What most critics of the policy change share is an attempt to use the physical rigors of combat tp make their point, surely with varying degrees of embellishment. Most include either long descriptions of filth, fear, and physical stress or weird analogies to unrelated things. These human factors have long been recognized. Clausewitz, Ardant du Piq, J.F.C. Fuller, and John Boyd, amongst many others, discussed them. Even Thucydides, who wrote over 2,000 years ago, recognized the limits of human mental and physical endurance and their profound effect on combat.
While none of them realize it, the critics may be making an argument for better leadership of ground combat units and better management of these long recognized human factors. The book Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death by Jim Frederick depicts a US Army brigade that ignored the human factors that played upon its personnel with disastrous results:
The men of Bravo stayed in a combat zone, went “outside the wire”- onto the front lines- every single day for eleven months straight. In the case of the TCPs, they lived outside the wire twenty-four hours a day. And they experienced some form of enemy contact almost every single day.- page 172
“There were three rotations,” Gallagher [a Company First Sergeant] said. “There was the JSB rotation, there was the TCP rotation, and there was the mission rotation. But there are only three platoons. There was no downtime. Everything was a constant on. The guys lived outside the wire three hundred and sixty-five days a year...”- page 185.On Combat and On Killing by Dave Grossman take a more academic view on the issue. Grossman’s books are staples in the military and make the science behind combat stress accessible to Marines who may lack a scientific background. Still, if the critics women in combat can be believed, commanders refuse to take human factors into account.
The mental aspect is not the only factor that the US Military routinely ignores. As Zenpundit mentioned when I discussed this on twitter, studies have shown the adverse effects of loading down humans with too much weight. Yet, regulations in both OIF and OEF ignore the troop welfare and operational effectiveness in favor of overwrought force protection. Of course, sometimes infantry units must be pushed to the limits of human endurance, but this should be a last resort. The most powerful military in the world should be better able to manage the human factors that inevitably play upon humans in combat. Yet, current US policy ignores centuries of knowledge. It wasn’t always this way. During World War II, when the stakes were much, much higher than they are today, policy stated that front line combat troops were to be relieved after eighty days. Of course, this wasn’t always possible, but when it was possible troops were transported to Australia or England for weeks or even months of R&R. During the height of OIF and OEF, combat units faced the uncertainty of combat every day for at least six months and sometimes twelve or even eighteen months. Despite the plush accommodations of the mega-FOBs that the US built, the mental strain of combat takes time to pass. For all the safety of the FOB and the Burger Kings, X-Boxes, and Spaware stations, the most important mitigating factor for mental strain is time. Time is something we have rarely afforded our infantry units.
Perhaps the best lesson of the various articles arguing for the continuation of the exclusion policy are the inhuman expectations placed upon ground combat personnel. Every major vehicle in the US inventory must undergo maintenance after a certain number of operating hours. Every major weapon system must be examined after a certain number of rounds fired. Every pilot can only fly for a certain number of hours and must get enough time to sleep before a mission. While ground combat is too fluid for such stringent regulations, their absence has allowed commanders, in some cases, to completely ignore the mental strain of combat on human beings. Before we turn our guns on a policy change concerning women, perhaps we should instead examine whether our current policies are even sustainable for human beings.