Attrition: The Natural Superiority of Women


March 8, 2006: "Women in combat" remains an emotional issue in American politics. As a practical matter, you will never have a lot of women in combat. Mainly because women have never been as effective as men in combat units. In the past century, there have been several serious attempts to employ women in combat. Except for some guerilla units, it never worked out well enough to make it practical to continue the practice. But women have proved very valuable in combat support units, where physical strength, and a taste for ultra violence, are not essential. But American women have increasingly been in combat situations. It's been a sixty year trend. The casualty rate of the American 450,000 women who served in World War II (where very few women were sent to the combat zone) was about 11 per 100,000 troops. It was about ten times that in Vietnam, where some 10,000 women served. However, the casualty rate for women in combat zones during World War II, was about the same as for those women in Vietnam. 


In the 1991 Gulf War, 33,000 women participated, and the casualty rate was about the same as Vietnam. That trend took a sharp turn upward in Iraq, where about ten percent of the troops are female, although the women suffer casualties at about one-tenth the rate of the men. This is largely because women are not in combat units, and are not involved in convoy operations to the same extent as the male troops. So far, about 140 women have been killed or wounded in Iraqi combat, compared to about 2,500 men. Still, the casualty rate for women is over ten times what it was in World War II and Vietnam. 


A lot of the combat operations experienced by women in Iraq involves base security, or guard duty. They have performed well in that. This is a job that requires alertness, attention to detail and ability to quickly use your weapons when needed. In convoy operations, women have also done well, especially when it comes to spotting, and dealing with, IEDs (roadside bombs and ambushes). Going into the 21st century, warfare is becoming more automated, and less dependant on muscle and testosterone. That gives women an edge, and they exploit it, just as they have done in so many other fields.