This from Dexter Filkins writing in the New Yorker about the revocation of the U.S. military's ban on women in combat irked me:
Notions of equality aside, the real factor that rendered the “non-combat” distinction meaningless was the changing nature of the wars. In an old-style conflict like, say, the Second World War, big, uniformed armies squared off against other big, uniformed armies. In a war like that, driving a truck in a supply convoy, or briefing reporters on the days’ events, could be deemed relatively safe. As long as you were behind the lines, your chances of getting killed were small. But in Iraq and Afghanistan there are no front lines. Or, as the troops on the ground say, the front line is where you are.
Filkins is write that insurgencies are messy and are largely fought without front lines in the way we often imagine European-style warfare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But insurgencies are not new and that the United States has faced two in the last twelve years is hardly reflective of the changing nature of war.
Don't misunderstand me: Filkins' point that the distinction between combat and non-combat jobs--and the supposed protection this distinction afforded female servicemembers--was fairly meaningless in Iraq and Afghanistan is not lost on me. But Filkins wrongly locates the cause of the distinction's meaninglessness in a non-existent paradigm shift in the nature of warfare itself. It is not warfare that has changed but the composition of the U.S. armed forces. Even in Filkins' imagined World War II, women driving supply convoys would be frequent targets of attack. Airborne interdiction played a prominent role in World War II. In North Africa and the Italian campaign, for example, the U.S. Army Air Corps attacked supply depots, ports, and even the ferries traveling over the Messina Straits. Had women soldiers been used by Axis forces to pilot those ferries or load or unload materiel at ports, then female soldiers would have been killed there.