Thursday, August 27, 2009

This just in: (UPDATED)

People will use just about anything as evidence for things they already believe.

Case in point: Herschel Smith thinks that the presence of women in Soviet combat formations is one of the top five most important reasons for their failure in Afghanistan.
I think that other things were essential to the loss, including [a] focus on the cities v. the countryside, [b] complete breakdown of the lines of logistics due to [a] above, [c] heavy losses because of Taliban control over the roads due to [a] above, [d] focus on mounted combat and mounted patrols as opposed to dismounted operations, [e] women in combat billets which led to a high number of lower extremity injuries and a high number of combat ineffective units, and a whole host of other things. [emphasis mine]
This comes in the SWJ comment thread about an article on "Sri Lanka's disconcerting COIN strategy," as part of a post in which Smith dismisses Soviet "ruthlessness" as one of the primary reasons for defeat in the Afghan war.

So in short, girls in the infantry were more damaging to the Russian war effort than bad counterinsurgency tactics. "There is the thing of testosterone, and it's different because God made it that way." Ok? Ok. Glad we cleared that one up.

UPDATE: Herschel uses eight words to every one of mine in a response to this 200-word post. Maybe I'll put together a more in-depth response a little later, but right now I just wanted to direct you over to his site for a chuckle. I expect it will be one-way traffic, seeing as he's copied this entire post in whole, rather than excerpting it. So along with the link, here's a lesson in blogging etiquette for The Captain: when you want to highlight something that another person has written, excerpt! Like this:
If I ever give you worthless tripe like you read at Ink Spots, you should savage me in the comments.
(But only if you have a Wordpress account, because the comments aren't open. So alternatively, savage him in our comments.)

37 comments:

  1. "People will use just about anything as evidence for things they already believe."

    Isn't that the truth. Challenging your own prejudices is difficult. And when you do successfully manage to do just that, you are thrown for a loop because you don't know what to believe anymore!

    *So, related to some of the posts below, what do you Inkspots lot think of Dambisa Moyo and the 'aid only makes things worse in Africa,' meme? I'm ideologically sympathetic to it, and I have to say, sometimes the stuff you discuss around here makes me queasy. There's a plan for everything and it's always very expensive.....

    **I don't really expect answers to my various comment questions, I only ask because, well, who knows why? Seriously, though, all of you have been very good at answering my pestering and annoying questions. I do appreciate it.

    Good comments at Abu M today, btw, Gulliver, especially in regard to aid to Pakistan and corruption. I don't see how you can make another country 'see' things in any particular way, though. I just don't see how it is done with any confidence.

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  2. Smith responds:

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2009/08/28/counterinsurgency-brutality-and-women-in-combat/

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  3. Smith responds:

    Gulliver notices. Hence the update above.

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  4. I'll just say I have tried to comment on the Captain's website but it is the hardest thing in the world to do.

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  5. I'll just say I have tried to comment on the Captain's website but it is the hardest thing in the world to do.

    Thanks, Captain.

    Wait, this is confusing -- I mean the actual active-duty O-3, not the "Captain of [a] weblog."

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  6. I will admit that he does come off a bit strong, with an air of authority that does not jibe with his experience; that he reacts a bit irrationally to any disagreement (even if fairly noncontroversial); and that the third-person "we at the Captain's Journal" style of writing is a bit tedious.

    Also agree that his response could have been whittled down to a few sentences. FWIW, I thought you attributed a bit too much weight to his comment (somewhere in his lengthy retort, I think he says that). He could have simply pointed that out, rather than a lengthy rebuttal that concludes with the "worthless tripe" remark.

    But I do stop by his site occasionally just to see what he is linking to or commenting on. He is enthusiastic and does a lot of reading, so he occasionally finds material in the news that I miss.

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  7. Schmedlap,

    Yes, the writing style (we) can be tedious, but first person (I) can be equally tedious (at least to me). The best prose can be disconnected from either pronoun - but that's hard to pull off.

    As for the lengthy response, it served as my post cf the day. The entire post wasn't a reponse to Gulliver. It was a post on a sweeping number of things that were tangential to Gulliver's points.

    Gulliver,

    I have noticed that it's better when you don't intentionally pick fights with other bloggers. It's a better testimony to your own analysis capabilities when you can come up with original arguments on your own instead of riding the backs of other bloggers (avoid the "golly gee ... looky there at what that dude said!" style of blogging).

    You still haven't acknowledged that I never even once said that the post at the SWJ blog was my top five list of anything. You just made that up. It's better for bloggers not to make things up.

    As for the issue of women in combat billets, it doesn't take much authority (Schmedlap) to know that there are practical and legal and biological limits. We just differ on where to draw the line (that is, I think, because rather than outline your own position, you fall into the "Golly gee ... lookey there" approach to blogging).

    That is, I support women in the military, but not in Army infantry, Marine infantry, or Army SF or SOF. You would draw the line at where most Dems do - and leave women as part of Army infantry. I take this to be the case but am not certain of your position.

    But also take it to be the case that you wouldn't force the SF or SOF to accept women. Because you know better. I take it that you are not stupid. I don't know this for certain, but I assume it to be so.

    Again, we believe the same things. We just draw the line at different places. I have justified my own position.

    You probably should too.

    One final thing. Commenting at my blog is easy. People do it all the time. Register, check your e-mail, drop the comment, and I'll approve it if it's decent and respectful.

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  8. "But also take it to be the case that you wouldn't force the SF or SOF to accept women." Excuse my naivete, but wouldn't woman be a valuable addition to the SOF? They could do things in traditional muslim societies that men cannot. (remember that many Pakistani and Afghan radical madrassas are woman madrassas.)

    Isn't a big part of SOF connecting and working with indigenous forces? Sometimes training and advising indigenous forces? Wouldn't woman SOF be invaluable in this function? Not to mention building nonmilitary capacity . . . which is likely to be a large part of the mission set of the SOF (this is primarily the role of civil affairs . . . but SOF cannot segment themselves from this mission set fully.)

    A common critique among Iraqis was that there weren't enough American woman to interact with their woman.

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  9. That's why the Marines in both Iraq and Afghanistan use women to interact with the indigenous women. As for Marine infantry, SF and SOF, women aren't allowed because of the heavy loads, heavy physical requirements and direct action kinetics. That's not likely to change.

    It would still be interesting to hear Gulliver's position.

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  10. "women aren't allowed because of the heavy loads, heavy physical requirements and direct action kinetics" I don't follow. I remember woman in my high school and college sports teams being pretty tough. Have you seen professional woman's sports lately? Soccer and basketball in particular? Maybe I am slow on the uptick.

    In general the US military needs many more woman to conduct effective allied capacity building and COIN.

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  11. Herschel -- I have noticed that it's better when you don't intentionally pick fights with other bloggers. It's a better testimony to your own analysis capabilities when you can come up with original arguments on your own instead of riding the backs of other bloggers (avoid the "golly gee ... looky there at what that dude said!" style of blogging).

    As for the issue of women in combat billets, it doesn't take much authority (Schmedlap) to know that there are practical and legal and biological limits. We just differ on where to draw the line (that is, I think, because rather than outline your own position, you fall into the "Golly gee ... lookey there" approach to blogging).

    That is, I support women in the military, but not in Army infantry, Marine infantry, or Army SF or SOF. You would draw the line at where most Dems do - and leave women as part of Army infantry. I take this to be the case but am not certain of your position.

    But also take it to be the case that you wouldn't force the SF or SOF to accept women. Because you know better. I take it that you are not stupid. I don't know this for certain, but I assume it to be so.

    Again, we believe the same things. We just draw the line at different places. I have justified my own position.

    You probably should too.


    I’m happy for you to run your own blog the way you see fit. I’m not entirely sure that those who avoid mention of other writers demonstrate superior “analysis” capabilities, or that those who rely heavily on critiques of other work (Josh Foust comes to mind here) are “riding the backs of other bloggers,” but like I said, do as you like. I think it’s probably the case that a number of bloggers read widely and don’t spend a whole ton of time setting an independent writing agenda, so it’s no surprise that there’s overlap and that content drives other content.

    You still haven't acknowledged that I never even once said that the post at the SWJ blog was my top five list of anything. You just made that up. It's better for bloggers not to make things up.

    I haven’t acknowledged anything, because I haven’t really addressed the substance of your post. As I’m sure you noticed, my original post didn’t do that either. It was instead intended to briefly draw attention to the fact that conversations about Afghanistan – and just about everything else – are largely informed by the participants’ pre-conceived notions, political biases, ideologies, and recycled arguments, and that any attempts at fresh thinking have tremendous obstacles to overcome. Your unfortunate reference to female inclusion in Red Army combat formations as a determinative factor in the Soviets’ loss in Afghanistan merely served as a launching point.

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  12. So let’s cut through the rubbish here: your opposition to women’s participation in infantry units is fundamentally based on a pre-formed politico-cultural opinion, not on any consideration of the impact of such participation on combat effectiveness. If this weren’t true, then you’d acknowledge that there are some (if not many) women who are as capable of humping a 120-pound ruck as that 145-pound marathon-running E-3 whose recruiter was more than happy to guarantee him 0311. But then you’ll tell me about how women can’t blend into the distinctly male culture of a combat unit, or that they’ll be a distraction because male Marines won’t be able to stop thinking about them naked, or that the public can’t handle seeing women come home in body bags, or that a male infantryman will jeopardize the lives of his comrades through some perverted battlefield chivalry that leads him to behave irresponsibly in the defense of a female soldier. And you could go ahead and make all of those arguments (even though they’re pretty weak), but you’ll need to acknowledge that you’re talking about a cultural bias, a political ideology, and not about anything so pragmatic as combat effectiveness. (After all, why bring up “the Democrats” if it’s not a political issue? By the way, which “Dems include women in Army infantry”?) So when we count the roll of “disingenuous liars,” make sure you and Elaine Donnelly hold up your hands.

    As to the question of why I might’ve imagined those enumerated things to have been your “top five most important reasons for [Soviet] failure in Afghanistan”… I’m not sure I can answer, but I’ll try: maybe it’s because you wrote “I think that other things were essential to the loss,” then listed those five things. Now, perhaps there were ten “essential” factors and you only picked five. (How important is “essential”?) Would you feel better if I had written “Herschel Smith thinks that the presence of women in Soviet combat formations is one of the top ten most important reasons for their failure in Afghanistan, five of which he delineated in this thread”?

    And don’t fool yourself – we don’t believe the same things.

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  13. In the post on your site, you said this:

    Gulliver is simply indignant that I have “dismissed” Soviet ruthlessness as the reason for their failure in the campaign. But isn’t he begging the question? Has he not even allowed the Niel Smith’s assumptions to dictate the course of the debate? Niel has allowed that there is evidence that supports Luttwak’s thesis, but believes that there is stronger defeater evidence. Gulliver doesn’t engage in the debate. He simply assumes that the Soviets lost due to the reasons he outlines, and then proceeds from there. Who then is the one who uses just about anything as evidence for things he already believes?

    Do you know what “begging the question” means? Which question am I begging, exactly? And what is it precisely that demonstrates my indignance?

    I haven’t assumed anything about the reasons the Soviets lost. You’ve already noted that I didn’t even address the question, and I’ve outlined the reason why above. It was, of course, glib of me to write that “girls in the infantry were more damaging to the Russian war effort than bad counterinsurgency tactics,” considering that several of the other factors you’ve listed could be considered examples of “bad COIN tactics” and you haven’t given any sort of relative weight or priority to [a] through [e]. The point is that I find it hilarious – absurd, even – that you would choose to list females in infantry formations alongside something like “focus on the cities v. the countryside” – a legitimate tactical or operational blunder – in such a way as to suggest even remotely comparable impact. I’m left to assume that the reason for this can only be what I’d suggest is a sizable cultural and political bone to pick. In other words, much the same reason that an organization like the Center for Military Readiness is focused not so much on military readiness (if they can be said to focus on that at all) but retrograde gender politics.

    In the mean time, I have given you Luttwak, Gentile, Niel Smith, women in combat billets, heavy combat loads, squad rushes, the Small Wars Journal blog, SF and SOF, black operations and the Dems in Congress to think about.

    I feel really blessed, as I’m sure other readers do, that you’ve given me so much to “think about”! I’ll no doubt spend hours in your archives this weekend searching for more pearls of wisdom to digest, as my own reading and writing is generally bereft of any such provocation to thought.

    Get over yourself, dude.

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  14. I'm glad that you've weighed in - sort of - on the issue of women in infantry and SF. We'll revisit this later - maybe.

    Really, you should slow down a bit in your thought process. For example, read Robert's Rules of Order. Something is out of order when you claim to know the intent of someone. You can know my words, but not why I think something. You have no idea why I hold the position that I do. You're just making that up too. You have a habit of doing that, and it's really bad form.

    You should focus on the facts and display less emotion, even when you're committed to an idea.

    I think you should write a note to the Commandant and tell him that Marine infantry should let women into their ranks because they are just as strong as men. Write a note to SOCOM too while you're at it. I am about to head to the gym. I'll discuss your views with my buddy who did a set of eight deadlifts with 465 pounds a couple of night ago.

    Let me know how your communication goes.

    As for your mannerisms, demeanor, and uncivil approach to disagreements (you were the first to fight), we'll let the readers decide. I think that this has been a helpful exchange. It has told me a lot about you. I feel better, and I hope you do too.

    But don't forget. I want to know how that interaction with the Commandant goes.

    Oh, and one more thing. I get some of the liberal positions, I really do. I like reading Joshua Foust and Spencer Ackerman. Josh and I get along great, because he isn't an ass, and neither am I. But I still find absolutely fascinating this liberal desire for the eradication of gender differences. It's strange and actually quite creepy when taken to the extreme that you have (sort of like "Oh shit - this isn't pretend. This guy really believes this stuff" creepy). Have you ever, um, actually picked up 120 pounds and carried it all day?

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  15. Herschel Smith, with all due respect, you cannot always oblige but you can always speak obligingly. You disagree with Gulliver (so do I from time to time), so what?

    "I get some of the liberal positions, I really do. I like reading Joshua Foust and Spencer Ackerman." What? I never served, but the GIs I have met say "politics is outside my lane." Why call people "liberal?" Who cares if they are liberal or conservative?

    I dislike when people use the terms "liberal," "conservative," "democrat," "republican," or "progressive" as a pejorative.

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  16. Anand, with all due respect, so what?

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  17. I'm glad that you've weighed in - sort of - on the issue of women in infantry and SF. We'll revisit this later - maybe.

    Really, you should slow down a bit in your thought process. For example, read Robert's Rules of Order. Something is out of order when you claim to know the intent of someone. You can know my words, but not why I think something. You have no idea why I hold the position that I do. You're just making that up too. You have a habit of doing that, and it's really bad form.

    You should focus on the facts and display less emotion, even when you're committed to an idea.


    You know what you can do for me? Take it easy with the suggestions. I’m not particularly interested in how you think I should behave, particularly when your guidance is so obviously divorced from reality. Where’s the emotion? Where’s the “bad form”?

    Here’s what I consider bad form: engaging in a discussion of the issues, then completely refusing to respond to any of the substantive points made by your interlocutor. And that’s what you’ve done here: you’ve completely avoided addressing any of my points or answering any of my questions, deciding instead to demagogue about straw men.

    I think you should write a note to the Commandant and tell him that Marine infantry should let women into their ranks because they are just as strong as men. Write a note to SOCOM too while you're at it. I am about to head to the gym. I'll discuss your views with my buddy who did a set of eight deadlifts with 465 pounds a couple of night ago.

    Let me know how your communication goes.


    Go ahead and show me where I’ve written anything like “women are as strong as men.” I’ll be happy to write that letter, just as soon as you show me the Marine Corps regulation that mandates that lance corporals in the infantry must deadlift 465 eight times before they’re deployed to a combat zone.

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  18. Here’s an even better and more appropriate question: have you ever seen a woman do 20 pullups, knock out 80 crunches in two minutes, and run three miles in under 18 minutes? That gets you a perfect score on the male Marine physical fitness test (PFT), as I’m sure your son has told you, and I’ve seen it done more than once by a woman. I’m not going to suggest that this is a common occurrence, obviously; a 300 PFT is a big ask for a fit male, even a 19-year old infantry Marine. (How many of the men in your son’s platoon have 300 PFTs? 50%?) Men obviously have different natural strengths – particularly back and biceps, which is why men do pull-ups instead of the flexed-arm-hang performed on the female PFT – and are far more likely to perform well on this test (or to perform well when asked to carry a 120-pound pack, obviously). That said, it is an undeniable, inescapable, certain fact that there are women who can do it. Why would you resist acknowledging this fact? Is it because you recognize that in order to look pragmatic rather than political, utilitarian rather than ideological, you must push your weakest argument – that allowing women into infantry units would necessarily erode combat effectiveness?


    As for your mannerisms, demeanor, and uncivil approach to disagreements (you were the first to fight), we'll let the readers decide.

    I’ve asked you before, but I’ll repeat myself: please provide specific instances of incivility, because I’m at a loss. (Some might consider labeling someone else’s work “useless tripe” to be impolite, but I’m not going to quibble.)

    Oh, and one more thing. I get some of the liberal positions, I really do. I like reading Joshua Foust and Spencer Ackerman. Josh and I get along great, because he isn't an ass, and neither am I. But I still find absolutely fascinating this liberal desire for the eradication of gender differences. It's strange and actually quite creepy when taken to the extreme that you have (sort of like "Oh shit - this isn't pretend. This guy really believes this stuff" creepy). Have you ever, um, actually picked up 120 pounds and carried it all day?

    It’s hilarious that you’re lecturing me about presuppositions and inability to know another person’s heart, but you feel no qualms about tossing around the term “liberal”! A whole bunch of people who actually know me are laughing their asses off right now.

    Seriously, where do I argue for the “eradication of gender differences“? (Better question: how would anyone other than a geneticist or a plastic surgeon go about eradicating gender differences?) I’m waiting with bated breath.

    You’re pissed because I don’t agree with your politics, and because I’ve exposed the fact that those politics are what actually inform your “analysis.” But then, if you don’t listen to Bruce on the subject of ANSF, why would you listen to me on this? That’s the beauty of dilettantism: you can rest easy at night, knowing you can say whatever you like, never be held to account, and that you’re always right.

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  19. Made a quick call. There's a whole bunch of Marine infantry laughing at you right now. Doesn't matter though.

    So I'm afflicted with the "I'm always right syndrome," but you're not? You are the only unbiased blogger in the blog-o-sphere? Must be a heavy burden to bear.

    To close (and I really won't be back) I have a joke for you illustrating presuppositions.

    A man walks into a hospital ER and tells the attending physician that "I'm dead!" The doctor says of course you're not. You're alive. The man says, no, I'm sure of it - I'm dead. So the doctor makes an agreement with him. He says okay, do dead men bleed? The man says no. So the doctor pricks the man's finger and blood comes out.

    The man say "Well, look at that! Dead men do bleed."

    I hope you do well at being the only unbiased man on the planet.

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  20. Uh, after reading through this thread, I think it may have been better to me up on my goofy suggestion and discuss aid to Africa......

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  21. Madhu, I would be interested in your thoughts on aid to Africa.

    Africom is be the next big focus after Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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  22. I am also puzzled by Smith's references to Democrats and letting females into Army infantry. To read his blog, it sounds like since the new administration took office, females have been allowed into the infantry. What?

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  23. But Gulliver, I expect that in a typical rifle platoon, the vast majority can meet or exceed a 300 PFT score.

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  24. But Gulliver, I expect that in a typical rifle platoon, the vast majority can meet or exceed a 300 PFT score.

    Tintin -- A significant percentage of the guys can max the pull-ups and crunches, but a lot of dudes are never going to break 20:00 on the run. That's a 288 right there.

    There's no way to "exceed" a 300 PFT, as it's a perfect score.

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  25. Anand, I have no freaking clue about aid to Africa, but we sure do seem to spend a lot of money, the results of which are pretty mixed.....

    *Gulliver, I put up a comment at Abu M in relation to *your* comment regarding admin costs to Pakistani aid. I found a NYT review of Military Inc by Ayesha Siddiqa that was pretty interesting and underscored your point about money being fungible.

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  26. er, money being fungible in terms of development aid to Pakistan, oh never mind, you all know what I mean....

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  27. 20 minutes for 3 miles is doable. But 18 minutes? That's hard. Must feel like hell afterwords.

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  28. Madhu: "er, money being fungible in terms of development aid to Pakistan, oh never mind, you all know what I mean...."

    Madhu, please state more fully what your thoughts are. I don't understand what you mean and it sounds interesting.

    Anand - "I dislike when people use the terms "liberal," "conservative," "democrat," "republican," or "progressive"..."

    agree, with a substitute for 'perjorative':

    ~instead of explaining what it is that the commentator opposes.

    Very interesting post and comments - from my pov.

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  29. Madhu - a suggestion: a definition of a word is a good beginning. In this case, it seems a good choice would be fungible - but maybe not?

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  30. Gulliver, this is really very simple. You posited that women would increase combat effectiveness. This leads me to wonder whether you are on drugs or not. Women would be a detriment to combat effectiveness, as combat includes the need to kill large, bad men.

    Are women a valuable addition to COIN campaigns? Yes, which is why they are utilized in such roles. Herschel may have his faults and weaknesses, but yours (in this instance) far outstrips his own. If I had to go with Herschel's army or Gulliver's, it would be Herschel's hands down. That tells the tale, does it not? (no, I don't really want to hear your response - rhetorical)

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  31. Gulliver, this is really very simple. You posited that women would increase combat effectiveness.

    On the bright side, you've exceeded Herschel by actually responding to a point. Unfortunately, it's not a point that I've made. You need to read more carefully, I think: I never said "women would increase combat effectiveness," nor did I say anything that even closely approximated that.

    If I had to go with Herschel's army or Gulliver's, it would be Herschel's hands down.

    While you're obviously entitled to your opinion, I don't think you really have much idea what "Gulliver's army" is. You haven't shown much capability for understanding what I've written, so I don't have much faith in your projections on subjects about which I haven't expressed a position.

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  32. Your words heavily intimate that you believe women in combat billets would be a good thing. Because the job of combat billets is to engage in kinetic action, one must assume you believe either women would increase combat effectiveness or that a unit's combat effectiveness would at least be the same with or without women.

    If you can't own up to that, or provide a clear and concise definition of what you believe the effects of women in combat billets to be, then what in hell are you complaining about?! Why would you write a short post taking a pot shot at someone who IS putting their ideas in the marketplace?

    Even if you don't take ownership of the viewpoint I assigned to you, at least put something up here that's got some meat behind it. I think women in combat billets would be an extremely, very, really, completely horrible idea, and you in fact outlined some of the good reasons for that (while casting them aside) above. So you disagree. Maybe? Or not? What do you think? Put it out there! Cut the moving targets, or quit your bitching!

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  33. Cut the moving targets, or quit your bitching!

    Thanks, but I don't think I will.

    I just wrote an entire post elaborating on how the focus of this entire debate was NOT the question of women in infantry units. I'm not going to do it again.

    One last time: the original post was about Herschel's assertion that the Soviets lost in Afghanistan in no small measure because of women in their infantry formations. I thought this was a stupid thing to say. The end.

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  34. So, then, you DON'T have anything to add to the discussion other than you think Herschel said something stupid. When I am in a forum where people are throwing their ideas into the marketplace (like, say, a development meeting), I wouldn't last very long with my peers if I just called their ideas stupid.

    This is the first visit I've paid to Ink Spots. Your lack of novel input makes it look like ameteur hour over here.

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  35. This is the first visit I've paid to Ink Spots. Your lack of novel input makes it look like ameteur hour over here.

    Thanks for reading!

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  36. This thread: too jokes.

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