Battle of the Sexes

‘Stand Down’ Calls Into Question the Efficacy of a Gender-Integrated Military Fighting Force

Diversity and sensitivity are the new priorities of the U.S. military, and the imperative of training soldiers to be as effective in combat as possible is quickly becoming passé. No one grasps these realities better than James Hasson, a former U.S. Army captain who received a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan and whose acquaintances include many officers in various branches of the military. Political correctness affects all of them to some degree.

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Some of the professional soldiers Hasson knows have resigned their commissions because they just got too fed up. Hasson’s new book, Stand Down: How Social Justice Warriors Are Sabotaging America’s Military, is a necessary and sobering read. He raises disturbing questions about attempts to remake the U.S. military along politically-correct lines, compromising the continuing effectiveness of what purports to be the world’s most formidable fighting force.

A Progressive “Milestone”

The decline of the Armed Forces accelerated dramatically under President Obama, who tended to pick nominees for top military posts who were in sync with the politically correct agenda, notably former Mississippi governor Roy Mabus, who became Secretary of the Navy in May 2009. Mabus went on to say, in March 2015, that he wanted to see women comprise at least 25 percent of Navy and Marine Corps recruits. In December 2015, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter abruptly announced the opening of all combat roles to women. The stance of these officials flies in the face of what the professional soldiers in the Army and Marines say are the realities of training and combat.

Hasson recounts how the Army announced with great fanfare the graduation of two women from the rigorous Army Ranger School in August 2015, a seeming vindication of the progressive vision for the armed forces. But even before the announcement, disturbing rumors went around about instructors having lowered their standards in response to intense political pressure to pass women. A journalist, Susan Katz Keating, published an exposé in People magazine based partly on interviews with Ranger instructors who acknowledged that the female trainees enjoyed the favoritism of instructors. They had the benefit of being in a separate platoon where they received additional, specially-tailored training from Ranger graduates. Even after having failed important tests, the Army allowed them to stay in the “pre-Ranger” screening course. In other words, the Army kept them on even after failures and infractions that would have disqualified male trainees.

In corroboration of Keating’s findings, Hasson presents the transcript of an e-mail exchange between a pair of Ranger instructors detailing how a female officer candidate, assigned the role of platoon sergeant, badly messed up a mock mission she led—allowing one of the members of her platoon to get separated from the others and get lost in the woods—but received a passing grade anyway.

“According to multiple sources with firsthand knowledge,” Hasson relates, “the candidate who became separated from the patrol was dropped from the course, as is standard practice, but the candidate responsible for ensuring that he did not become separated advanced to the next phase.”

The only explanation for this is political pressure. Hasson shares evidence brought to light by Keating of a campaign of intimidation against Ranger instructors who didn’t keep quiet about the double standards being applied and the degradation of military culture.

Hasson shares critically important studies that undermine the SJW stance. In the course of training, all-male Marine Corps units outperformed coed units in 69 out of 134 combat tasks, such as firing accurately and carrying heavy gear, and gender-integrated infantry squads took up to 159 percent longer than all-male ones to evacuate casualties. On a real battlefield, these disparities translate into greatly-diminished combat effectiveness and sharply higher U.S. casualties.

The load carried by a Marine should be 81 pounds of weapons and gear plus the Marine’s body fat. Hasson cites the work of University of Pittsburgh researchers who found that the load carried by male Marines hardly ever exceeded their lean body mass. But in the case of female Marines, it did so in 75 percent of cases. “More than 40 percent of the female Marines who participated in the study suffered musculoskeletal injuries,” Hasson relates—a catastrophic figure. It seems human biology has little concern for any political agenda.

An Incisive Case

Hasson provides a lucid and deeply-informed critique of the experiment. The role of the military is to fight, and to achieve missions with the fewest possible U.S. casualties, and whether or not SJWs can accept it, not everyone is equally suited for the role.

Hasson dismisses the argument parroted by people like Mabus that the U.S. military has some kind of need or obligation to reflect the makeup of the society it defends and protects. If that were really the case, then our front-line soldiers would have to include children, babies, the very old, the obese, the blind, the disabled, the criminally insane, and many others who form significant parts of the U.S. population but are not eligible to serve in combat.

If we do want to discuss changing our policies and making those who have been barred from serving eligible, Hasson contends, then the discussion has to be about a single question: will the proposed changes make our fighting forces more lethal and help them to accomplish their tasks with the fewest possible casualties on our side?

Social-justice warriors are not interested in the answer to that question and rarely if ever debate military policy in such terms. For the SJWs, diversity is not just an end in itself, but a necessity that trumps military readiness, effectiveness, lethality, traditional attitudes about the need to protect women from physical danger, and any other criteria. Hasson makes this point clearly throughout his book. Clearly, SJWs encourage the public to view people like Hasson as dinosaurs, relics of a past military with nothing to contribute to the current debate. The sheer volume of facts and figures assembled by Hasson should put that notion to rest.

What is the Supreme Goal?

To understand Hasson’s point, consider the following hypothetical question. Commercial airline pilots and air-traffic controllers are perhaps disproportionately white and male. In order to remedy this “problem,” should the commercial airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration fire their experienced pilots and air traffic controllers and replace them immediately with any women and minorities they can find? If you think that might not be such a good idea, then you can easily see Hasson’s point. Diversity is not always and everywhere an automatically desirable goal to which one should sacrifice traditional criteria in hiring, training, and promotions.

Civilian appointees like Mabus, Hasson notes, sometimes try to assure the media and the public that they understand the imperatives of military readiness and that any changes they propose or implement will have only a “slight” or “moderate” impact. Hasson wonders what point they think they are making when they say this kind of thing. In combat, every second counts and every degree of readiness and combat strength has direct consequences in terms of the number of casualties inflicted or sustained.

What, then, do officials mean when they say the impact will be “moderate,” Hasson asks. If one translates the bureaucrat-speak into English, it could well mean something like, “Don’t be alarmed. The new policy we are implementing will mean only 15 to 20 percent more American lives lost in combat.” Of course the civilians and SJWs who are reshaping the military will never frame their argument that way, but anyone who grasps the realities of combat can see what the outcome of politically correct social engineering will be.

In Good Company

Hasson documents a number of other trends that have undermined the armed services’ traditions and customs. One trend, which gathered steam under the Obama administration, is the service academies’ hiring of professors openly hostile to what they see as a “hyper-masculine” culture at the academies, or in other words, their cultivation of such traits as physical strength, speed, aggressiveness, and lethality in combat. In one typical example, the Air Force Academy in 2013 hired a feminist psychology professor named Chris Kilmartin who has publicly called for the integration of combat units on the grounds in that doing so would ameliorate social inequality. Kilmartin, Hasson points out, did not answer the glaring question of how such a step would improve combat effectiveness, nor is it likely that Kilmartin could answer the question since he is an ideologue with a civilian background and military readiness has never been his concern.

Hasson’s book is the latest in a series of works examining in detail the wreckage wrought by the politically correct assault on our military. These fine books include Kingsley Browne’s Co-Ed Combat: The New Evidence That Women Shouldn’t Fight the Nation’s Wars, Stephanie Gutmann’s The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America’s Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?, and Brian Mitchell’s Women in the Military: Flirting With Disaster.

Browne’s book, in particular, presents extensive accounts of a repressive atmosphere in a military where political pressures are intense and officers fear speaking out against policy changes they know to be ill advised because the consequences for their careers may be ruinous. All these authors write well and have more than done their homework, but Hasson’s book has the advantage of being more abreast of the current situation in the armed forces, given that the most recent of the other three, Co-Ed Combat, came out in 2007.

The impact of Hasson’s book could be even stronger if not for a number of frustrating and easily avoidable errors. Hasson tends to resort often to rhetorical questions. This mannerism is not just irritating, it is unnecessary given that the facts and figures assembled here speak eloquently. The book also contains a number of typos, and off-putting section heads worded almost exactly the same way as the opening lines of the passages they introduce.

The Military Sexual Assault Epidemic

The above points are minor editorial quibbles, but Hasson is vulnerable to a more serious criticism. Readers may wonder why, in an otherwise admirably thorough book, Hasson hardly takes up the issue of sexual assault. This is a gargantuan crisis with a direct and unmistakable impact on military readiness and morale. Hasson acknowledges the problem of the almost total lack of privacy facing young women who live, board, and shower in extremely close proximity to hormone-driven nineteen-year-old guys, but he doesn’t seem interested in addressing the full scope of the crisis, which recently led former Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand to introduce legislation and to denounce a nominee for Army Chief of Staff for his alleged failure to tackle the issue.

A recent Pentagon report found that 20,500 instances of sexual assault occurred in 2018, and that 5.8 percent of Army women were victims of such incidents. What a pity that Gillibrand didn’t draw the obvious conclusion from these facts: close integration of the sexes in environments lacking even basic privacy can pose problems, and supporters of integrating all military branches are deluding themselves.

The military’s sexual assault problem has found its way into popular culture. The 1999 film The General’s Daughter, based on a novel by Nelson DeMille, brought cleverness to bear in tackling what was obviously a crisis even two decades ago. The General’s Daughter brings the viewer into the world of the modern politically correct military and explores some of the practical consequences of rushing to diversify at no matter what cost. Vietnam veteran Paul Brenner, played by John Travolta, uncovers evidence of the rape and murder of a female officer at West Point, a crime emblematic of the sexual assault epidemic. Brenner also finds a disturbing reluctance on the part of officials to address the problem and take action.


The irony here is supreme. Why can’t the brass take decisive action when presented with evidence that a female officer, and other women, have been victims of assault and rape? Because, according to the twisted logic of liberal social engineering, to do so would not serve the interests of women! It would lead to bad PR for a sex-integrated academy, calling public attention to the fact that gender integration in the military is far from the spectacular success that feminists have claimed, and this would be a huge setback for feminism.

The message of The General’s Daughter appeared to resonate, as the film grossed $103 million domestically and $150 million abroad on a $95 million budget. By way of comparison, Ridley Scott’s 1997 turkey G.I. Jane, in which Demi Moore plays a trailblazing female commando, did not recoup its $50 million budget domestically and some today view the film as marking its star’s irrevocable fall from A-list status.

Situation Not Hopeless

The deadliest and most persistent enemy of our armed forces today may turn out not to be North Korea or ISIS, but the SJWs who have forced their progressive dogmas on an institution where they have little or no direct experience and whose ways and traditions they do not understand. It is not too late to reverse the damage and restore standards and integrity to our military, but this will be a tall order. It will necessitate a fundamental change in direction at the highest levels of the services and will require SJWs and progressives to accept a few things completely at odds with their ideology: the fact of biological differences between the sexes and both the undesirability and impossibility of achieving equality of outcome in every sphere.

(Gateway Editions, August 27, 2019) 

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Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist and the author, most recently, of The Uprooted and Other Stories (2018), When We're Grownups (2019), and Stranger, Stranger (2020). He's also host of the weekly Sea of Reeds Media podcast, Reading the Globe.

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