Summary: Martin van Creveld examines the reason behind the Israel Defense Forces’ enthusiasm to recruit women. It’s the same reason for the enthusiasm of the US military. Men are increasingly unable or unwilling to serve. He discusses some of the likely consequences of this experiment.
By Martin van Creveld.
From his website, 24 November 2016.
Re-posted with his generous permission.
For about twenty years now, I have been warning whoever would and would not listen about the dangers of feminizing the military. Now, in my own country, the chicks — no pun intended — are coming home to roost. As readers will know, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are the only ones in history to have made women wear uniform even against their will. However, from the end of the War of Independence (1948) to the late 1970s they only did so in a variety of auxiliary Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) that had little impact on the fighting “teeth.” At that point a shortage of manpower generated by the forces’ expansion following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War on one hand and feminist pressures on the other caused the situation to change. Female officers and enlisted personnel increased in both numbers and importance until the IDF was blessed with three small “combat” battalions made up mostly of women. Albeit that they are deployed along the borders with Egypt and Jordan, where hardly a shot has been fired for decades past.
Fast-move forward. For about a month now I have noticed, in Israel’s most important paper Yediot Ahronot, a series of articles about various combat IDF units. How little the public knew about them. How wonderful they were. How important the missions they carried out, and how daring their feats. Which towns provided them with proportionally the largest number of recruits. And so on. Briefly. the kind of stuff you would expect from a military that has difficulties attracting manpower.
Last week, the reasons behind the various publications came out of the bag. What I had suspected all along has now been announced with great fanfare. Year by year, fewer recruits are interested in joining the combat arms. From 2015 to 2016 alone, the figure went down by two percentage points, from 71.91 to 69.8. The decline is less pronounced among women, more among men. Coming on top of the fact that more and more men do not serve in the first place, the IDF has good reason to worry about its ability to fill combat slots as they should be.
Throwing in money apart, several solutions have been proposed. One is to cut down on the training of cadets and fresh recruits so as to free them for tasks such as holding down the Occupied Territories. Another is to dramatically lower physical standards. Should this come to pass, then soldiers previously classified as fit only for desk-bound tasks and disaster relief either in the Territories or in Israel itself will be able to serve in “combat” MOS. For example, by controlling passports and looking for contraband at the various checkpoints leading from Israel to the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Jordan.
The most radical idea of all is to have women serve in the armored corps. But don’t let the slim figure, narrow shoulders, slender arms, and manicured nails of the good-looking girl in the picture mislead you. Over half of a tank’s weight consist of armor, and each of the road wheels shown weighs about as much as she does. As you would expect from such a machine, operating and maintaining it — as by loading ammunition, or swabbing the barrel of the gun, or changing a link in the tracks—is very heavy, and often very dirty, work only a handful of women can do. Should a woman be included in a tank crew, then the outcome will be to increase the burden on her male comrades. Perhaps even more problematic, in the confined space of an armored vehicle privacy is not minimal — it simply does not exist.
Such a system, in other words, can only lead to one of two things or, perhaps, to both. First, there will be another increase in the number of injured, in some cases even crippled, women hobbling about. And of course in claims for compensation of the kind which, even now, amounts to fully four percent of Israel’s entire defense budget. Second, there is going to be a big rise in “sexual harassment” claims; a problem which, as I pointed out in my recent book Pussycats, is currently wrecking not only Israel’s armed forces but those of all other Western ones as well.
More women in the forces are not the cure. They are the disease, or at least part of it. Feminization will inevitably lead, by all signs has already led, to the creation of a vicious cycle. By definition, the more women enter any professional field, institution, or branch of service the fewer men will remain in it. The fewer men remain, the more its prestige and the economic rewards it can command will be compromised. The more its prestige and economic rewards it can command are compromised, the fewer men it will be attract.
This process has been documented many, many times. Often by female researchers who worry, with good reason, about the impact their own growing presence may have on the rewards they can expect in their chosen fields. The best-known cases are those of secretaries (once upon a time, practically all secretaries were male), bank-tellers, pharmacists, book-editors, bakers, psychologists, and “wealth managers.” The ongoing decline in the ability of the humanities to attract students also seems to be linked with the fact that the percentage of female faculty members is them is exceptionally high.
And which IDF combat units do not suffer from a shortage of men? You guessed it: The two elite, entirely male, infantry brigades, Golani and the paratroopers.
Editors’ note: for more about the loss of status following women’s entry into a profession see “Is the Feminization of a Profession a Sign of a Loss of Prestige?” by Marlaine Cacouault-Bitaud in Work, Gender and Societies, 2001/1, and also “As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops” by Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times, 18 March 2016.
About the Author
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 theory about modern war 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. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.
Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war in the fascinating Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (see the chapters about modern gaming, wargames for the people).
Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.
He has written three books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force, and a biography of Moshe Dayan.
Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.
He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than ours!), Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?. and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West (2016).
And perhaps most important for 21st century America, his magnum opus— the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describes the political order unfolding before our eyes.
For More Information
- The Real Revolution in Military Affairs (it’s not what you think).
- Putting women in combat: a quick look at the other side of the debate.
- About the future of an American army with women as combat soldiers.
- Women in combat are the real Revolution in Military Affairs.
- News about the battle for women’s equality in our armed forces.
- Martin van Creveld looks at the experience of women in the Israel Defense Forces.