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Oh, please:

Kellie McCoy, who led US combat engineers in Iraq and won a Bronze Star for valour

But Mr Combet’s Coalition counterpart Bob Baldwin disagreed and said yesterday that the psychological aspects of battle made the front line unsuitable for women.

First, there is no ‘front line of battle’ anymore.  What once may have been the front-line in earlier conflicts now reaches deep into society, across multiple geographical bounds.  Front-line soldiers now include logistics and supply, medics, air-traffic controllers, and civil affairs—not to mention diplomats, whose contributions in these environments are rarely recognised—all of which were once behind the traditional front-line.  Until Mr Baldwin grasps this idea, he will not understand the nature of modern conflict.

Second, let’s turn this around: is battle supposedly ‘suitable’ for men?  Is not the trauma experienced much the same, regardless of gender?  As for the argument that men feel the need to protect women, does not the reverse also hold true—or, for that matter, in traditional Anzac argot, a mate looking out for a mate?

Third, Mr Baldwin is wonderfully blind to all those instances where women have been in and contributed to battle in modern times, from the Tamil Tigers to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Experience from the latter suggests that having women in units is beneficial, especially for counter-insurgency operations—the sort of wars we’re fighting now.

Fourth, demography matters.  The ADF, like other Western militaries, has little choice but to increase recruiting women.  More women recruited will mean capturing a greater breadth of abilities and capabilities.  Once in, selections for all units should be made on the grounds of other than gender.  The ‘right’ to join a unit should arise from the ability to meet standards, make a contribution and be part of the team.  It is of course likely that men will tend to predominate in certain activities; men, particularly young men, tend to be higher risk-takers and tend to be physically better suited to certain activities.  But the same is not true of all men.   Nor do all men automatically bond together to the exclusion of women because, you know, they’re all blokes.  Where a woman meets the standard, contributes to the team (and bearing in mind that team-building is facilitated by good leadership), her gender of itself should not exclude her.

I could go on, but life is too short…  And Mr Baldwin needs to pay more attention to the changes in modern warfare and society.

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