Current Affairs History Military Politics

Medieval Solutions For Modern Conflicts

Captain Lauren F. Serrano is an intelligence officer with the United States Marine Corp and this is from her much-lauded essay titled “Why Women Do Not Belong In The U.S. Infantry”:

“Having women in an infantry unit will disrupt the infantry’s identity, motivational tactics, and camaraderie. The average infantryman is in his late teens or early twenties. At that age, men are raging with hormones and are easily distracted by women and sex. Infantry leaders feed on the testosterone and masculinity of young men to increase morale and motivation and encourage the warrior ethos. Few jobs are as physically and emotionally demanding as the infantry, so to keep Marines focused, the infantry operates in a cult-like brotherhood. The infantry is the one place where young men are able to focus solely on being a warrior without the distraction of women or political correctness. They can fart, burp, tell raunchy jokes, walk around naked, swap sex stories, wrestle, and simply be young men together.”

They can also rape and carry out sexual assaults on women and children, acts which are all too common in war, even in the most disciplined of conventional forces. So would the wide-spread presence of female soldiers and officers eliminate such crimes? No, of course not. Would the wide-spread presence of female soldiers and officers lessen or bring to light such crimes? Almost certainly. That in itself would be a worthwhile endeavour and more in keeping with contemporary Western mores than the promotion of a “cult-like brotherhood” of “warriors”. Describing modern soldiering in Medieval terms reveals the faults that lie in US military thinking, faults that led to the calamitous wars in Iraq and elsewhere. 2014 is not 1014, however much some gung-ho marines or IS fanatics may wish it to be so.

9 comments on “Medieval Solutions For Modern Conflicts

  1. Dara O Rourke

    I suppose you could have single sex units. Then, of course, you would get female soldiers raping, killing and torturing as at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo. It was a male soldier who brought it all to light by the way. But, you can’t hold women to a higher moral standard, that is just boring old sexism again. Unleashing an army of young people into a hostile environment is never going to end well, regardless of gender.

    • I agree that a war environment breeds desensitization regardless of age or gender. However there is some evidence that the presence of female soldiers in sufficient numbers does have an ameliorating effect on male patterns of anti-social behaviour. The problem lies where women are in insufficient numbers to have any influence or where a very small number of female troops are expected to assimilate to the “warrior brotherhood” ethos of the far larger male grouping (abandoning what Serrano dismisses as “PC” attitudes or what the rest of us would regard as societal norms). All that could be changed with a quota system of 60%/40% male/female personnel and a positive promotions policy to rectify gender imbalances at a leadership level.

      Of a more general nature is the question of soldiering in the 21st century. We live in the age of the smartphone which makes everyone with an internet connection judge and jury on the actions of others. The argument for “citizen soldiers” is far stronger than for “warrior fraternities”.

      • Sionnach, I am in agreement with you, especially your last point. It’s infuriating to me when women are the ones arguing for inequality, in any walk of life, against their own gender. Captain Serrano’s comment in her quote you provide here has me wondering two things. Does burping, farting, and telling sex jokes really make a good warrior, or just a good patriarchal jerk? I can tell you from experience these qualities do not make one a good philosopher, however those promoting the male-dominated climate want to believe otherwise. Secondly, so it is women’s responsibility to keep out of the way lest their poor hormonally out of control cohort members take their pent up sexual feelings out on them? i mean, sarcastically to bring out the absurdity in this, poor teenage male babies! If people are that out of control they obviously aren’t trained enough yet to have the privilege to fight. The fact that this is such a concern points to the egregious way in which patriarchal values insult and damage men’s perceptions of themselves as much as they hurt and endanger women. sorry but this is too similar to the 1950’s argument that women “ask for” sexual harassment at work because the men they work for and with just can’t help themselves when they set eyes on a woman. This is a destructive myth that needs to have an end put to it, soon. With respect to the current manifestation of the problem under discussion, though, I would think, though this is purely an assumption, a good warrior or any gender ought to be skilled in self-control. No one should be allowed to lead their own group without this skill, as well as a healthy sense of personal responsibility. If you can’t control your actions you’re going to get someone killed, not to mention probably abuse your power and lose respect for the people in your charge– and in our sickeningly sexist society women will definitely fall among targets. besides, men hate being perceived as weak so why this buying into the destructive falsehood that men are so weak they need women to protect them from their own urges and actions? What a terrible slight to your own gender as much as to our own. The good news is we are all capable of rising above all this. We’ve come so far, but have such a long way to go. I hope we get there.

        • Some great points there, Niamh.

          In relation to your ideal scenario, disciplined soldiers of either gender respectful of military and civil law during times of operational deployment, personally I feel that situation is a long way off, even in advanced armed forces like those of the United States (as we have seen in several recent conflicts). You are quite right about the “men need women to protect them from themselves” type argument but I think this case is slightly different from that.

          There is some evidence that a high presence of female soldiers with an equal status to male colleagues does change patterns of behaviour in their male peers (and we’re talking specifically about abusive sexual behaviour in the high-stress environment of combat or peace-keeping). That is not to say that women cannot be abusers or complicit in abuse – I’m sure you know all the horror stories like myself. However integrating male and female troops might well lessen such incidences since sexual equality/respect would have to be hard-baked into the regulations and culture of the military organisation. Of course this would only work if we were talking about true equality and near 50/50 percentages of either gender in the military force concerned.

          I would point to the private sector and organisations that have adopted policies of positive discrimination towards female recruitment and promotion. In some cases a “tipping point” was reached where the culture of the company/corporation was changed to a far more gender neutral and respectful one. And that can only be good for wider society as well.

  2. ar an sliabh

    More uneducated “bravado” from meirica’s “lost” generation. How old is that Captain 25? 28? and in charge of 150-200 soldiers of similar age? Compared to my time in the service, that is comparable to children teaching and learning in the same class without “adult” supervision. Another problem there is that they stick the females in like a piece of gum, without changing training, procedures, or equipment. A coed military works effectively in so many countries, mostly because the social divide between male and female is largely eradicated through targeted training and indoctrination. Another thing they are missing is a psychological exam. Any modern military will eventually assume the role of a police force policing regular citizens. The power soldiers hold over these defenseless civilians along with the incredible firepower capable of leveling vast stretches of populace ought to require the person wielding it to have some semblance of mental stability. The U.S. are not the only the ones to have this problem, many other regular forces do too. In my more “conservative republican opinion,” women are simply too valuable to be lost in combat (before you crucify me – in my experience, they make as fine warriors as men – and I have been to war). Men are simply, by their nature, by far more expendable. You need far less of them to carry on the next generation.

  3. I don’t know why some women even want to fight on the front lines.

    I am a man and I don’t even want to go near a front line and I haven’t even shot from a real gun.

    without changing training, procedures, or equipment
    All soldiers must exceed the minimum requirements – otherwise they become liabilities and endanger lives of others.

    • ar an sliabh

      Just to be clear: I said nothing about minimum requirements. I am talking about training that re-focuses specific attitudes towards soldiers who vary from the greater norm, be they women, from another race, or otherwise, along with addressing incorrect prejudicial opinions; procedures that allow all service members, regardless of gender, to serve without having to watch their “six” (their rear) or worry about it – at least when it comes to their own comrades in arms; equipment that fits and does not cause injury from merely wearing it because it is not designed for your body. The lack of these is currently a liability and endangers the lives of soldiers right now. I strongly believe to let whomever fight, if they wish to – it’s not for me to make that decision for them, I just hate to see women killed and tortured – I’m just conservative that way.

      • Which raises the related issue of female POWs and abuse. Would female captive soldiers suffer worse than male? In some circumstances almost certainly. However then there is the very rarely discussed matter of male POWs being sexually abused.

        • ar an sliabh

          I think they generally do (but then I am somewhat biased). Not just from the experience of having served in more recent conflicts (okay, 19+ years ago last), but also records from World War II, for instance, indicate that by percentage, many more female soldiers suffered severe abuse (often unspeakably horrendous fates) after capture than males. Torture is common for both, males and females, but sexual abuse is by far more commonly committed against females.

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