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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Should women soldiers fight on the front-line?
Women soldiers in the UK are to be put through combat trials to see if they've got what it takes for front-line fighting.
The Ministry of Defence's move to give women a chance to prove their worth is a direct challenge to the traditional Armed Forces view that female soldiers are not capable of front-line combat.
Women in the US, Canada, Holland, Norway, Israel and Eritrea are given the chance to battle it out side-by-side with men, so why not in Britain?
Do you think it is high time female soldiers were treated equally, or do you consider front-line battle a job best left 'to the boys'?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
John G, Texas, USA
I am Captain in an Armoured Regiment of the Canadian Army, so I took notice of the mention of Canada as a gender mixed army. It is my experience that few women wish to join the combat trades, and the Canadian Forces, despite its desperate efforts, has fallen dramatically short of its recruiting "targets" (NOT Quotas!). Of those women who do join, more than 90% do not finish their first contract, quitting due to pregnancy, injury, or general lack of wherewithal. For most of those women who have joined, their presence has been made easier by the abolition (not lowering) of physical fitness standards. As an officer, I can no longer dismiss a trooper who cannot keep up physically, nor do I have any legal way of forcing him/her to shape-up. How has this made us a better army? It is not worth compromising a nation's military strength for a liberal political agenda. Women are not physically suited for the combat trades. Frankly, they should be happy about this.
No women should not be put on the front line. Western society is worried about growing violence among the young women, now you want to officially sanction that violence.
For my last two years in the Royal Signals, I was the Troop Corporal for the Royal Signals leadership course. We had some outstanding female students attend the course. Not all women are incompetent, there are some very professional ones in the Army. However, I must agree with Charlie Roost on the dropping of standards to accommodate today's society. If the Government decides that women can join, do not drop the standards already set by experience. This will only lead to resentment and the lowering of morale.
Dave Graham, UK
Having spent most of my adult life in the Army, the Royal Signals in particular, I have recently seen dropping standards of fitness in younger recruits, both male and female. The result of which, was a reduction of physical fitness tests to bring them into line.
A note to Brenda on her comment "...what about sexual tension between gay men...". This is exactly why gays were excluded from the military. Now they've been let back in we might as well have women, and while we're at it let's not discriminate against the disabled. Wheelchair regiment anyone?
PC madness. A senior female US general has already admitted that the drive to put women into fighting units has backfired to the extent that the US forces are less effective and could not be risked in conflicts where a certain win was not guaranteed.
Michael Grazebrook, UK
In the cramped conditions of a tank, submarine, assault aircraft etc, where will a female recruit store her numerous bags of makeup?
An excellent idea. The only soldiers on the front line should be women because, as other contributors have rightly pointed out, they can be considerably more aggressive then men. Why should good honest men risk their lives when women can do it for us? We could all stay at home watching the footie and enjoying a can of beer.
It is not a question of whether women are capable or not. I believe many are. But under battlefield conditions it is a serious morale destroyer to see your male colleague blown to bits or seriously wounded. Seeing the same happen to a woman would seriously undermine the confidence of a squad or platoon.
However in a supporting role, which is no less demeaning, I think women's natural ability to organise is a godsend for an army.
All this talk about women being "nurturing", and men wanting to protect them is ludicrous. This is the year 2000, not the dark ages. Not all women are the same - neither are all men. If a woman wants to go and fight, and is capable of it, she should be able to. The argument that it would upset the male soldiers is really quite daft. They are professionals, they would learn to deal with it. Equally feeble arguments used to be given for preventing women from having access to other jobs - even from voting. We have moved on since then but clearly there is still a way to go.
I am currently employed as a reconnaissance vehicle commander and would have no problems working alongside or under the command of a female. To say that they aren't capable is ridiculous. My job is physically and mentally demanding but I am under no illusions that the right female could do it with no problems. The other issue is the environment we work in. We can and frequently do work in close confinement. For me taking care of personal hygiene matters in front of my crew is not a problem. How we would work around this with women present just adds another problem to our daily routine.
As an ex-infantry soldier who has been on active service, I would not be able to trust a female infantry soldier with my life in close combat. Come to that, I do not trust the politicians with my life either!
As far as I am aware, Israel has now withdrawn women from frontline combat situations. They were not pioneers in the "women in combat" scenario. Russia was, in WW1.
They did, however, form "women only battalions". From the limited experiences of women in actual combat situations, as opposed to exercises, the issue appears to be not with the capabilities of women but the attitude of male comrades where a "natural" protectiveness towards women has a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the operational unit.
John S, UK
Who cares? The UK is so insignificant these days that you could fill your army with chimpanzees, and still be just as effective on the world stage.
If they are stupid enough to join the army in the first place, they are stupid enough go and get themselves killed.
I would have thought it would be far more beneficial to the country if politicians had to serve in front line units. That might make them think twice before coming up with the daft ideas they do.
Some good reasons have been given in this discussion, but using PMT or some other "mood" problem is not acceptable.
We don't talk about poor performance or bad temper when a man has a hangover, but for colleagues this may be just as much an issue.
It is also worrying that we are talking about women soldiers when perhaps we should be addressing the problem of child soldiers. The UK, unlike much of Europe, still sends under 18 year olds to fight.
If women were truly as good as men, then they wouldn't need countless employment legislation changes to change them.
But of course they should be allowed to fight on the front line. I don't see however, why men have got to fight with them. All the women that want to fight on the front line, can join a single regiment, and fight alongside other women. I don't see why they should cost many men their lives as well as their own. All the soldiers I've spoken to think that it's just ridiculous.
Writing as an ex-tank soldier in the British Army I think the majority of lads would find this prospect very interesting until the novelty wore off, but for the wrong reasons and certainly it would not contribute to the fighting effectiveness of the unit. Do politicians understand the implications for women in a tank closed down for 48hrs with men. There is no place for privacy when requiring the toilet or washing.
Having served with the Royal Marines for a number of years I have yet to see a woman who could match the physical capability
of front line assault troops. I believe women certainly do have the potential and it has been proven. But day after day carrying a 100 pounds plus in atrocious conditions. War is about killing and winning not giving someone a chance because they think they might be good at it. Prove it ladies. I think more specialist roles in front line conditions such as providing close protection or covert surveillance is more suited to women as they have already proven been very effective at it.
Robin Peters, UK
Political correctness gone mad again. If there were any real prospect of another war this issue wouldn't be proposed by anyone but a fool
Thomas Randall, UK
Why not? At the right time of month, all of the women I know are considerably more aggressive than any men I know!
Jenni thinks that women's lives should not be cheapened by making them expendable. Does that mean that men's lives are cheap and expendable? Women are too good for fighting are they? Women only deserve equal rights if they are prepared to shoulder equal responsibilities and that means doing the "dirty" jobs too.
Major (retired) Chris Klein, UK
I don't see why women should not fight in the front lines, but then again I don't see why females in the army are treated in a more softly softly manner than their male counterparts as many a documentary has shown. Surely this is counter productive, both in terms of morale and acceptance between the sexes and in terms of their fighting motivation. I mean if they can't take an officer shouting at them how are they supposed to survive being raped when they are captured? For this will happen. But then again, why is this any worse than a male soldier either being raped or just as likely killed?
Brian Jenkins, England
I think it is a dreadful idea. The infantry is all about killing - not remote guided missile killing, but hand to hand combat using bayonet and trenching, if necessary, to kill your enemy. I think men are biologically and physiologically better suited to do this. I know that women make better terrorists because they cross a line that we don't expect women to cross but they are the very, very small exception. I would be worried for the male soldiers who would take higher casualties as a result of this potentially foolish idea.
Why not? Everyone remembers how aggressive the girls where at school in playground fights? Anyway, why should dying for your country be for the preserve of men only?
Vic Chapman, UK
If women have passed all the necessary tests just as the men have then why shouldn't they be able to fight alongside them? A good soldier is a good soldier, regardless of gender. Although it could be argued that men may be physically stronger than women; the armed forces aren't just about brawn. Effective communication, the ability to motivate and encourage teams, good management skills and lateral thinking etc etc. These are all skills which women naturally have in abundance and ones which the forces can only benefit from in times of combat. Get back to the stone age Vic.
Of course women are capable of undertaking front-line jobs. However, whether or not this is a good idea is a separate issue.
John Alkire, UK/USA
The simple fact of the matter is that
women do not have the capability either
physically or mentally. I spent eighteen years
in the British Army having left only recently
and I can assure everyone that, although women
were more than capable of doing their day to day
jobs such as administration etc., when it came to
actual soldiering they were a liability.
Why not? If they're up to it both physically and mentally, I fully support the idea.
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