A watered down piece of legislation passed yesterday does little to halt the brisk march of American military women towards direct combat.

Here’s a good summary of what happened:

“House Republicans retreated yesterday from a measure that would have restricted women’s roles in the military in an effort to keep them out of ground combat.

“Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Army leaders, and lawmakers from both parties opposed the change, which would have frozen the military jobs women are allowed to fill and required congressional approval for any change.

“’In the history of this country there has never been a law limiting the assignment of women in the Army, and we will not do so now,’ Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico, the only female veteran in Congress, said on the House floor.”

Note to Rep. Wilson: The reason that there’s never been a law limiting the assignment of women in the Army is the Army didn’t assign women to direct combat in previous wars. One female soldier was killed by enemy fire in Vietnam, compared with more than thirty so far in the Iraq war.

“To pretend that women would have an equal capability of doing that is a dangerous philosophy, and lives could be lost as a result of it,” Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told USA Today.

“If we as a nation endorse the idea of women in combat that engages the enemy deliberately, we would be saying that violence against women is OK as long as it happens at the hand of the enemy,” Ms. Donnelly added. “That would be a setback for our civilization.”