Article published in The Daily Mail, 21 December 2015. © Richard Kemp
The direction to the Ministry of Defence to allow women to serve in close combat roles has no value for military effectiveness.
In fact, the opposite is true. It will undermine the fighting ethos of the British infantry.
Sadly, the Prime Minister’s decision is the latest crazy move in society’s obsession with politically correct gestures.
In saying this, I do not mean to insult women. They play a valuable role in almost every part of the Armed Forces. Many have been decorated for bravery in battle.
Indeed, I have commanded women on operations – in tough situations – and have as much admiration for their dedication, professionalism and heroism as I have for their male counterparts.
But infantry close combat is different to any other human activity. Naturally, it requires courage.
But it also demands incomparable levels of physical endurance – with infantry soldiers having to advance on foot, often for days or weeks at a time, deprived of sleep and rations.
This has to be done over vast areas of inhospitable terrain, in extremes of climate, carrying heavy combat loads and then having to fight a determined enemy at close quarters.
The fact is that few men are suited to such a role either physically or temperamentally. Far fewer women would be able to do so. And of the few who would be capable, even fewer would want to.
Thus you would end up with a very small percentage of women in infantry units. Cliques would form – with men and women both to blame – which would undermine unit cohesion and fighting spirit.
All those people who have not served in the front line cannot fully understand the concept of infantry fighting spirit.
Other soldiers of course play a vital part in the land battle, but none are required to close with the enemy and kill him, sometimes in hand-to-hand fighting.
To do that, they must expose themselves to great personal danger. In war, it is always the infantry that take the heaviest casualties – both death and wounding.
To keep attacking when severe casualties are sustained (and realising it could be you next) requires a special brand of comradeship, teamwork and fighting spirit.
History shows that this is best achieved among groups of physically fit, aggressive young men who have an indefinable, yet vital, ‘warrior ethos’.
The Prime Minister and his defence ministers often cite foreign armies’ inclusion of women in their infantry arms as an argument that we should do the same.
I’m afraid this argument holds no water.
The US Marine Corps recently conducted trials of women and men serving together in mixed units which went far beyond physical testing and assessed how the two sexes work together on simulated close combat missions.
The Marines concluded that these arrangements reduced fighting ability when compared to that of all-male units.
Not surprisingly, these trials were rejected by Washington politicians who are every bit as obsessed with political correctness as our own.
Elsewhere, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has quoted the example of the Israel Defence Force for being a widely respected fighting organisation that has men and women in mixed infantry units.
But the Israeli authorities never allow women to fight with men on the front lines of battle. This is because they recognise the negative effect in close combat of such units.
Another very important factor is the grave fear about women soldiers being captured. They are deeply concerned how such captives might be treated by their enemy – and how the situation would be portrayed as a major strategic disaster for the country as a whole.
Our own politicians would do well to reflect on this hideous prospect.
Meanwhile, physical tests have shown the lasting detrimental effect on women’s bodies of the long-term stresses that infantry training and combat cause. While some right-on politicians may be ‘gender neutral’, nature is not.
With the increasingly prevalent compensation culture that infects the Armed Forces, as it does the civilian world, there is a great potential danger that if women get badly injured, the result could be large payouts from our already over-stretched defence budget.
Is it really worth the risk of undermining what is, and has always been, the best infantry in the world – and, this critical element of our national defence – for the sake of a social engineering exercise imposed by politicians with absolutely no experience of war?
I know not one serving or retired infantryman who supports such a move – except for those who do so as a means of career advancement or of proving their politically correct credentials. All, however, know in their hearts that it is wrong.
Despite that, I fear this policy will undoubtedly happen. Politicians will exploit our generals’ innate ‘can-do’ attitude to make it work.
In parallel, infantry selection and training standards will be surreptitiously reduced to ensure women succeed.
At the end of this process, government ministers will be happy, the generals involved will get promotion and the nation’s feminists will claim a victory over the last bastion of male chauvinism.
But, more importantly, our nation’s defences will have been weakened.