Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces? We Shall See.

Late last month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a broad intention to lift the longstanding restrictions pertaining to the allowable role(s) that female service members could facilitate in direct combat operations and corresponding occupational specialties.


This policy shift should be viewed by advocates of government propriety as a significant victory; respectable government behavior inherently requires equality of government treatment – that is, the equitable application of force or the threat of it that the State wields across its entire constituency.  This equality of treatment applies to the State’s laws and policies and demands that they be enforceable in the same manner and to the same degree to everyone, regardless of age, class, gender, race, etc.


While the specific mechanics of the new policy’s implementation are as yet undefined, and will likely remain so for a number of years, the abstract notion is a legitimate approach to equal opportunities for willing citizens and residents to voluntarily and constitutionally serve the State at their individual discretion, provided they can meet the prescribed physical and mental fitness standards.   And here lies the crux of the policy going forward in determining whether it will fulfill a just or discriminatory long-term end.


As the Marine Corps recently discovered with its Infantry Officer Course gender integration efforts, females who wished to volunteer for such duty were few and far between and those that did could not successfully meet the rigorous demands, for varying reasons.  This is certainly not a declaration that no female(s) can ever achieve such goals, naturally, but a very real special interest threat is likely to emerge when political egalitarians seek to implement policies of equal outcome vice equal opportunity, which are two altogether different concepts.


“Equality …implies two things are interchangeable – meaning one thing can be substituted for the other with no ramifications.  Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical, interchangeable beings” (emphasis added).  Thus given that no two individuals, let alone entire demographics, are truly equal in reality, equality of outcome policies inherently require unequal treatment be applied to various persons or groups to achieve these illegitimate goals.  This is, at their heart, how and why equal opportunity policies such as affirmative action and the like, over time, inevitably are corrupted to affect results that stand diametrically opposed to the very purpose they purported to pursue in the first place (see Ricci v. DeStefano [2009]).


In this particular context, many service equal opportunity policies and regulations actually drive unequal standards of achievement and/or performance, as is currently the case in a number of physical fitness, deployment, promotion, and school/assignment selection requirements and procedures.  There are also a number of inherent disadvantages that women are subject to in these areas that even the aforementioned applications of unequal treatment do not rectify.  Ultimately, for such a sweeping change to be righteously celebrated as a just contribution to individual liberty that genuinely restricts state-sponsored persecution, as it were, equality of outcome goals must be entirely rejected and individuals must be evaluated against a single set of standards – however developed – regardless of those individuals’ superficial characteristics.


Ultimately, the United States Armed Forces have an excellent and perhaps unique opportunity to begin redressing the broad adverse moral and utilitarian impacts of modern identity politics that have become such a large part of our collective culture in America, and may help us to possibly embark upon a social path of awakening that acknowledges who one is is far more substantively important than what one is.


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  1. Equal Outcomes and Equal Opportunity Are Not the Same Things |
  2. Lowering Standards |

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