Campbell: Women in combat hides deeper issue

Campbell argues that warfare shouldn’t be treated like an employment status.

Duncan Campbell

Duncan CampbellWith Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision to lift the ban on women in combat, no longer will a significant portion of those in service face the career barrier they once experienced.

Examples of women being unqualified for promotions because they did not serve in official combat roles despite having combat experience have been thoroughly documented. Furthermore, the ban represented a longstanding lack of faith in the physical and mental abilities of women in service. The women of our military can now be fully recognized for their contributions as the result of this equality-seeking measure.

Even more importantly, women will now have access to proper training for the styles of combat they have unofficially participated in for years.

In the most obvious way, this speaks well of American culture and progressivism. But even with that said, the conversation surrounding this decision is not fully satisfying.

Something about casting professional combat duty – the business of killing – as an employment issue is disheartening. I’m frightened by our prioritization of achieving equal opportunity in dishing death over a willingness to confront the military industrial complex and our country’s involvement in unjust wars. What does this reality say about modern American liberalism? Are we confused or have we really become this cynical?

This is especially concerning during an era of highly dissatisfying American foreign policy.

Consider the Iraq War. In 2004, Koli Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, said it was his belief that the U.S./U.K. invasion of Iraq was a violation of international law buttressed by American claims of weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda. The Iraq War took the lives of at least 111,151 Iraqi civilians, 4,807 coalition soldiers and 16,623 Iraqi military and police. During the war several human rights abuses occurred, including the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse, Haditha killings and Mukaradeeb wedding party massacre. The war is characterized by a lack of post-invasion planning and commitment to rebuilding the nation we so thoroughly destabilized.

And this sort of reckless and cynical foreign policy is nothing new. Almost every American conflict since the Korean War has garnered immense criticism.

At best we are accused of an irresponsible use of the military, while at worst claims of neo-colonialism and hegemony cast a very dark shadow on our foreign affairs.

With this in mind, where is the victory in gaining the privilege of participating in such wars?

Perhaps there exists a more optimistic and productive perspective on the issue. It is possible the lift on this ban and the logical inclusion of women in the Selective Service System will persuade Americans like myself to put more significant pressure on our representatives about rethinking the way we approach foreign policy.

With the certainty of a more significant number of our daughters and mothers returning home in caskets, the incentive to address this issue should only increase.

Duncan Campbell can be reached at

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