Thursday, January 24, 2013

Women in Combat

I've been listening all day on NPR to various people expressing their opinions on the Defense Department's recent decision to allow women to serve in front-line combat positions.  My, has it been interesting. 

I heard a woman, on BBC's World Have Your Say, opine that the fact that Canada has had women in combat positions for years doesn't mean anything, because their military doesn't fight "real wars" like ours does.  (No, really, that's a good paraphrase of what she said.)

I just heard the (male) head of a veterans group, on PBS NewsHour, say that women aren't fit for front-line combat positions because a woman can't do a fireman's carry of a 225 lb. man, and she can't carry an infantryman's gear.  (He should see some of the iron pumpers at the women's gym I used to go to.  I once saw a woman about 5' 3" dead lift 300 pounds.)  He admitted that the wars we're fighting these days are guerrilla wars that don't have that kind of front lines, but he's convinced that sometime in the next 50 years, we'll be back in the trenches, just like we were in Korea and WWII.

The only one who's actually mentioned that elephant in the room, menstruation, is the blogger at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, who said,
Prepare for the incoming jokes about women being issued Hello Kitty uniforms and pink guns, while conservatives wax nostalgic for the days when strapping young men didn’t have to serve in a foxhole with women who bleed every month and refuse to die.
(I have to read that blog more often.)

Now, personally, I have no idea why any rational woman would want to serve in front-line combat.  But I know a lot of women have chosen a military career, and obviously if they can't serve in combat, their promotion options are limited.  For them this is the right decision, and about damn time.  Ask Sen. Tammy Duckworth, among many others, about women serving in combat.

As for the front lines that we'll "probably have" in the next 50 years:  none of us knows what's coming.  But as I look at all the wars in the last 300 years, I see that every new war (including Iraq and Afghanistan) has required things of its soldiers that no one had ever believed soldiers would have to deal with.  Rifled barrels and accurate fire.  Mustard gas, and machine guns.  Panzer tanks and blitzkrieg.  Urban guerrilla warfare and COIN.  And yet the soldiers adapted to the new ways, and coped; and their brains were usually more important than their physical strength.  In fact, with the new armed drones, soldiers don't even have to be physically on a battlefield; in which case there is no gender difference.

So, ladies, have at it, and God bless.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Control and the Possible

Now that President Obama has revealed the list of changes he wants to make to the way we manage gun ownership in this country, the flap has begun.  A number of very loud people are screaming that "they're going to take away our guns."  I wish. But in fact, his major proposals are very simple:

  • Background checks every time a gun changes hands
  • No more semi-automatic rifles, aka assault weapons, sold
  • No more high-capacity magazines sold
The second and third items have just given gun sellers their biggest month ever, as people line up to buy guns "while we still can."  The paranoia is overwhelming, despite the fact that nothing in any of this suggests any plan on the government's part to "take away our guns," in fact, no action on any guns anyone currently owns.  

But I'm seeing a very interesting consensus building on universal background checks.  The link won't be up until tomorrow, but in today's San Francisco Chronicle, the editorial "Real gun laws at last" quotes an Associated Press poll that showed 86% of respondents in favor of background checks at gun shows.  If you review the general coverage of the SHOT show in Las Vegas this week (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show), you'll see that even the attendees (largely gun dealers) are generally in favor of more and better background checks.

So I have a recommendation for Mr. Obama.  Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Far more people are in favor of expanding background checks (over 80%) than favor banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (just over 50%, which is still amazing).  Push the background checks separately, as a single bill that does nothing else.  Then you have a sporting chance of getting it passed.  If you bundle all the changes together in a single bill, as everyone in Washington loves to do, you give anyone with any objection to any small section the excuse to vote against it.

And it would help.  I regularly hear gun supporters argue that because these measures won't "solve the problem" - and they won't, if "solve" means "make it stop entirely" - we shouldn't even bother.  That's a straw man.  No law will "solve" any problem of human behavior.  But regular background checks will make things better. California has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, but Oakland, California is drowning in illegal assault weapons trucked in from Reno, Nevada, where you can  buy any weapon you want - especially at that gun show this week.  Background checks would reduce the flow of guns from Nevada to California, and that would help.  A lot.  Let's do it.