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Soldiers in the Culture War

Republicans are just catching up on the battlefield.

U.S. Troops Prepare For Possible War With Iraq
KUWAIT - MARCH 13: U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Task Force 3-7 soldiers ride atop an armored vehicle during a training exercise near the Iraqi border March 13, 2003 in northern Kuwait. U.S and British forces within the region continue to poise for a possible strike on Iraq. (Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

The United States lost nearly a quarter of its combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to musculoskeletal injuries. Military officials considered that evidence that they weren't choosing the fittest men and women for combat roles, which prompted them to create a gender-neutral fitness test to better measure candidates' combat-readiness.

The Army had previously used sex-specific standards for male and female recruits. Men had to perform significantly more push-ups, sit-ups, and run a faster two-mile-time than did women. There were similar tiered standards based on a recruit's age.


Army brass reasoned that the military doesn't need to be “diverse,” but it does need to be able to kill people and execute orders in the field. As Sergeant Major Daniel Dailey said in 2018, a casualty stuck in a vehicle “doesn't care whether you are a woman, a man, 50, 60, 18 or 24—he or she needs to come out if it's on fire.”

The new gender- and age-neutral fitness test, rolled out in 2018, included a host of new exercises meant to better measure a recruit's ability to perform the skills needed in the field. The results, predictable to most people, were startling to the Pentagon. On the maximum three-rep deadlift, the average male soldier out-lifted his female counterpart 238 to 160 pounds. On the hand-release push-up portion, the average male performed thirty-four to the average female's twenty. The two-mile run and the sprint-drag-carry were dominated by male soldiers, and on the standing power throw, an overhead medicine-ball toss, the average male out-tossed the average female by nearly four feet.

Between October 2020 to April 2021, forty-four percent of women failed the test, compared to just seven percent of men.

Most Americans, to that point, had assumed the armed forces were striving to create a maximally effective fighting force. The fact women were less likely than men to pass the new physical fitness test should not, by that standard, have mattered. The military is a killing machine, not a group meant to scratch its members' felt need to “belong,” or better “represent” the diversity of the American population.

But the Biden administration thought otherwise. Biden's now-Secretary for the Army said at her nomination hearing that she was concerned “about the implications of the test for our ability to continue to retain women.” Last year, the Army re-instituted its gender-specific testing standards. It is once again the official policy of the United States Army to admit candidates to the force whom it knows to be less capable of protecting the United States.


This is a long wind-up to make a simple point. Despite the media's insinuations to the contrary, the military has been part of the culture war for a long time, and certainly long before the debate over proposed Republican amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act.

A handful of Republican congressmen have proposed amendments to the annual NDAA re-authorization that would ensure the U.S. military is a maximally lethal fighting force rather than a vehicle for progressive social engineering. Several of the proposed amendments are considered “extreme” by the press only because the military, in its current state, is extremely far gone.

Representatives Roy and Crane, for example, introduced an amendment prohibiting federal funds from being used to establish a “Chief Diversity Officer” at the Department of Defense. Representatives Gaetz and Crane similarly would prohibit federal funds from being used to train military personnel on “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and Representative Boebert would abolish the position of Deputy Inspector General for Diversity and Extremism at DoD and bar federal funds from sponsoring Pride Month activities at Defense. There are dozens of other amendments taking aim at Pride activities, diversity initiatives, and Pentagon-sponsored abortions and “gender affirmation” surgeries for servicemen.

Each of these measures is, by any standard, benign, and in keeping with the expressed preferences of our men and women in uniform. Sixty-five percent of servicemen surveyed in a recent Heritage poll said they were concerned about the politicization of the military. Those who expressed concerns highlighted the lowering of physical fitness standards and the Pentagon's obsession on race, and eighty percent identified the Biden administration's allowing transgender-identifying members into the ranks as a contributing factor in their response.

House Republican amendements are a response to that politicization. And they are over the target. You can tell by the press and Biden administration's response. A Democratic aide told CNN that “Republicans are trying to hijack NDAA to make it a culture war battle,” as if the status quo—DoD-funded diversity czars, drag shows, and abortions—were not itself the result of a decades-long “culture war" waged by progressives and elected Democrats. And the White House announced it “strongly opposes” efforts “to eliminate the Department's longstanding DEIA efforts and related initiatives to promote a cohesive and inclusive force.” The military, it argued, relies “on diverse perspectives, experiences, and skillsets to remain a global leader, deter war, and keep our nation secure."

Of course, having transvestites in the military does not help to “keep our nation secure,” and whatever benefits flow from having “diverse perspectives” can be retained without handicapping physical fitness standards to bolster female recruitment or insisting that our servicemen read Robin DiAngelo.

More fundamentally, these amendments raise, and provide the right answers to, questions about our military that elected Republicans have skirted for too long. Should the Department of Defense care if there are disproportionately few female soldiers in its ranks? If so, why? Why, in clear and precise language, is the Department of Defense sponsoring gay pride celebrations?

Progressives and elected Democrats have a whole-of-society vision, and never feel the need to cabin off their social priorities. They will use any American institution—the military, the federal bureaucracy, whatever—to achieve it. To the extent there is a culture war being waged at the Department of Defense, progressives fired the first shot. Allowing existing policy to stand would not be to decline to participate in the “culture war,” but to endorse Democrats' victory.