Women in Combat

Keep Women Off the Ground
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
April 8 2003 3:58 PM

Women in Combat

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

With their indiscriminate use of phrases like "died in combat" (when they really mean "died in a combat zone") or "fighting for their country" (when they actually mean something like "supporting the war effort"), the news media have done an excellent job confusing the public about what exactly women do in the military these days. So, I hope you don't mind, Debra, if I try to make clear what we're going to be talking about.

Advertisement

Now, everybody but Debra, listen up! Women in the Air Force and Navy are currently allowed to pilot planes that engage in combat—by dropping bombs or by shooting at an enemy plane. They are allowed to serve on combat ships—which are used to launch cruise missiles and the aforementioned fighter planes. But in the Army and Marines, the services that supply the people who toil on the ground, women do not take direct combat jobs. In a combat position, as the Department of Defense puts it, a GI's "primary goal is to engage, close with and [neutralize] ... the enemy." Pvt. Jessica Lynch, for instance, an Army supply clerk, had been trained to use a gun to defend herself and her unit if need be, but she wasn't supposed to go around proactively "engaging" the enemy (and, of course, she didn't).

So, our question is, should the Army and Marines be forced to change policies that prohibit women from taking combat jobs in their infantry and artillery units? The question was brought up ad nauseam after Gulf War I (since we'd entered a period of peace and prosperity and had time to address nonessential concerns), and if we're lucky enough to have bought ourselves more peace and prosperity I think we're gonna hear it again.

But I sure hope not. The only people who truly want to see women in combat are some TV producers who think it's a "sexy" issue and approximately 500 cranks assembled on college campuses and in NGOs around the Beltway.

The national argument might be worth having if there was some vast, seething body of women longing to personally stick it to the enemy, but Debra, we both know there is not. I have friends and acquaintances up and down the rank structure and from every service—tough, bright, feisty gals all—and I have never met, and they have never met, a woman who burns to join the ground-pounders. (Several large-scale surveys back me up on this.)

The truth is, there are only about 200 women a year who could meet the physical standards required, and even fewer who would select this MOS (military job). So, we'd have a lot of tsores over a few people. And if we launch a legal battle on the subject, we'll open ourselves up to a Supreme Court ruling that might require a female draft for combat positions—and that would be a real debacle.

No, this debate has been dragged in front of congressional committees and made the subject of conferences, newspaper articles, and lawsuits by a very small claque made up of feminist academics (of both sexes), women's groups, NGOs, and a few retired female officers. These women never came very close to combat themselves and have found second careers haunting congressional hearing rooms, trying to extract maximum drama from military tours that were largely bureaucratic.

These advocates' concerns have never been practical. It's all about ideology for them. We need further integration, they say, because—like the fight to integrate the services racially (a totally unsuitable analogy)—it is the simply the right thing to do. There is an entire genre of books about why it is so essential, and it is hard to summarize, but the gist, as I can glean it from these jargon-laden tracts, is that women will never be respected as much as men or paid as much as men unless they are granted this—admittedly crucial—societal role. These advocates also think, as the president of NOW put it, that "[combat] exclusion promotes the view that women are weak, inferior, and need to be protected."

Well, there's a jumping-off point for you, Debra. Is that why you think we need a policy change?

Best,
Stephanie

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 8:07 AM The Dark Side of Techtopia
  Life
Quora
Oct. 2 2014 8:27 AM How Do Teachers Kill the Joy of Reading for Students?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 8:47 AM Season 2 of The Bridge Was Confusing, Bizarre, and Uneven. I Loved It.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 2 2014 7:30 AM What Put the Man in the Moon in the Moon?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?