The headline in the March 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal caught my attention: “Notable & Quotable: Marines’ ‘Unconscious Bias.’” But I wasn’t sure what that meant until I started reading the story.
It was from a longer story from military.com reporter Hope Hodge Seck’s March 18 article, “All Marines to get ‘Unconscious Bias’ Training as Women Join Infantry.”
I was aware of the mandate by the powers that be who have never served in the Marine Corps—or any branch of service for that matter—to integrate women into the infantry and even send them to boot camp and officer’s candidate school with men. But I wasn’t sure what “unconscious bias” training meant. That drove me to look for a definition.
And I found one on the University of Warwick website: “Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.”
Which sounds quite clever.
Col. Anne Weinberg, deputy director of the Marine Corps Force Innovation Office, recently told reporters that training teams would be sent to bases and installations throughout the Corps in May and June to present a two-day seminar for majors and lieutenant colonels who will then train the Marines under them.
The seminars will include information on how people look at and prejudge others based on race and gender, as well as procedural changes in the Marine Corps and American military operations.
The colonel elaborated.
“You’re in the field, you have only this certain amount of space for billeting and you’ve got three women and six guys. How are you going to billet?” Weinberg asked. “Just some of these common sense things that these ground combat units probably haven’t had to deal with, but we’ve been dealing with in the rest of the Marine Corps for generations.”
Interesting point to think about.
When the troops are back in the barracks, though, no doubt there are separate billets available. But as Ray Starman recently pointed out on the U.S. Defense Watch website, “There are no billets in the field REMF! (You can figure out the acronym.) Your billet is a piece of ground.”
That completes the colonel’s “common sense” perspective.
Women have not yet been assigned to enlisted boot camp or infantry units, but they went “0 for 26” last year in the Marine Infantry Officers’ Basic Course, the article reported.
Not that that had any effect on the decision.
The Washington Post obtained a survey of 54,000 Marines from the Center for Naval Analyses that reported “a significant majority of male Marines at every rank opposed the decision to have women in combat roles.” And a third of female Marines also opposed placing women in ground combat roles.
So the troops have spoken, but the Marine Corps ain’t a democracy. The decision to put women in combat units comes from outside the Marine Corps and doesn’t seem to consider unit effectiveness. And regardless of what those who serve or have served may think about the decision, that’s the way it is going to be as the infantry goes slogging and fighting and dying through the desert or wherever else it is deployed. Only then will we see how it affects the casualty rate and fighting spirit of the Marines sent to the battlefield to do the bidding of the folks back in the safety of the civilian world.
Scores of comments from Marines, former Marines, parents of Marines and other interested parties poured onto the web pages of The Wall Street Journal, military.com and usdefensewatch.com quicker and more than I’ve ever seen.
One concerned parent wrote, “My youngest son is a Recon Marine. He’s trained to prepare (for) the battlefield, engage the enemy in hostile territory, lead the regular combat troops, defend crucial positions, destroy or secure infrastructure, protect his comrades and defeat the enemy. The last thing he needs to be thinking about as he goes into battle is the ‘unconscious bias’—a useless distraction from the task at hand. The people behind this are needlessly putting his life in danger.”
Another man asked, “Does that mean the draft (for which men must register at age 18) is going to apply to women? I have a conscious/unconscious bias that insists you can’t have privilege without responsibility. Evidently all women can be warriors just as all men can.”
Another man summed it up pretty well: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of political correctness.”
So in the true Marine Corps tradition, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” Experience will determine the wisdom of the decision to put women in the infantry.