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:


Lyudmila Pavlichenko, 187 confirmed kills.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko, 187 confirmed kills.
  • “they suffer a wholly disproportionate number of injuries” from equivalent physical stress.
  • “women’s retention rate is lower than that of men on the average”
  • “one tenth of all servicewomen are certain to be pregnant. That means that there are limits on what they can do on the job.” And then maternity leave.

These are all well-documented.  Plus there are rumors of far higher rates of physical and mental military service-related disabilities among women than men.

The results:  higher operating costs and far greater disability costs. Disability costs, lasting a lifetime, could generate fantastically higher long-term costs. But in the Dreamland of America’s military, “cost” is a four-letter word — rude to even mention as a factor in this debate.

(3)  Effect on unit cohesion.

These concerns are too well-known to bother repeating. They’re probably baseless.

First, overprotectiveness of men seems like the least of the problems women encounter in the military today — as shown by the high rate of sexual assaults.

Second, our young people grow up in a different world than that of their grandparents. Women striking men, often for trivial causes, are commonplace in movies and TV.  Women heroes as equals of men are even more common. Chivalry is not just dead but despised or irrational in their world.

As for the disruptive effect of romance, that’s a ubiquitous problem in today’s work world.  My guess is that everybody will learn to live with it, in the military as elsewhere.

(4)  Credibility of protests by soldiers about change

We were told the African-Americans could not function as combat troops, nor would integrated units work well.

We were told that homosexual men in the ranks would destroy unit cohesion once “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed.

Now we hear the same claims about women.  But there are larger physical and psychological differences between men and women than between races, or people of different gender preferences.  But, as the boy who cried wolf learned, repeated false warnings diminish credibility. Few will believe the latest warnings.

(5)  For more of van Creveld’s analysis of women as soldiers

  • “The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Martin van Creveld, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000 — Subscription only here; free Scribd PDF here.
  • “`Shooting’ at the Wrong Target: A Response to Van Creveld”, Bethke Elshtain, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000 — subscription only here; free Scribd PDF here.
  • Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, Martin van Creveld (2002).

(6) For More Information about women soldiers

  1. The Real Revolution in Military Affairs (it’s not what you think), 14 November 2005
  2. 28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America, 7 May 2007 — About harassment and rape of women soldiers.
  3. Women as soldiers – an update, 25 August 2009

(7)  Leave a comment

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(8)  About Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of 4GW theory (aka non-trinitarian warfare) is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war — technology, logistics, air power and maneuver warfare, the training of officers, the role of women in combat, military history (several books), nuclear proliferation, and strategy (several books). He has written about the future of war – The Transformation of War (which I consider the best work to date about modern war) and The Changing Face of War. And his magnum opus: The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century.

For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

(9)  Trailer to “GI Jane” (1997)




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