A purportedly legal case is wending its way through the courts, and there is a strangely muted debate going on, regarding women in combat. I have instinctively rejected the thought of women serving in active combat, but have wondered how to explain it. Science Fiction writer Robert Heinlein supplied the right words, some forty years ago. As found in this PDF file, Heinlein, a naval officer, delivered the James Forrestal Memorial Lecture to the Brigade of Midshipmen in April 1973. The first half of his remarks concern how to write fiction and get paid for it. Then he went on to ask the audience, "Why are you here?"
In 1973, patriotism was unpopular. It is even less popular today. Heinlein described how to find a troop of baboons on the African veldt: don't look on the ground, but look for a lone baboon up a tree. That is the sentinel of a troop, invariably a young male. Why is he there? He is a lookout for predators, primarily leopards. His role is patriotic. Should he spot a leopard he can warn the others in time for them to take to the trees, where they have a chance of avoiding or fighting off a leopard. Every couple of hours a different young male is sent up the tree to relieve the first, who can then forage for food.
Heinlein discussed the morality of fighting. If you are attacked, you fight for your life. If you aren't willing to defend yourself, you are a detriment to the species. You will soon die and your "morality" in other regards will not matter at all. The attacker is immoral; the defender is moral. Then, at the next level, will you defend your family members? To do so is moral. To fail to do so leads to extinction of your family. To cut this discursion short: will you fight for your city, state or nation? To do so is moral. Heinlein then recalls the Navy's basic motto of patriotism: "Save women and children first."
Why is this more moral than other possible choices? Men are expendable. Women and children are not, if there is to be a future for the group, whether it is a family or a nation or a species, including Homo sapiens. In the ultimate "Adam" fantasy, one man can impregnate a nearly unlimited number of women. But one woman cannot bear any great number of children. Simply compare two scenarios:
- A terrible disaster has left one man alive, and 100 women.
- A terrible disaster has left one woman alive, and 100 men.
This is not to say that women are poor fighters. I know a number of women who are stronger, faster and smarter than I am, and I am no weak man. But they can bear children, and I cannot. However, let me quote Heinlein's key sentence: "Every human culture is based on 'Women and children first'—and any attempt to do it any other way leads quickly to extinction." For this reason, and this reason alone, allowing women in combat is a morally repugnant idea and ought to be rejected in the most definite manner.