What is perhaps most striking about Secretary Panetta's action is that it reverses the combat exclusion policy that was last reviewed thoroughly during the Clinton years -- and which even Democrats embraced.
There is little question that there are a number of women who might make good combat soldiers, provided they could pass the same physical, endurance and strength tests with the same acceptable scores that current combat troops achieve. But whether a handful of exceptional women might succeed -- or opt into infantry units for that matter -- is not the relevant standard. The question is, would women's presence in combat situations enhance military effectiveness or compromise it?
One study of a brigade operating in Iraq in 2007 showed that women sustained more casualties than their male counterparts and suffered more illnesses. Female soldiers experienced three times the evacuation rate of male soldiers. And of those evacuated for medical reasons, a shocking 74 percent were for pregnancy-related issues.
The high rate of pregnancy among female soldiers is one of the best-kept secrets in the military. The various military branches are loath to publicize the figures regarding female soldiers becoming pregnant while deployed. However a study released just this week shows that military women have a higher rate of unplanned pregnancy than the comparable general population -- some 50 percent higher. And the unplanned pregnancy rate for deployed women was as high as it was for those serving stateside.
And, of course, many of the pregnancies among deployed females involved sexual activity between soldiers in the field -- which brings up one of the chief objections to women serving in combat roles.
Feminist ideologues have pooh-poohed the notion that sexual attraction is a major problem when you put young men and women together in close quarters for long periods of time under the stress of combat situations. They act as if both males and females will resist temptation and if they don't that there will be no significant consequences anyway.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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