As a Marine Corps veteran of three combat tours, the first as a rifle platoon commander during the Vietnam War, my concern is what this policy will contribute to further breaking down the already-troubled relationships of men and women in our society.
Friedrich von Hayek wrote that profound social knowledge is embedded in tradition that has evolved through the millennia of human experience. In “The Fatal Conceit,” he taught that a society breaks these traditions just because someone has a “good idea” of what would be fair. When these notions are enacted through legislation and court decisions, there is a very real risk of wasting this profound knowledge.
In my view, traditions in the military and civil society are severely broken and the embedded wisdom lost forever where women have combat roles. Totally independent of whether women can physically and mentally contribute to American military effectiveness and efficiency, I am concerned about the broader social implications of a civilization that believes that combat is an appropriate role for women.
For the record, I have ordered men to undertake missions where the entire platoon was at risk. During Operation Dewey Canyon in 1969 (the real one, not the incoming secretary of defense’s one), I lost all seven of the Marine casualties I had during my tour. One died five feet from me. We moved on. Others died moments before I got to their position. We moved on. After one firefight, we carried a gut-shot Navy corpsman, who knew how much trouble he was in, for miles up a steep hill out of Laos.
How does a man not give special comfort to a wounded woman? My last Marine died in my arms from a wound I thought he would have survived. Could I have held her in my arms without reservation?
I had to decide how to handle the situation where a new squad leader beat a Marine who fell asleep on watch, the latter punishable by death in time of war. The decision process I went through is captured in a speech I gave to the Valley Forge Military Academy almost a year ago.