Conservatives are outraged over Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to lift the ban on women in combat, which opens up more than 200,000 frontline positions to women. Opponents of the move have called it “humiliating” and dangerous to unit cohesion. On CNN’s Starting Point, host Soledad O’Brien caught one such critic off guard by anonymously quoting a similar argument made during integration of African Americans into the military.
Professor Kingsley Browne, author of “Co-Ed Combat,” argued that the military’s physical standards would have to be lowered to accommodate women because there is “very little overlap in physical capacity between men and women.” O’Brien asked him if he agreed with a 1941 quote blasting military integration from Colonel Eugene Householder without revealing its context:
O’BRIEN: I’m going to read a little bit from this colonel who said this: ‘The army is not a sociological laboratory; to be effective it must be organized and trained according to the principles which will ensure success…Experiments are a danger to efficiency, discipline and morale and would result in ultimate defeat.’
BROWNE: I think that that’s true. I don’t think it’s true with respect to ultimate defeat of the United States in a war. I think what’s likely to occur though is the defeat of the United States in small battles, which means people are going to die. […]
O’BRIEN: That was from a guy in 1941. And that argument was about not allowing black people in the military. That was his exact argument of why blacks should not be allowed in the military, because it’s a danger to efficiency and discipline and morale and will result in ultimate defeat.
Though African American soldiers served in every military campaign since the Revolutionary War, units were only integrated after World War II by executive order. During integration, black soldiers endured racist arguments that they were fundamentally different and incompatible with white soldiers. Similarly, women have held combat roles for decades. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 292,000 women served in combat zones, and 152 were killed in action. A survey of NATO allies who allow women in combat roles found no issues with unit cohesion and noted that women tended to perform better than their male colleagues in intelligent-gathering roles.