Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Women in combat

What do you think about women in combat duty? Are gender differences in the risk of PTSD? More than 40,000 American women served in the war against Iraq.  The Marine Corps awarded twenty-three women the Combat Action Ribbon for service in the Persian Gulf War because they were engaged by Iraqi troops. Desert Storm was a huge turning point for women, much like Vietnam was for African-Americans, and it showed that modern war boundaries between combat and non-combat zones are being blurred. It makes no sense to cling to semantics (combat vs combat support) given the reality of war.

In an effort to get closer to the local population, American female soldiers stationed in Afghanistan are being encouraged to wear a Muslim headscarf when interacting with civilians. But some question whether the practice constitutes cultural sensitivity or a form of appeasement that is degrading to U.S. soldiers. Having female soldiers in countries where the society and religion are male dominated is always a risky situation as it's very easy for humiliation to take account of a national's reaction to a soldier who is not a man. Sensitivity is necessary, something women have historically been better at than women. It's a possible situation where women may be able to somewhat at least, counter the paradigm with appropriate interactions. However, there will also always be times where it will only lead to disaster. Since soldiers fighting soldiers will always lead to things like that, it's a calculated risk, as war always is.

One survey showed 86 percent of  soldiers have no problem with females fighting alongside them. And they are now, more and more are in coed units. The French, German, Danish, and Canadian women are now serving in their countries as direct ground combat forces. There are some incidents of sexual harassment and inappropriate romantic relationships, but these are typical issues in these kinds of situations and require education, monitoring and management.

Women cannot typically carry the same amount of weight that regular male troops can, but then they even have trouble with their loads. Where they shouldn't be carrying more than 60-80 pounds, they are not infrequently carrying 100-120 pounds, sometimes more than half their weight. But women can be more agile, fit into places many men cannot. And as domestic Police agencies have discovered, women can frequently diffuse situations that would immediately lead to confrontations with a male component. Perhaps because of a life long situation of living as a smaller, weaker gender, women have found how to think around aggressiveness and direct confrontations, something that is typically better utilized than putting ones' head down and barreling into a wall of opposition.

So, if most issues about multi gender field units can be worked through, the question comes about how can women handle the stress, emotional and mental?

One study, Women in combat and the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, found this:

"These findings suggest that military duty in Iraq confers a similar risk of PTSD and depression by gender. It is likely that this risk has more to do with the intensity and frequency of combat experiences than gender. However, other variables need to be assessed in future studies to better understand the relationship of direct combat to mental health outcomes among women compared with men. These variables include the specific nature of the combat experiences, the prevalence of mental health problems prior to deployment, complicating factors such as sexual harassment or abuse in the deployed environment, and the trajectory of gender differences over time following return from deployment. As further studies emerge it is likely that there will not be a simple conclusion about the relationship of gender and combat to the mental health of veterans of this war. The available data point to an important hypothesis that combat duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, due to the high intensity and persistent level of threat, acts as a great equalizer of risk, resulting in similar rates of PTSD and depression for men and women. The article by Rona and colleagues underscores the importance of continued research and efforts by clinicians, policy makers and military leaders to address mental health problems among male and female war veterans."

I was told back in the 60s or 70s on this topic, that a country needs a gender to be home, and sane, mentally and emotionally stable and ready to help the men when they return with their issues from having been in Hell and then find themselves trying to remain sane in a peace time environment. It sounded reasonable at the time. But then if women want to go to war, there will always be those men and women back home to help them through their nightmare, to find their way back.

Does this make it okay for women to be in combat? No. Should women be in combat? When I consider the Israeli way of dealing with this, I would have to say yes. When I think of the American way of doing things, I almost want to say, no. But it is not for me to choose. This IS America. If women want to go to war, it is their right, and that pretty much ends it there.

It's been proved it can be effectively and functionally done. There is no real reason not to allow them to do so. It is there choice. America has tried for decades now, ever since the original Temperance movement, perhaps because of our sad Puritan beginnings, to try to protect it's citizens in an almost Big Brother way. But they, these citizen groups, the Government, need to back off and remember what America is all about. Freedom, choice, and the pursuit of Happiness. If that for a citizen, man or woman, is to go to war, then that is their choice and we need to support them to seek their "bliss".

If you don't like the idea of women in war, I would submit to you, we need to stop being at war, for both women, and men.

No comments:

Post a Comment