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The last thing a Marine thinks about is the minimum standard. "The few, the proud, the Marines" aren't satisfied with the ordinary. Leathernecks are first to fight "for right and freedom," as their hymn goes, knowing that lives depend on their courage and ability. No one gets participation trophies because "everyone's a winner."
So when the Marine Corps sets a new minimum requirement of three pullups on the exercise bar for men and women to pass the boot-camp physical-fitness strength test, the toughest male Marines will tell you that for them the only number that matters is 20, the maximum for men. (For women, the maximum is eight.) The figure that made news last week and brought forward the not-so-surprising fact that men and women are different: More than half of the female trainees were unable to do even three pullups. Men passed with ease.
This is no shock to anyone familiar with the basics of biology, which most of us first learn on the schoolyard, but it embarrassed the Marine Corps, whose senior officers beat a hasty retreat. (Marines do not like to retreat.) The new test for female trainees that was to have gone into effect at the start of the new year was put on ice, at least for now. Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said the Training and Education Command "will continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed."
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, and a member of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, says standing down was the right thing to do. "The Marines made the right decision in suspending the mandatory three pullup requirement for female trainees," she said. "This issue is bigger than boot camp. If it is too much to require female recruits to do three pullups, it is a thousand times worse to expect women to serve in direct ground combat units such as the infantry, armor, artillery and Special Operations Forces."
Mrs. Donnelly wants Congress to eliminate the Obama administration's social experimentation with the military by writing into law the traditional exemption that keeps women off the field of battle. In the meantime, female Marines being tested will return to a less-demanding "flexed-arm hang," which requires them only to hold their chins above the bar.
Female Marines have every reason to hold their heads up, but pretending that men and women are equal in every role or task is ridiculous, and the generals and admirals in charge know this, though they know better than to say it. Some missions require brute strength, and men have the advantage in all things brutish. When a company of Marines was surrounded on the Pacific island of Peleliu in 1944, their supplies exhausted, their survival depended on sheer strength. They bested very good Japanese soldiers in hand-to-hand combat in the mud, blood and gore of battle.
This is the life of a Marine in combat, something the Pentagon generals ignored at the demand of an administration - largely peopled by men and women who have never worn the colors - that is foolishly determined to "equalize" the sexes in both the gym and the battlefield. They ignore those differences at the nation's peril, and to the peril of the men and women they cheerfully put in harm's way.