The Pentagon Turns ‘Feminist’

by | Mar 22, 2021

The Pentagon Turns ‘Feminist’

by | Mar 22, 2021

For many years, male U.S. citizens have been required to register with the Selective Service, an independent agency within the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal Government, so that they can be located in the event that it becomes necessary to reinstate military conscription. The most recent military draft was ended after the Vietnam War, in 1973, and ever since then people have proudly pointed to the “voluntary” terms of U.S. military enlistment. That soldiers are voluntary is also frequently invoked in passing by cynical civilians who dismiss complaints about the plight of soldiers during wars and their aftermath. Those wont to insist, “They freely chose to enlist!” not-so-slyly suggest that perhaps we should not care so much about the thousands of homeless veterans and the epic levels of suicides among distraught soldiers, who by 2019 were ending their lives at rate of about twenty per day.

In recent years, the question whether women should be permitted to serve as combatant soldiers has arisen, as more and more other professions have opened up to what historically has been regarded as “the gentler sex.” Until quite recently, the fighting forces of the military were always viewed as the province of men, but times have changed, causing some people to reconsider the longstanding association of the military with masculinity. There are essentially two standard arguments regarding female combatants.

First, according to what might be called the “traditionalist” approach, women are generally smaller and physically weaker than men. Their admission into the ranks alongside the physically strong males who have fought enemy soldiers one-on-one on bloody battlefields throughout history would severely compromise the military’s capacity to win its battles and, ultimately, the government’s wars. A second strand of the traditionalist view focuses on the idea that women should not be sacrificed needlessly. Women have historically been viewed as nurturing and less aggressive than men. If women were deployed evenly among the men fighting on the ground, then they would be more likely to perish than their male counterparts, not only because they are, on average, physically smaller and weaker, but also because they are less violent than men. But if women were eliminated, this would hurt society more generally, as women give birth to and often raise children.

The second approach, which might be termed “feminist,” holds that combatant selection should in no way depend on one’s possession or lack of a Y-chromosome. It may be the case that women on average are weaker and smaller and less aggressive than men, but that does not mean that all of them are. Over millennia, women have far more often filled the role of mother than that of breadwinner, but, again, times have changed. Today a woman can choose whether or not to be a wife and mother. Some women today serve as the CEOs of military weapons companies or even heads of state. What it means to be a liberated woman is to be able to choose between the full range of opportunities available to men. Furthermore, there are certainly examples of extremely powerful women, such as Serena and Venus Williams, who might, if they chose to fight rather than play tennis, do quite well on the battlefield. Accordingly, on this view, women should be permitted to train and compete with men for spots in even the most physically demanding of military roles, up to and including the Marines or special operations teams such as the Delta Force. The way to find out whether a woman qualifies for such a force is precisely the way in which men find out whether they qualify: through basic and advanced training which leads some candidates or their commanders to conclude that they may be better suited for less arduous roles.

In 2015, the Pentagon appeared to adopt the second, more progressive or feminist, approach, announcing that all combatant positions would henceforth be open to women. The reality, I believe, is quite a bit more crass, as evidenced by the fact that not long after women were invited to serve as combat warriors, people began discussing whether women should, along with men, be required to register for the Selective Service, so that they, too, could be called up should another military draft be instituted. This move, from permissibility to obligation, from a triumph of feminism to the severe restriction on liberty and potential enslavement of women, the prospect of their being demanded to serve in the armed forces against their will, is a curious non sequitur which seems to have gone unnoticed by the soi-disant feminists who support Selective Service registration for all. The Pentagon public relations wing naturally claims “woke” creds, but what is really going on here?

I am afraid that the traditionalist approach (which still has its adherents, for example, Fox News host Tucker Carlson), altogether misses the point of the Pentagon’s invitation to women to join the ranks of military killers. For most “combatants” in future war will not be found on the ground battling enemy soldiers in one-on-one fights to the finish. Instead, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), or lethal drones, will continue to be used, as over the course of the twenty-first century so far, to inflict death upon enemy “soldiers” who pose no direct threat to their killers. The risks in having both men and women fight in theaters such as the twenty-year War on Terror throughout the Middle East (which has also seeped into Africa) will become progressively less physical. Because of new technology, the primary harms suffered by future soldiers will be psychological and moral. This follows from the very logic of the use of drones to kill people abroad who cannot be threatening anyone with death because they are unarmed. Least defensible of all is the incineration of persons located in countries where there are no soldiers on the ground said to require force protection. Yet this is what drone operators are trained and required to do.

One of the most significant military discoveries in the twenty-first century, all but ignored by the warmakers themselves, is that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), does not emerge exclusively or always as a result of traumatic experiences on the battlefield, when soldiers are forced daily to face the specter of their possibly imminent deaths as they witness people dying all around them and move through dangerous territories where IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and snipers may be hiding any- and everywhere. Protracted fear and stress can be powerful factors in the onset of PTSD, but what we have learned from its high incidence among drone and laser sensor operators is that moral trauma and conscience also play an important role. Indeed, regret for what one has done is sufficient alone to induce profound PTSD, as evidenced by those drone operators who, in states of psychological and moral despair, have opted to abandon the profession at the termination of their initial contract, even when they have been enticed to stay by the provision of generous bonus offers.

On its face, the job of a drone operator may look like a good deal, and it did to those who later regretted and renounced their vocation: garner creds as a courageous warrior by donning a uniform and showing up to work in a trailer where one “fights” the enemy on a screen from thousands of miles away. No trenches, no IEDs, and no snipers—the drone operator himself remains unscathed, indeed, untouchable by the enemy. The physical job of a drone operator involves manipulating buttons and levers, observing the enemy on the screen and remaining alert, not as a way of saving one’s own life, but to make sure that the enemy does not get away. The images of what these soldiers see on those screens and have done to those people, however, sometimes come to haunt drone operators. Watching targets for hours, days, weeks, even months, before “splashing” them with a missile and witnessing them bleed out before dying, knowing in some cases that they are leaving behind widows and orphans, if not also first-order (physical) collateral damage, exacts a steep psychological toll on some of the push-button killers.

The military will continue to become progressively more lethal to the enemy but less deadly to its own combatant or killing forces because of the manifest rationality of not needlessly risking soldiers’ lives, and the development of technology which makes that possible. If a war can be won without sacrificing a single soldier, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed President Barack Obama did when he ordered hundreds of missile strikes on Libya in 2011, then why would any commander choose to do otherwise? This risk-averse approach to war began in earnest with President Bill Clinton, whose combat pilots flew high above their targets in Kosovo in 1999 in order to protect themselves from harm, despite the fact that by doing so they increased the risk of killing civilians on the ground. Presidents, along with the populace, care more about their compatriots than “collateral damage” victims abroad, who, being out of sight, are also out of mind.

The Libya intervention was quite far from being a success story, much less an example of, as Clinton gushed, “smart power at its best,” but it is true that no combatants were killed during the 2011 ousting of then-President Muammar Gaddafi. Ironically, U.S. State Department employees were killed in the post-war mêlée, but that was after the bombing had stopped. The country of Libya is now in shambles, but the Benghazi debacle, along with everything else which ensued subsequent to the bombing campaign, is simply written off by its architects, including former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power (recently pegged to head up USAID), as unpredictable, unforeseeable consequences of a military intervention with purely humanitarian aims. In attempting to convince Obama to take action, Power compared the situation in Libya to that of Rwanda in 1994. Remarkably, having been initially disinclined to intervene, Obama was persuaded to believe Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the women who rallied for that war—a veritable case in point for those who claim that women can be just as aggressive as men. But was the post-war scene in Libya completely unforeseeable and unpredictable, as Power glibly maintains in her memoir? We may beg to differ with those armchair warriors who failed to draw appropriate inductive conclusions from the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan or the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but, alas, they seem keen to ply their bellicose trade wherever and whenever it becomes possible again.

Thousands of people at the Department of Defense work full time in public relations, producing texts and media to persuade taxpayers that the government’s wars are just and right. One might reasonably wonder why, if all of the ongoing wars were in fact worthwhile and necessary undertakings, there should be any need for public relations campaigns to support them, or to lure young people to enlist. But because the necessity and justice of the nonstop bombing of people in the Middle East is far from self-evident, those paying for the carnage must continually be made to believe, against all evidence, that the soldiers killing people abroad today are just like the courageous men who defeated the Nazis in World War II. Snafus such as the photographs from Abu Graib prison must be explained away, and the military’s image re-burnished to ensure that young people will continue to enlist.

The “feminist” turn at the Pentagon, I submit, is just another ploy to address the recruitment crisis at a time in history when the skills required of the latest supply of cannon fodder have become significantly less physical. More drone operators are trained today than regular combatant pilots, and at some point the idea of risking one’s own life for one’s country will be deemed anachronistic and quaint. Robots with “boots on the ground” have been deployed for years, especially to assist troops in landmine-infested territories. “Ground force” robots have also been used to blow up targets, as was done, unbelievably enough, to U.S. military veteran Micah Xavier Johnson, in Dallas, Texas, on July 8, 2016, after he killed five members of the local police force. The replacement of mortal soldiers by robots will be further precipitated by the inexorable production of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), which will take human beings completely out of the killing loop once robotic killers have been programmed to gather, sort, and analyze data before selecting targets and launching missiles. Until the military has become entirely automated, however, it will continue to need human operators, and that is why women have been enthusiastically invited to join in on the killing spree.

The invitation to women to serve in combat forces has been billed as progress, evidence of how “woke” the Pentagon is, along the lines of President Biden’s appointment of the first African American Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd J. Austin. But, as in the case of Austin, the admission of women into combat forces has a subtext. The far more relevant factor in the case of Austin is his connection to military industry, the fact that he is a former board member of a company (Raytheon) which stands to profit every time Syria or anywhere else is bombed. The surface “wokeness” is just a patina, a veneer, a bit of public relations polish on what is ultimately an intrinsically pragmatic policy. The fact that Austin is black is an effective distraction from the reality of the ever-more tentacular MIC or, to be precise, the military-industrial-congressional-media-academic-pharmaceutical-logistics-banking complex. Military industry, which is funded by the Pentagon, has also gloated over its female CEOs. Meanwhile the crisis levels of sexual abuse by fellow soldiers and commanding officers of female enlistees has been largely ignored by the military-infiltrated mass media.

The admission of women troops as combatants is not so much an affirmation of the worth of female human beings as it is a recognition that they, too, can be trained to serve as push-button contract killers. There is an ongoing, chronic military recruitment crisis because service in the bungled missions in Afghanistan and Iraq has seemed progressively less honorable as the quagmires have dragged on. Many people were willing to enlist after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but by now nearly no one (aside from war profiteers) seems convinced of the righteousness of the forever wars in the Middle East. In order for those wars to continue on, new, psychological, cannon fodder must be found. Step right up, ladies, we have a splendid job for you, complete with benefits, pension and paid maternity leave!

The issue of maintaining Selective Service registration for men alone is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, and it would seem that, in consistency, the entire program must either be abolished or expanded to include women. Under a faux-feminist guise, some “patriots” among the U.S. Congress (an extremely important limb of the octopoid MIC) will likely rally for the expansion, which would be a severe blow to liberty lovers of all stripes, men and women alike. If it is unconstitutional to require men but not women to register for the Selective Service, now that women are permitted to serve in the armed forces, then the proper remedy can only be to abolish the Selective Service registration requirement, for involuntary service violates every person’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, whether or not they possess a Y-chromosome.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has raised the issue before the Supreme Court on behalf of a group of men, and it may well be that they favor abolition of the requirement. Nonetheless, should the current law, under the present circumstances, be struck down as unconstitutional, then the fact that the Supreme Court did not previously find the Selective Service registration of males alone to be unconstitutional will be invoked by hawks in the U.S. Congress to push for new legislation mandating universal registration, regardless of biological sex. The question which needs desperately to be debated now, however, is whether the creation of an entire society of push-button contract killers is something which anyone should support.

About Laurie Calhoun

Laurie Calhoun is the Senior Fellow for The Libertarian Institute. She is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, Theodicy: A Metaphilosophical Investigation, You Can Leave, Laminated Souls, and Philosophy Unmasked: A Skeptic's Critique, in addition to many essays and book chapters. Questioning the COVID Company Line: Critical Thinking in Hysterical Times will be published by the Libertarian Institute in 2023.

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