Should women be allowed to fight on the front lines?

Stephen Smith wants women
to be on the front lines
Earlier this week the Australian Government did something of consequence. Yes, it was a remarkable change of form for the PM and her band of merry men… and women.

Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, announced women will now be eligible to serve on the front lines of military combat.

Essentially, this means women will now have the opportunity to train for the most gruesome part of military ‘work’ – killing at close quarters.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement has been somewhat polarising.

On one side of the argument, women’s rights campaigners have seen it as another item they can tick off their to-do list. In their eyes, men and women should be allowed to do everything equally, therefore, anything which discriminates on the basis of gender is bad.

On the other side, a predominantly male audience has protested against the decision, arguing females aren’t up to the strenuous physical and mental demands required for this particular line of ‘work’.

Currently, two other countries allow women to serve on the front lines – the powerhouse military nations of Canada and New Zealand. 1

So, the obvious question: is this a good idea?

Well, that’s why I’m here; to offer a (largely) uninformed and (hardly) unbiased opinion.

I’m on record as having argued previously for the removal of so-called ‘glass ceilings’ for women. I’m also on record appealing against discrimination against women on the grounds of physicality – see my tennis rant.

So it seems my argument has already been made. But I think this is something different. Well, it feels a little different anyway.

Arguing women should have the same opportunities as men is one thing. But arguing that women should be trained to kill and have the same opportunities to kill as men is hardly the same.

Let’s be clear here, anyone can join the defence forces. But not everyone gets sent to the front lines.

Those on the front lines need to meet the highest of standards. To paraphrase the great Jack Nicholson, we live in a world with walls, and those walls have to be guarded by people with guns. On the front lines, you have to put your life in another person’s hands, and hold their life in yours.

In essence, this is the most dangerous, brutal, violent, unsafe and bravest job anyone could possibly choose to do.

The argument of ‘everyone deserves a chance to defend their country’ only goes so far. You can do that in a whole variety of ways and women do so already in a multitude of ways.

Women have technically been
on the front lines for a while now
Furthermore, women, essentially, already serve on the front lines. They’re the crew on battleships and submarines. They fly Hornets and Jets into action against the enemy. There are plenty of women in Afghanistan serving alongside male comrades.

But the argument that everyone should have the chance to kill at close quarters for their country is, again, a little different I feel. Should we really be campaigning for women to have the chance to do this? Perhaps there’s a moral component to this argument that’s being overlooked.

However, I think this whole debate could be rendered moot in the not-too-distant future anyway. Why? Well, here’s where it gets interesting.

Ask anyone in military intelligence today and they’ll confidently say that, while standing armies and military personnel will always be a threat, warfare is moving in a new direction.

The most dangerous enemy these days isn’t marching towards you holding a flag. They’re travelling on your mass transit system holding a suitcase.

In World War One, the French army was caught out badly in many battles against Germany by failing to realise the rules of warfare had changed.

French armies still carried a flag and waited to line up in formation for a formal battle. While they were busy doing this, the Germans attacked. The result? France was almost wiped off the map.

While we still see intense man-to-man combat in warfare, increasingly the military are using drones (un-manned aircraft) to attack. And like I said before, the most dangerous enemy is the person in civilian clothing willing to blow themselves up for a cause.

So, while the debate regarding women on the front lines is an important one, an issue I find far more interesting is: how do we adapt to a new form of warfare?

Back to the point though, the argument surrounding women on the front lines isn’t going to go away.

When the first woman gets killed in action, it’ll turn up again. When the first woman combatant gets captured by a radicalised enemy, it’ll come up again. When the first female-led front line campaign fails, it’ll get revisited.

That’s because the people arguing on both sides of this issue are fairly set in their ways.

Until people start to approach the argument by sensibly discussing whether this concept will a) work, and b) whether it’s a good idea or not, I fear we’ll keep going round in circles.

So while I agree in principle, I think there are plenty of factors surrounding this issue that, as yet, appear to have not been considered.

1: Sarcasm alert!


Tim H said…
valid points but who is a government to stand in the way of freedom of choice- Particularly when that choice is supposedly for the country's benefit?
Steve Garner said…
Was the decision made because women in the front line would strengthen our military forces or because it would please a political lobby group? Military defence is not an area where we can afford to play political games.
Cpad said…
Is there nowhere a man can go to get a little me time??