The recent news about the Obama administration putting servicewomen in combat zones is re-opening an old debate about the clash between practical and political agendas in military decision making. Radical feminism is certainly not the only political idea that ever interfered with a nation’s combat readiness; political agendas have plagued the world’s armies for centuries.
Probably the most famous case of a civilian agenda impairing military performance was the National Socialist reaction to the American invasion of Normandy on D Day. The Nazis had whole divisions of men and tanks that could have been sent to Normandy in time to repel the invasion once it became apparent that that was where the Allies were landing.
Three political factors kept the Germans from sending these reserves into battle in time. First, no German general was allowed to make significant tactical decisions without the express permission of dictator Adolf Hitler. Second, Hitler had made it clear that he was not to be disturbed when he was sleeping. Third, the Fuhrer was a late riser. The Allies took advantage of these three purely political factors by starting the invasion before dawn. By the time Hitler came yawing and stretching out of his bedroom the Allies had established a beachhead, and Germany was in a two front war that would end in total defeat.
In that same war countless American lives were very nearly wasted by the US Navy’s determination to develop its own landing craft, despite the obvious inferiority of Navy designs to that of the now-famous “Higgins boat,” designed and built by entrepreneur Andrew Jackson Higgins. Bureaucratic vanity was about to force the Navy’s in-house design to be adopted when a Marine Corps general named Holland Smith risked his career in a political war against the Navy’s boat design department. Smith was more interested in getting his marines onto enemy-held beaches alive than he was with bureaucratic back-scratching, and ultimately he prevailed on the military to adopt the Higgins boat.
During the Vietnam War President Lyndon Johnson famously micro-managed the war effort, even to the point of chosing specific targets for bombing raids.
During the Balkan wars of the early 1990’s, President Bill Clinton clearly wanted to conduct military operations without having to explain any American casualties to the voting public. Clinton forbade the use of ground forces in any capacity, and ordered US planes to do all their fighting from above 15,000 feet. This three-miles-in-the-air requirement greatly reduced the military’s effectiveness and allowed enemy forces a great deal more freedom of action than they should have been allowed to have. It also made target identification so difficult that on several occasions American and other NATO forces accidentally attacked refugee columns and other civilian groups, causing many innocent deaths.
Forcing the military to accept practicing homosexuals and put women in combat areas are just the latest manifestations of the tendency politicians have always had to make military decisions for political reasons.