Tag Archives: women soldiers

The US military’s #1 challenge in the 21st century: recruiting a few good people

Summary: The US military faces many problems in the 21st century, but perhaps none more serious than the need to recruit sufficient numbers of the high quality people it needs. They face two kinds of difficulties. This post discusses not just the small problems that get all the attention, but also the large but seldom mentioned ones. At the end are links to a wealth of research about these matters.

“If we put the Pentagon’s personnel managers in charge of the Sahara Desert, they would run out of sand in five years.”
From an analysis by John. J. Sayen (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired). He is author of 2 books about US army infantry in WWII (1942 – 1943, 1944 – 1945).

Women for the USMC


The news often surprises us because we don’t see the years of preparation laid for it. Like today, with conservatives baffled that the US military, among the most conservative of American institutions, is determined to recruit homosexuals and women. Has Obama purged the officer corps of real Americans, substituting leftists? (Spoiler: no.)

The answer is simple and obvious: these are desperate measures in response to the shrinking pool of eligible young men. The problem has been masked by the economic weakness since 2007 and the reductions in force following our failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, studies since the 1990s have warned of the problem (see the links at the end). Or rather, they have warned about the two problems imperiling recruitment to the US armed forces.

The small problem

The small problem is that too few young Americans meet the standards of the armed forces. Generations of public policy have given American a large underclass, whose children are poorly educated, swept through our criminal injustice system, and turn to drugs (since they have so little opportunity). This gets the attention, as in this week’s “Here’s why most Americans can’t join the military” by Blake Stilwell in the somewhat megalomaniac-named website We Are The Mighty.

For a good summary of this see “How Do We Recruit, Train and Retain the Right People for the Future Force?”, Panel Discussion at Transformation Warfare 2007 Conference on 20 June 2007.  Excerpt from the Air Force Times

Continue reading

Martin van Creveld looks at the propaganda fog that covers modern war

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld discusses the difficulty of finding the truth amidst the sea of propaganda that surrounds us. It’s an essential skill Americans seem to have lost. He concludes by examining the stories about the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.



The Facts of the Case

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 27 August 2014
Posted with his generous permission

Perhaps I should start this article with a little cautionary tale. Years ago I was teaching a course about the history of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I had just said that the kingdom of Jordan already had a Palestinian majority when a young student raised her hand and asked me, very politely, how I knew. To my shame, I must confess that the question took me by surprise — here in Israel everybody and his neighbor had been saying this for years, as they still do.

When I recovered I told her she was right and offered her a deal. She would look into the matter and do a research paper about it. In return, I would release her from the final exam. She agreed, and a few months later I received the paper which neither confirmed not contradicted my original claim. It did, however, draw my attention to some facts that I, and presumably many others as well, had never thought about.

First, there was and is no accepted definition of a Palestinian. One reason for this is that there are several different kinds of Palestinians — old ones, medium ones and new ones, all depending on the date at which they had arrived in the Kingdom. Second, Jordan being the only Arab country that has granted the Palestinians in its territory citizenship, there were many mixed marriages with offspring, making the question as to “who is a Palestinian?” even harder to answer. Third, the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior for its own reasons is keeping a very tight hand both on definitions and on figures, with the result that nobody knew.

Another personal story. Back in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada, my son had an American girlfriend who lived in Utah. One evening we were sitting in front of the TV when the phone rang. It was Christine. “Jonathan, there has been shooting in your town. Are you alright?” It turned out there had indeed been a few shots; but even though our town is rather small she, living on the other side of the world, knew it before we did.

Continue reading

Martin van Creveld looks at Amazons: women warriors in the real world

Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at the accounts of women soldiers from the ancient Amazons to modern armies, cutting away the myths to real the facts. It’s a timely analysis, with the US radically revising the role of women in our military.

Peshmerga Women

Peshmerga Women by Jan Sefti. Published under a Creative Commons License.


By Martin van Creveld. From his website, 27 August 2015
Posted with his generous permission

I get feedback on my articles. For that I am grateful; it makes me think. Recently someone took issue with my claim that, in the military, where there are women there are no bullets and where there are bullets there are no women. How about the brave Kurdish women who are fighting Daesh? Don’t they make up 30-35%?

30-35% of what? I asked. After all, women make up nearly 30% of the Israel Defense Force. Nevertheless, in the so-called Second Lebanon War of 2006, 130 male soldiers were killed against just one female. The 66 IDF soldiers who died in operation Protective Edge in 2014 did not include a single woman. So just what do 30-35% mean?

Regarding the fighting Kurdish troops  he answered rather brusquely. In support he sent these sites:

I opened them. They did not mention any figures on the ratio of brave Kurdish fighting females to brave Kurdish fighting males. And the headline? “No Frontline Deployment for Female Kurdish Troops.”

What the article did say was that, in a place called Dobruk, there is or was a colonel who commanded “a 30-woman unit.” Strange, that: since when do colonels command platoons? Isn’t their job to command brigades in which there are normally 27 platoons as well as other units? Never mind.

The purpose of the unit? “To show,” says the colonel, “that we are different from IS, which will never let women fight.” In other words, propaganda. Though whom the propaganda is intended for, the Kurds themselves or their slavering Western admirers, is left unsaid.

That business disposed of, I decided to do a little research. And yes, I did find a Reuters photo report titled, “Kurdish women fighters wage war on Islamic State in Iraq.” It claimed that women made up some 30%. Thirty percent of exactly what? Military personnel (assuming that, in a place like Kurdistan, there is a clear distinction between the military and civilians)? All kinds of support troops? Fighters who actually hold a gun, fire at the enemy, and are fired at in return? The article provides no answers. What it does provide are nice-looking pictures of women posing with Kalashnikov assault rifles. So do a great many similar sites.

The words “photo report” are important. Many years ago, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels used to tell his public that “pictures do not lie.” That, of course, was itself the greatest lie of all. I do not want to imply that Reuters was lying. Only that doing so with the aid of pictures is, if anything, easier than with words.

Continue reading

A descent into darkness by our special operations forces

Summary: Only slowly have Americans begun to see the dark thing done in our name during our post-9/11 wars. For years we tightly closed our eyes. We told ourselves that only terrorists were killed, or fighters “on the battlefield” — plus a few civilians as collateral damage. Slowly those lies get debunked and we see the institutionalized assassination machinery created in our military – dirtying our reputation, operationally ineffective, and strategically counterproductive. But it doesn’t matter what we think, for the war has slipped beyond civilian control (as wars often do). {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Even the sharpest sword rusts when plunged into salt water.”
— Ancient wisdom.


  1. SEAL Team 6: quiet killings.
  2. Elite soldiers become assassins.
  3. Assassination seldom works.
  4. Women can fight and kill.
  5. There are alternatives.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  SEAL Team 6: quiet killings

The New York Times gave a tangible example of our madness, a nice follow-up to Study body counts to learn about our wars: how we fight, why we lose:  “SEAL Team 6: A Secret History of Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines“, 6 June 2015 — “The unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been converted into a global manhunting machine with limited outside oversight.”

Once a small group reserved for specialized but rare missions, the unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been transformed by more than a decade of combat into a global manhunting machine. That role reflects America’s new way of war, in which conflict is distinguished not by battlefield wins and losses, but by the relentless killing of suspected militants.

… Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet; in 2009, team members joined C.I.A. and Afghan paramilitary forces in a raid that left a group of youths dead and inflamed tensions between Afghan and NATO officials. Even an American hostage freed in a dramatic rescue has questioned why the SEALs killed all his captors.

Let’s hold the applause for a few minutes and consider what this means for our wars, for our military, and for America.

Continue reading

News about the battle for women’s equality in our armed forces

Summary: The military has become one of America’s petri dishes for social policy experiments, and the integration of women into the front line fighting forces has introduced stresses far greater than anything they’ve experienced before (the faux revolution from letting people out of the closet has produced a false sense of confidence in the outcome of this far greater change). Here we briefly review the state of the action today.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

GI Jane


The tides of change have hit the US military as it adapts to equal roles for women, with massive effects that we as yet can only dimly see.

One result has been to start a slow-mo purge in the officers corps. “At least 30% of military commanders fired over the past 8 years lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses, including harassment, adultery, and improper relationships” (per AP). The scalps include those of senior officers. They might look with envy at Congressmen whose office policies (illegally) protect them at against charges of improper behavior (it’s as delicately written an article as any in a Victorian era newspaper).

War is perhaps the most complex and demanding of social activities, made more so by its rapid rate of evolution during the past 150 years. Adding women to the formula makes it far more complex. What gets dropped to make mindspace for these new concerns? What would Clausewitz or Patton make of this: “Lawmakers want clearer Army breastfeeding rules“?  Or this tidbit about women warriors from AP’s “Pentagon grapples with retaliation in sex assault cases“…

“… often victims believe they are being retaliated against if peers no longer invite them to parties or if they are disciplined for illegal drug or alcohol use in connection with the assault.”

Continue reading

Women in combat are the real Revolution in Military Affairs

Summary: Women combatants appear in many of today’s conflicts around the world, a change in warfare with few precedents in history and perhaps the biggest change since the use of nukes. Recent examples include fighters in the Eritrean Wars, Middle East suicide bombers, soldiers in western armies, and in the Kurdish forces. With few historical precedents, except in near-mythological tales, large numbers of women in combat represents a real revolution in military affairs. Here we sort through the news for an introduction to this powerful trend.

Warrior Women

Fact catching up to fantasy.


  1. War by women in developed nations
  2. Women soldiers in future wars
  3. War in the less-developed lands
  4. The democratization of warfare
  5. How will this revolution change war?
  6. For More Information

(1)  War by women in the developed nations

First let’s look at women’s increasing role in the military forces of the developed nations.

Some have gone all the way: “8 Other Nations That Send Women to Combat“, National Geographic, 25 January 2013 — Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway. In these nations women serve in roles that include “engaging an enemy on the ground … while being exposed to hostile fire and a high probability of physical contact with the hostile forces personnel” (per a 2010 British Ministry of Defense (MOD) study).

The number of nations doing so is increasing. As in the UK “Women soldiers to serve in front-line combat units” — “Senior Whitehall source says that MoD is ‘leaning towards making the change’ to allow women in front-line combat units after a six-month review” (The Telegraph, 5 December 2014).

But things might not be what they seem, as Martin van Creveld explains in Men, Women & War (2002):

This argues it is all a great illusion: that the influx of women into the military, far from representing a world-historic step in women’s unstoppable march towards liberation, is both a symptom and cause of the decline of the military. The process was triggered by the introduction of nuclear weapons over a half century ago. Since then the armed forces of no developed country have fought a war against a major opponent who was even remotely capable of of putting its own national existence in danger …

The more superfluous they have become — indeed precisely because they have been becoming superfluous — the more society and its leaders feel able to treat them not as fighting machines but as social laboratories …

For more about his theory see his article “The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000. Also see “Putting Women in Combat Is an Even Worse Idea Than You’d Think” by Mike Fredenburg at the National Review, 15 July 2015.

(2)  The test for women soldiers lies in future wars

The test of van Creveld’s theory and of western nations’ commitment to gender equality in combat, comes when women return in large numbers of body bags. So far none of those nations have had large numbers of women casualties.

Women have died serving America in our post-9/11 wars, but in small numbers (reflecting limitations on their roles) — as shown by this Congressional Research Service report (OIF and OID are Iraq; OEF is Afghanistan): women are 2% of military deaths so far vs roughly 11% of total US troops serving there.

Continue reading

About the future of an American army with women as combat soldiers

Summary: Martin van Creveld discusses a timely topic: “To Wreck a Military“, Small Wars Journal, 28 January 2013. He describes the likely results of employing women as soldiers, no matter how politically and ideologically necessary. Here we examine his claims, however impolitic. His record of successful forecasts is unmatched in length and breadth by any living military theorist (including those who have mocked his predictions).

By José M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune

By José M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune


  1. Why DoD now allows women in combat
  2. How expensive are women soldiers?
  3. What effect on unit cohesion?
  4. Protests by soldiers about change
  5. MvC’s other works about women soldiers
  6. Other posts about women soldiers
  7. Leave a comment
  8. About Martin van Creveld
  9. Trailer to “GI Jane” (1997)

Photo: Staff Sgt. Jackelyn Walker fights Pfc. Gregory Langarica in the first round of the bantamweight championship of the finals of the Fort Hood Combative Championships on 16 February 2012 (LA Times story).

(1)  Why DoD changed the rules to allow women in combat

DoD’s mostly-male leaders have not suddenly become feminists. They bow to the necessity of numbers, seeing changes in the pool of potential recruit that will make finding the necessary manpower increasingly difficult in the 21st century.  Demographics: fewer young men. Obesity and drugs (including Ritalin and Prozac): fewer eligible young men. Cultural changes: fewer educated young men willing to join the military.

For links to studies about the difficulties of military recruiting see sections 5 and 6 of the FM Reference Page An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports.

Allowing gays increases the numbers by a few percent. Allowing women to join and advance doubles the size of the recruiting pool (more than doubles the pool of officers, as women comprise an ever-growing fraction of educated young people). It’s an old story — which might have a surprise ending. Van Creveld points us to Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads into Male Occupations by Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos (1990):

Women’s increasing share of the labor force and the pools from which employers recruit workers (such as M.B.A.’s) contributed to.their movement into some male occupations, but unless circumstances impelled employers to hire women, the increased supply of women would not have been sufficient to feminize these male occupations.We must remember that women’s growing representation in the specific labor pools was largely a response to employers’ need for workers in occupations that were more attractive than those to which the gender queue customarily relegated women.

Opportunities beckoned, and women responded. Important in persuading women to study pharmacy, systems analysis, accounting, journalism, and financial management was their confidence that antidiscrimination and affirmative-action regulations and public opposition to discrimination ensured that jobs would await them when they had finished their education. Moreover, as larger numbers of women pursued sex-atypical jobs, their presence stimulated “natural” forces that fostered the employment of even more women: jobs’ sex labels and employers’ preferences changed; women recruited more women through their informal networks; and some men fled or avoided feminizing jobs, increasing employers’ reliance on women — and potentially leading to resegregation.

Corporations have shown that women thrive in rule-based hierarchical organizations, and the military is the extreme case.   Following this pattern, as more women join the military they will reshape the military so it becomes more congenial for women.  After a generation or two the military might look radically different than it does today.  We can only guess how well this new military will perform.

(2)  How expensive are women as soldiers?

Our 11 years of wars give DoD ample data on the equivalent costs of men and women as soldiers.  Although DoD keeps the results secret, available evidence suggests that women are far more expensive soldiers than equivalent men.  Van Creveld points out three kinds of higher costs:

Continue reading