just like men? Will anyone put the question to them or to President Obama in a politically effective way?
Congress must use its power to find out the truth about women in combat. Three questions must be raised, and the data collected to answer them:
1. What is the cost to military effectiveness of sending women into combat?
2. What is the cost to the taxpayer per successful woman recruit compared to male combat troops?
3. Finally, what is the cost to the physical and mental health of young women themselves, compared to male soldiers?
Even with sharply lowered physical standards for women in the Army, for example, women’s failure, injury, and attrition rates are much higher than men’s. (Meaning that the cost of recruiting one female soldier is much higher). Women soldiers also have higher rates of hospitalization for mental disorders and also higher rates of evacuation from the field for psychiatric reasons, a 2011 review of the medical literature by Dr. Fatma Batuman and colleagues showed.
And then there’s the fact that at least one out of ten active-duty women soldiers is pregnant, unintentionally each year. A 2013 study by Kate Grindlay and Daniel Grossman found that almost 11 percent of women soldiers said they had been pregnant unintentionally in the past year.
If one out of ten men were unavailable for combat each year because of an unexpected medical condition, our military would literally be decimated.
The taxpayers, meanwhile, bear an unequal burden in hiring women soldiers who serve less time, sustain more injuries, and are much more likely to be non-deployable.
What about the cost to young women themselves? After ten years in combat-exposed service, the Pentagon should have hard data but if so it is not releasing it.
Women soldiers express the most concern.
Listen hard to Marine Capt. Katie Petronio, who was deployed twice under combat conditions with the engineering corps in Iraq and Afghanistan. “My main concern is a question of longevity,” she wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette, “At the beginning of my tour in Helmand Province, I was physically capable of conducting combat operations for weeks at a time.”
However, “By the fifth month into the deployment, I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. My agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering my response time and overall capability. 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.”
Petronio lost 17 pounds and is now infertile.
This happened even though she was carrying a fraction of the physical load men carried.
For "Julia’s" own sake, as well as for the sake of our national defense and our taxpayers, Congress should demand accountability on the costs of this new experiment: the costs to the military first and foremost, the costs to the taxpayers, and finally, the costs to the women themselves.
If young women are assuming greater risk to their health or their children by volunteering for combat duty (or military service) compared to male soldiers, they ought at least to know it.
All of these inquiries need to feed into a fourth question which President Obama must be called on to answer:
Is he willing to draft "Julia" or not? If not, why not?
The Supreme Court will want to know.