A Case for Women Warfighters

By Brower, J. Michael | Military Review, November/December 2002 | Go to article overview

A Case for Women Warfighters


Brower, J. Michael, Military Review


I have absolutely no problem with women in combat units. [T]he idea that women can't make good soldiers is a mindset, not an incontrovertible fact.

-Sergeant Major of the Army William G. Bainbridge1

WHEN THE UNITED STATES read about one of its destroyers laid low in the Gulf of Aden, it also read about females being killed and wounded in the line of duty alongside their male comrades. The cowardly, terrorist act executed against the USS Cole on 12 October 2000 underscored what many defense analysts had been saying during most of the 1990s-that post-Cold War confrontations would increasingly be devoid of conventional front lines.2 Dress rehearsal for that reality began for Western militaries during the brush wars in Asia after World War II. One of the consequences of the USS Cole disaster and the sea change in warfare during the past 50 years is both relying on (and the increased vulnerability of) females at arms. How ironic it is for the U.S. military, which is increasingly dependent on servicewomen who have a high level of sacrifice in their blood, to announce on the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM's) website at that many jobs are closed to women. A nation that excludes half its potential human resources by fiat sows the seeds of its own military disintegration as the art of war becomes a technocentric, rather than a bayonetcentric endeavor.

According to Lory Manning, director of the Women in the Military Project at the Women's Research and Education Institute, there are approximately 195,000 women in the Armed Forces.3 Despite admitting that the U.S. military is dependent on its females, restrictions on servicewomen make them second-class citizens. Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally, the first woman fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, demanded that the rule requiring female soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear long cloaks and head coverings be rescinded. Her 7-year battle against the policy culminated in a lawsuit filed against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.4 McSally finished her career by saving other women from the abaya and the restrictions placed on females in Saudi Arabia. She also made a down payment with her career for all oppressed women in that country and throughout the Muslim world.5

Whatever conservatives planning for the last war may think, women have become indispensable to the victorious militaries of the future. The U.S. and British defense establishments' recent attempts to turn back the clock by re-restricting women from the most meaningful roles in modern warfighting have demonstrated the propensity to step on the same rake, to avoid the lessons of 11 September 2001 that point to an increasing role for females in tomorrow's battlespace. Seizing the opportunity the chaos of the terrorist attacks on America provided, those interested in undoing what servicewomen have gained during the 1990s are squandering the opportunity to evolve militaries into antiterrorist bulwarks.

Inadequately equipped to formulate a proper appreciation of females' historical roles in armed conflict, well-funded and well-heeled representatives of the U.S. national defense establishment risk failing on future battlefields by continuing to irrationally restrict servicewomen.6 Advancing societies endorse harnessing the talents of 50 percent of their brainpower socially, politically, and when practicing the art of war. Societies in decline restrict, manacle, and shunt talent when criteria are gender-based. In the inevitable, general rise of the female as a global historical paradigm, there are ebbs and flows. Conservatives in key positions within Western militaries have instituted one of these ebbs by raging against women at arms without thinking of the changed nature of warfare-particularly terrorist warfare-- thus putting Western societies' survival at risk.7

The progressively evolving society, when engaged in armed struggle, emerges victorious when its operational decisions are unfettered by political agendas and, in modern warfare, when women are relied on along with men. …

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