Will women be as good at killing as men? Will Marines fire teams become less tough if a woman is alongside? How about co-ed Navy SEALS going after Bin Laden-style terrorists?
These arguments against putting women in harm's way were swept away Thursday as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced he is a opening the doors to women to serve in 230,000 frontline combat positions, as well as possibly elite special forces units.
It was a decision supported unanimously by the Joints Chiefs of Staff.
"Every person in today's military has made a solemn commitment to fight, and if necessary to die, for our nation's defense," Panetta said. "We owe it to them to allow them to pursue every avenue of military service for which they are fully prepared and qualified. Their career success and their specific opportunities should be based solely on their ability to successfully carry out an assigned mission. Everyone deserves that chance."
But some critics say Panetta's decision will only cause trouble for troops abroad. Aside from size and strength differences, some say women don't have what it takes to deal with the psychological stresses of combat.
"There are substantial groups of differences between women and men in physical risk-taking and the willingness to kill strangers," said Kingsley Browne, a law professor at Wayne State University and author of the 2007 book "Coed Combat: New Evidence Shouldn't Fight the Nation's Wars."
"There is some overlap between the sexes, so there are some women who do have those characteristics, but you don't know ahead of time who is going to end up doing well or poorly in battle," Browne said.