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Are we ready to see ADF women kill?

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COMMENTS

30 September 2011 15:15

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

There is nothing Rodger Shanahan wrote on women in the ADF that I would object to. The decision to open all combat roles to women is probably unlikely to impact on the ADF adversely or positively, except in the effort (mainly administrative) it will take to implement it. It is inevitable and, as Rodger implies, it is best to not fight the inevitable.

I certainly put to one side that this appeared suddenly on a day when the early headlines were that the PM's opinion rating with women was dropping. Interviews with the likes of me ensured that such an unpleasant headline hardly got a look-in for the rest of the day.

What I found of great interest was the general tendency to link this policy with what commentators and journos tend to call 'combat' or the 'front line'. We have had women in combat and on the front line for years, and they do as good a job as men. But that is not what this policy will create. This announcement means that women can serve in those units which are optimised for killing at close quarters. That's mainly the infantry, but also armour, combat engineers and the artillery.

The popular view of modern combat in our society may have been shaped by TV footage of drones, or by the historically very low intensity of combat experienced by most of our troops in Afghanistan (the special forces and some of the infantry sometimes are the exception), or by the fact that we have not been in a serious killing war since Vietnam.

We even saw Defence offer to the media a very capable naval officer (Michelle Miller) who said opening up the infantry to women was the natural extension of having women as pilots of fighter jets or captains of warships, as Michelle has been. In this she is very wrong.

It is my view that there is no equivalence in what infantry are expected to do (that is, sustained killing at close quarters) and being a fighter pilot or warship captain. I do not denigrate either of those positions, but let's acknowledge the real differences. To now have women going into sustained close-quarter killing is a significant change and is something of which society should be fully aware. I wonder if Joe Average really understands what cabinet has signed us all up for.

For those that have not experienced such combat, modern or a little bit older, there are any number of accounts that describe it all.

It is also interesting to note that the service chiefs are in agreement. I can understand that. As Rodger said, this is not going to be a substantial change because not many women will want to do it; it is going to occur over five years, so it is really someone else's problem; and if the minister wants it, the minister gets it, for whatever reason. I hope there are more important things the service chiefs can now get on with.

My only fear is that there will be efforts to change the 'culture' of the infantry. I do not defend narrow-minded bigotry or sexism anywhere, if that exists in the infantry to a greater extent than it exists in any part of Australian society. I mean the culture that has developed over thousands of years to make young men successful in close-quarter killing. There is only one thing worse than getting into a killing war, and that getting in to one, and then not winning.

Photo by Flickr user Ganders.

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