Monday, August 31, 2009

"Whoever said this is a f****** pogue"

What exactly the "this" is isn't clear, but that's apparently what Herschel Smith and his "authority" (his son) want you to know about me.

Look, let's get some things straight: being a Marine is hard. Being an infantryman is even harder. Like really, really damned hard. Too hard for most dudes, and considering the physical challenges, especially for women.

Ok, so are we straight on that? Honestly, I'm not trying to be facetious or sarcastic or glib or smarmy. Doing anything with a whole bunch of weight on your back is extremely difficult. Add in threat to life and limb and I would expect that it gets damned near impossible.

Important fact number two: yes, I am a pogue. I sit at a desk. My operating environment is not a difficult one. The most challenging thing I'll face today is a bout of drowsiness that results from eating too much kung pao chicken. I have never humped a full combat load in a war zone or anywhere else. I have never "strap[ped] 120 pounds on [my] body and play[ed] men's football for a season," not to mention "do[ing] it while being sleep deprived and with guys dropping around [me] from heat stroke." I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who have done and do these things in service to our nation.

None of which really has anything at all to do with the subject of this little back-and-forth, which is Herschel Smith's contention that the inclusion of women in Red Army combat units was an important contributing factor to the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.

It's not about whether or not women are as strong as men, or whether I have a Combat Action Ribbon, or whether Democrats want to integrate the Special Operations Forces, or even whether or not I think women should be able to join U.S. Army and Marine infantry units. If you've paid attention, you'll notice that I never even offered an opinion on that subject.

There's a conversation to be had about the suitability of women for combat. There's even a separate conversation to be had about their suitability for infantry units. (As Herschel and his son have pointed out, there are complications beyond simple upper-body strength, like the range of personal hygiene- and health-related challenges posed to corpsmen and medics serving with infantry units. And they didn't even mention it, but I hear cooties can be a bitch, too.) The point is that while we could invest a lot of time and energy going back and forth about all of that stuff, that isn't what my original post was about, and that's not the subject on which I was challenging Herschel. He made a simple claim -- that women's participation in infantry combat helped the Soviets lose to the mujahideen -- and I mocked him for it. Instead of explaining how or why his claim was legitimate, he went after the women-in-the-infantry straw man.

And now, he says, the case is closed. The authority has spoken. Only he's an authority on what it's like to be an infantry Marine, not on the combat-effectiveness of integrated Soviet line units in the Afghan war.

But beyond that, "authority" doesn't really matter in this conversation, does it? When women are allowed to enlist with any MOS, and when Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other impediments to the full and open service of homosexuals are repealed or removed -- and let's be clear: these are whens, not ifs -- the decision is going to be made by our political leaders, not by experts in infantry combat, not by me, not by Herschel Smith or his son, and not by Elaine Donnelly. So let's just dispense with the notion that "expertise" matters here, shall we?

So we could have all those other conversations that I mentioned before, but what's the point? We've come full circle: it's all back to politics and preconceptions. It's not Herschel's fault, really, that he lets his politics and his worldview inform his thinking on this issue: it is, after all, something that will be decided by the political process. The problem (well, for him, anyway) is that time and demographics are not on his side. And so his arguments (weak though they may be) and his appeals to authority aren't really worth the time, are they?

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