Friday, May 4, 2012

Females in Combat

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Since its inception, the United States has called its sons and daughters to war to defend freedom and democracy and to end tyranny abroad. For more than three hundred years, many brave Americans have answered that call of duty, and some have given the ultimate sacrifice. Although many see war as a man’s duty, countless numbers of women have fought and died for this country. They have disguised themselves as men, performed as nurses, and served in almost all facets of the United States Military. The great accomplishments that these women have made in the past seem to be overshadowed today however. Although women are allowed to serve their country, they are not allowed to serve in direct combat billets. The ban on females in combat assignments is outdated and unnecessary. History has shown that “The qualities that are most important in all military jobs- things like integrity, moral courage, and determination- have nothing to do with gender” (Wilson). Women have proved time and again they can effectively perform any job a man can do, especially in the military. It is because of this fact, and many others, that the prohibition on females serving in direct combat roles should be lifted.


Most of those who advocate the ban on females in combat have either never served in the military or are senior level officers who are too separated from the men and women in the field to make an informed choice. One of the biggest arguments they make is that females should not be allowed in direct combat because they do not possess the physical strength needed to serve effectively. Women, although on the average not as strong as men, have proved they do have the physical strength and endurance needed for combat assignments. They serve proficiently everyday as police officers, firefighters, and military medics. All of these jobs require the same amount of vigor and stamina as do infantry billets. Another fact that no one seems to be talking about is that for the past eleven years, the Marine Corps, American’s primary ground force, has required female recruits to endure the exact same training regiment as the male recruits. The female recruits have to pass the exact same strength and endurance requirements. They run the same amount of miles, traverse the same obstacle courses, and hike the same one hundred plus pound field pack as do their male counterparts. Females have proved time and time again that they do possess the physical ability to effectively serve in combat. The military is also on a course of action with weapons development that will make physical strength an unimportant aspect in combat. The recent movements “toward miniaturization in weaponry means that smaller bodies become more adaptive. In short, technology has changed the nature of war to such an extent that brute strength is no longer as important as it once was” (Febbraro and McCann).


Another point the opposition stresses is that the integration of females into all-male combat units would have a negative affect on unit moral and cohesion. They stress that the men in these units could not bond with their female soldiers because of resentment. On one aspect this point is flawed because it assumes that male infantrymen do not want females in their unit. Most of these males that have been interviewed state that they would welcome females in their unit if those females could pull their own weight. The Rand Corporation, who owns and operates the National Defense Research Institute, published a research brief for the military concerning the incorporation of women in the military over the past six decades. They concluded that the integration of women in the United States Armed Forces has had only small negative effects, and that these negative effects only concerned such things as separate hygiene facilities and the need for military medical doctors to perform routine feminine hygiene procedures (Harrell). Women serving in noncombatant units have not had a negative effect on unit moral, and women serving in infantry units would not either. A former Vietnam combat officer recently stated that unit cohesion would be hurt by the fact that “if you put virile men and women together in very, very close quarters for long periods of time some ‘personal things’ are going to happen that are counterproductive to the dependence on one another that is so vital for unit combat effectiveness”. The men and women of noncombatant units are in the same “very close quarters for long periods of time,” and there is not a significant problem of “personal things happening”. One of Mr. Weh’s fellow Marines, who is a female, answers such questions with the fact that, “we were not allowed to fraternize with the men in our unit. We were given an order, and Marines follow orders or people’s safety gets compromised” (Jacobs). The incorporation of females into combat units would have no more of a negative effect on unit cohesion than the assimilation of females into noncombatant units has had.


The opposition also points out that females should not be allowed in combat because of the moral ramifications of females being killed in action. This argument mainly comes from the right and suggests that it is socially, morally, and ethically wrong for the United States to put females on the front line. In their view, war is a man’s business; it is a perversion to allow females to be put in harm’s way. What must be noted here is that forbidding females from combat billets in no way assures their safety. The ban on females from combat is unnecessary because it does not prevent them from coming under fire. The recent capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch is a startling reminder of this fact. In the first Iraqi war, the United States only lost a few dozen soldiers, but thirteen of them were female. Combat nurses in Vietnam routinely came under fire, and hundreds were lost. One military historian points out that “women have faced great danger on the battlefield, whether as nurses in the front line trenches, as powder-carriers aboard ship and in artillery units, or as helicopter pilots ferrying male troops around” (Goldstein). There are also some areas of combat where females might even have an advantage over male soldiers. Military experts have stated, “Given the changing nature of warfare, it may be that women are more likely to possess the social and emotional qualifications needed for combat in certain contexts, such as confliction resolution skills, negotiating skills, and communication skills, than are many males” (Febbraro and McCann).



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Some of those who argue against females serving in combat assignments make the claim that females do not have the mindset needed to perform in combat. Loosely stated, they proclaim that women do not have the will to kill another human being. This fact is contested by the actions of women soldiers in previous wars. One distinguished military historian points out, “contrary to the idea that women are too soft hearted to kill, not only did Soviet snipers coolly shoot down dozens of German soldiers, but in various cases women took the lead in cruelty and torture, especially of prisoners” (Goldstein). Perhaps the most furious and heroic actions of women in combat come from women who “fought in the Russian Armies of World War I (e.g. in the Battalion of Death), during the Russian Civil War, and in the Army of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War” (Febbraro and McCann). The Former Soviet Union and other communist armies have incorporated women in their combat units for decades with no record of those females lacking a will to kill in combat.


Another topic that arises in this debate is the question of sexual assault on female soldiers who might be captured during wartime. Many claim that because of the possibility of rape and sexual misconduct by the enemy, women should not be allowed in the front lines. However, two female soldiers were taken as prisoners of war in the first gulf war, and two female soldiers were taken hostage during Operation Iraqi Freedom. None of these women reported being sexually mistreated by the enemy. A military historian who advocates lifting the ban on females in the infantry puts it in a different perspective. She writes, “The argument goes that a woman POW has an added disadvantage because of the fears male captors would rape and sexually assault a woman POW. I think it is pretty naïve to think those same captors wouldn’t sodomize or sexually abuse male POWs, because sexual assault is all about dehumanizing and dominating another person” (Ontiveros B). Although the threat of sexual misconduct by the enemy is a real threat, it is no more a threat for female combatants than male combatants. There have been numerous reported cases of male soldiers being sexually molested by the enemy in previous wars, and female soldiers could face the same type of transgressions. It must be noted here that these people are in war, and as thousands of veterans have pointed out, war is hell. People die in war, as do innocent women and children. POWs are mistreated, beaten, starved, and humiliated until their death or rescue, which sometimes can take a very long time. Cities and homes are destroyed and people’s lives are destroyed. It is not something for the faint of heart. Females do, however, deserve the right to engage in war, in all its facets if they so choose.


The integration of females in all combat units is something that may not happen overnight. As stated before, most of the activists for upholding the ban that are in the military are senior officers who are too separated from the troops in the field to make an informed decision. A prime example of this is a recent statement by a high-level Marine officer. He stated that allowing women to serve in combat assignments would have a negative effect of “lowering training standards to accommodate the physical differences between men and women” (Weh). Mr. Weh is a Marine officer, but he is unaware that for the past eleven years female and male Marines have the exact same training standards. If the senior level officers cannot be persuaded to rethink their position, then this change must lie with the leaders of tomorrow. What must be changed is the way that young officers and noncommissioned officers are trained with regards to their female counterparts. If they are trained to see them as equals, then one day they might take the steps to allow females the same rights and privileges in combat. There is also the aspect of using test cases. No one can say for sure what the effect of females in direct combat units will have on the military. The armed forces should designate a small number of female soldiers to be integrated into a select number of all male infantry units and monitor the outcome. At least this way we can say for sure if the ban on females in combat assignments is valid or not. Another solution would be all female combat units. There enough willing female soldiers in the military today to make up entire companies and battalions, and all female units would quail most if not all of the opposition’s argument.


The past contributions that American female soldiers have made for this great nation are irrefutable. They have fought and died in almost every conflict the United States has engaged in, from the War for Independence to Operation Iraqi Freedom. What also should be noted is that these female soldiers are not asking for special treatment, just equal rights. An Army pilot named Major Marie Rossi who was killed in Desert Storm stated right before her death, “What I am doing is no greater or less than the man who is flying next to me” (Jacinto). The United States Military should take action to remedy this injustice by lifting the ban on females from combat assignments and integrating all combat units. Females have proven that they can serve effectively in these units, and there is no sound reason why they should be excluded. Excluding females from combat units also had a negative effect on their military career because “they can’t get the credentials needed to go all the way to the top” (McFeatters). The lift on the ban would in no way have a harmful effect on the military’s effectiveness or add any costs for taxpayers. Over 100,000 women make up today’s Armed Forces, and it is time to give them the respect and equal treatment they are worthy of. A young female Marine noncommissioned officer recently stated “Women have been dying for this country since its inception, and it’s time to give them the respect they deserve. Don’t disgrace those brave womens’ souls that have gone before us by saying you do not have the right to carry a weapon and stand a post” (Jacobs).

Febbraro, Angela R. and Carol McCann. “Demystifying the ‘Feminine Mythtique’ Or, Women and the Combat Can Mix.” Marine Corps Gazette Feb.

Goldstein, Joshua S. War and Gender How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Massachusetts Cambridge Univ Press, 2001.

Harrell, Margaret. “Military Readiness Women are Not a Problem.” Rand Research Brief. Aug..

Jacinto, Leela. “Girl Power Women join the boys in combat, but not without a fight.” ABCNews.com. Jan. 14, 2000.

Jacobs, Corporal Allison, USMC (Ret). Interview. Women in Combat Personal Interview. 4 May 2000.

McFeatters, Ann. “White House Watch She died Fighting.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 0 Apr. 00, A1+.

Ontiveros, Sue. “Foes of Women in Combat Crawl Out of the Woodwork.” The Chicago Sun-Times. 5 Apr. 2000.

Weh, Allen E. “Combat Isn’t for Women.” ABQ Journal. May 2001.

Wilson, Captain Barbara A. USAF (Ret). Women in Combat-My Final Answer! Mar. 00 httpwww.Userpages.aug.com/captbarb/final.html.



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