War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

21 "We're Talking About the Battlefront"

From Bangor, Maine, to San Diego, California, the victorious troops of Desert Storm were welcomed by Americans with tumultuous homecoming celebrations of a kind not seen since World War II. Although it would be months before all 540,000 American servicemen and -women in the Gulf came home, the arrival of the first few thousand touched off widespread displays of pride and patriotism.

Long before all of the 37,000 women were brought back, a clamor erupted from feminist groups and their supporters in Congress to remove all restrictions barring women from combat. There would be no waiting for the Pentagon to conduct studies on the tangible contributions that women had achieved in the Gulf or on the multitude of problems involved during their deployment. Rather, the combat-now activists felt that it was time to strike, while most Americans held television-spawned images of women soldiers garbed in camouflage uniforms and steel helmets, and thought that they actually had been engaged in frontline fighting.

Consequently, during the last week of April 1991--a bare two months since the end of the brief conflict in the desert--DACOWITS convened in suburban Washington. Its members were highly confident that the current political climate was ideal for demanding that Congress repeal the forty- three-year-old law that excluded women from combat. Five American women had been killed by hostile action and two had been captured briefly in the Gulf, so females already had shared the risks, most of the DACOWITS' members pointed out. So let the women fight equally alongside the men. Let women be warriors, too.

Four women on the advisory committee did not hold that belief. They argued against daughters, wives, and mothers being hurled into the caldron of armed conflict. One of the dissenting panelists, Eunice Ray, declared that the theory of equality is admirable in nearly all facets of American life, but it has no place on the battlefield, in hostile skies, or on perilous oceans, where the issue could be living or dying, winning or losing a war.

Calling a vote at this time was "ill advised and premature," Ray argued. She urged postponing any recommendation to repeal the exclusion law

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