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Discussion on women in combat with Mackubin Owens, Jennifer Marshall, and Karen Meeker

On Wednesday March 2nd, the first of three panels in a conference organized by Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy spoke on the topic of women and their current and planned roles in combat.* The Women in Combat panel was comprised of three experts: Dr. Mackubin Owens, Dean of IWP; Jennifer Marshall, IWP alumna and vice president of the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation; and CH (LTC) Karen Meeker, IWP US Army War College Fellow.

Currently, there is some debate on the relationship between women, active combat, and the evolving nature of war. All of the experts on the panel were keen to point out how shifts to the locus of fighting in a military theater has generated questions about our conception of how wars are fought and, as it concerns women, the bleeding over of frontline dangers to non-frontline positions. This panel sought to address these issues.

CH (LTC) Meeker was the most sanguine of the three panelists on the role of women in combat going forward.  She believes that women have proven to be as capable of adapting to and enduring the evolution of the battlefield as men have been. She did not, however, suggest that women are inherently as capable in positions of frontline combat as men.

Dr. Owens’ view differed somewhat from that of CH Meeker. Namely, he noted that there is a critical distinction between a woman’s ability to withstand a combat situation and her ability to actively search out and engage the enemy. In the former situation, she must survive; in the latter, she must kill.  He supported his argument by citing a study conducted by the Marine Corps, which found that even the most successful mixed gender units tended to perform far worse than their uniformly male counterparts-even those in the lower quadrants of the male performance bracket. Warfighting, argued Dr. Owens, is the purview of the male sex, because only it has the unique physical and emotional hardware, unit cohesion, and physical toughness and aggression needed for actually killing the enemy.

Ms. Marshall echoed similar sentiments to Dr. Owens’. She cautioned that society should be careful to separate the desire to liberate women from dismantling a “load bearing” wall. Women and men are fundamentally different from one another, and this fact is apparent in the biology and physiology of each. Equality for women cannot be supposed as a simple matching of what men do on each and every point, but in achieving the highest freedoms allowed by nature and the virtue of complementarity to the male sex. Opening the doors to women for active duty combat roles cannot be said to be an action that achieves equality, because women were not designed for the physical rigors of the frontline.