Academic journal article Parameters

Combat Roles for Women: A Modest Proposal

Academic journal article Parameters

Combat Roles for Women: A Modest Proposal

Article excerpt

Recent changes in the international system and resulting shifts in US military engagement abroad have opened the door for a new examination of military opportunities for women, an issue which has for too long been clouded by extreme positions on both sides. [1] The view that a fatal feminization of the US Army is occurring at the present time is incorrect, but so is the claim that equal rights are immediately in order. A little moderation in the debate over the issue of combat roles for women in the US military is needed. It is our belief that moderation will result from a simple cost-benefit analysis rooted in the American democratic tradition. The timing for this is made even more appropriate by the Army's current embrace of transformation.

We will first examine the current policy on women in combat units, then look at changes in the international system and in the current and future missions of the military which allow a reconsideration of the issue. After arguing that the functional imperative of military forces in the post-Cold War world has changed fundamentally while Department of Defense policy on women in combat has changed only incrementally, we will recommend an experiment to determine whether there should be changes to current Department of Defense policy. [2] We will then present what we consider to be the very real problems the military would face with a mixed-gender force in combat roles before concluding that the benefits of conducting an experiment are worth the costs. While our discussion of the topic is relevant to all branches of the military, we primarily focus on the Army because of our personal experience, in combat and peacetime, in that organization.

Unfortunately, much of the current debate surrounding the presence of women in the positions in which they now serve is extremist and destructive. Women currently serve in division military police companies, fly combat aircraft, and attend the US Military Academy; it is highly unlikely that there will be a rollback, despite the wishes of many who oppose the presence of women in uniform. Brian Mitchell's recently published Women in the Military: Flirting with Disaster concludes that "women are no longer needed in the military [and] their expanding presence is destroying the military's body and soul." [3] Even if, as Mitchell argues, political correctness put women in the military in the first place, it is unlikely that they will be removed, as there are no indications that society's sensitivity toward issues such as this is diminishing. In addition, at least since the inception of the all-volunteer Army, the United States has never filled the Army exclusively with male recruits. When the dialogue surrounding t he debate on women's roles is not forward-looking but rather looking to find a scapegoat for the troubles plaguing the military today, problems attributed to the presence of women are exacerbated. This article attempts to tone down the rhetoric while examining the facts.

Current Policy on Women in Combat Units

In times of national emergency, traditional restrictions on gender roles tend to be eased. Some 33,000 women served in the US armed forces during World War I, most in the Nurse Corps; more than ten times that number served during World War II. In the wake of those national emergencies, traditional restrictions were again applied; the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 permitted no more than two percent of the enlisted ranks in the Army to be filled by women, a limit which was not lifted until another national emergency in 1967. [4]

Women became an increasingly important part of the military after the creation of the all-volunteer force in 1973, and they demonstrated that they had become essential to the successful employment of the military during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91, in which some 40,000 women served, representing seven percent of the total deployed forces. [5] The combat exclusion rule was revealed as dubious during that conflict, as women served in logistics bases forward of all-male infantry and armor units, but not on aircraft carriers hundreds of miles to the rear of the front lines. …

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