Two hundred and thirty-one years ago, Deborah Sampson enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment as a light infantry soldier, taking a saber to the side of the head and two musket balls to the thigh and consequently receiving an honorable discharge for her service in the American Revolution under George Washington. Jennie Hodgers, 152 years ago, began service in the 95th Illinois Infantry and fought in over 40 skirmishes and battles, including the Siege of Vicksburg.
In the past century, there have been no Deborah Sampsons or Jennie Hodgerses making waves in the military sphere. Aside from being taboo, women were simply not officially assigned to combat zones.
Last week, the Pentagon announced that it would repeal the 1994 ban that prevented women from serving in combat.
This most recent shift in Pentagon policy caps a process that has been years in the making. Historically, women have served in countless non-combative positions such as nurses, pilots and maintenance staff. Since then, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin’s 1994 directive declared women “eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignments … whose primary mission is direct combat on the ground.”
That said, anyone who opposes Leon Panetta and the Joint Chief’s decision to repeal this rule seriously misunderstands the nature of warfare in the modern world. Four hundred nurses died in World War I, 88 women were held as POWs in World War II and 152 women have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nature of modern war means that danger no longer exists solely in infantry combat.
Arguments against lifting restrictions largely fail to provide compelling and logical reasons to exclude women from combat positions. Some former commanders have argued that factors like pregnancy and romantic jealousy can hamper the effectiveness of a mission. Though these might be possibilities, they are not probabilities.
Fights among male soldiers are just as common, showing us that gender segregation will not solve inter-military conflict. Women should be excluded from military combat positions if they exhibit detrimental and inappropriate behavior, but women should not be excluded because of their sex.
Some argue that it is simply a matter of physical capability. Ambreea Dills, a former National Guard soldier, said, “There’s no way that a woman can carry the same weight that a man can.” She might be right, but her argument is a non sequitur. For one, it is outlandish to assert that a woman who makes it through basic training and fights on the front lines will always perform worse than a male soldier at any given combat-related task. Additionally, it isn’t about who can lift more, run faster or jump higher relative to other soldiers. What matters is that all of our soldiers perform not only with physical competency, but also mental dexterity, which countless women have proven they can do.
The move to allow women equal opportunity in the armed forces follows in the footsteps of greater equality for homosexuals (in both the civil and armed forces sectors), women in the workforce, immigrants and a host of other minority groups previously marginalized by society.
The American government’s priority should be to ensure equal rights for all, and part of that means allowing both capable men and women to serve our country in the way they best can. Whether or not one agrees with President Barack Obama’s politics, it is undeniable that allowing women to fight in our armed forces stands as a large step toward promoting a meritocracy for our troops.
Nathaniel Haas is a freshman majoring in economics and political science.