Often when we look back on the milestones of progress, it is with a sense of disbelief that the path to achieving them was so long and hard-fought.
It boggles the mind that, only 50 years ago, interracial marriage was still illegal in many states, and that 100 years ago, women could not legally vote.
It is in this light that we may one day look back on Jan. 24, 2013, when Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced that the U.S. military would allow women to serve in combat roles.
“Career success and their specific opportunities should be based solely on their ability to successfully carry out an assigned mission, Panetta said Thursday. “Everyone deserves that chance.”
The arguments against allowing women in combat have long sounded inane, outdated or insulting.
Pfc. Dalton Trimble was quoted on National Public Radio on Thursday morning voicing one rather inane sentiment.
If “there’s going to be women around, you’re going to have to watch what you say now,” Trimble said. “There’s going to be a whole lot of changes.”
Trimble may be suggesting that women are so sensitive that they must be shielded from rough language. This is ridiculous. Offensive language and vulgarities are objectionable to some people and no big deal to others, regardless of sex.
Trimble may also mean that he and his fellow infantrymen are accustomed to speaking about certain subjects, such as women and sex, in a way that a woman might find offensive. If the presence of a woman in Trimble’s company makes him think twice about the wisdom of such statements, all the better.
The larger issue is usually that women shouldn’t be allowed in combat because they are not fit for the job. This idea that we can paint huge swaths of the population with a broad brush and label them unfit is as outdated as eugenics. No man makes it to the front lines without passing rigorous tests of his physical, mental and emotional fitness.
If a woman can match the standards already set, then there is no reason to judge her as less physically capable than her male counterparts. As Panetta said, everyone deserves the chance to try.
Finally, some have argued that the sight of a female fallen on the battlefield would undo the resolve of even the most steely-eyed soldier, cause him to forget his duty as he rushes to her aid at the expense of the mission. This theory is so insulting to our combat troops that it does not merit discussion.
While this is certainly a giant leap forward for womankind, Panetta described his decision best when he said this:
“Our military is more capable, and our force is more powerful, when we use all of the great diverse strengths of the American people.”
History will no doubt agree.