Should Women Be Allowed In Military Combat

? Essay, Research Paper

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In this report, I will present the information I’ve discovered concerning whether

allowing women to serve in combat units will reduce a units effectiveness. Women in

today’s military serve in more jobs and constitute the largest percent of women in the

military then ever before. Four years ago women only made up 12 percent of the military,

this has climbed from 1.6 percent in 1973 (Armed Forces and Society, 1996, p. 17). They

also hold more jobs than ever before. In 1991, congress passed an amendment which

allowed women to fly fixed wing and rotary wing combat aircraft in the military (Harvard

International Review, 1992, 52). The military has also opened more combat support jobs

in an effort to get more women to join the military. Virtually every job is open to women

in the military; infantry, submarines, and artillery are the only ones that are still off limits

(Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1996, p. 368).

First, let me explain the distinction between combat support units and direct

combat units. The military changed its definition of direct combat for women. This opened

up more jobs for women that had been off-limits (Congressional Quarterly Researcher,

1992, p. 844). The performance of women in these positions was tested during the Gulf

War. For the first time, American women flew combat missions and directly supported

infantry units (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 200). Many times they

were exposed to live fire, consequentially 13 were killed (Congressional Quarterly

Weekly, 1992, p. 842). However, women were never considered to be in direct

combat. The military’s current combat exclusion policy states that women are prohibited

from serving in positions that are “engaging an enemy with individual or crew-served

weapons while being exposed to direct fire, a high probability or direct physical contact

with the enemy’s personnel, and a substantial risk of capture” (Law and Inequality, 1991,

p. 6). Many people feel that this policy is discriminatory towards women and only

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perpetuates the view that they are not seen equally in the military. This policy ensures the

effectiveness of the combat unit, which brings me to my next definition. The effectiveness

of a combat unit is measured by its ability “…in mobilizing, and deploying troops,

effectiveness in battle measured by outcomes, mission accomplishment or the ratio of

United States versus enemy killed and wounded in combat” (Glenn, 1991, as cited by

Peach, 1991, p. 212).

In this report, I will discuss five topics. First, I will discuss the experience other

nations have had with mixing men and women in combat. My next topic will compare men

and women in two ways. I will start my last topic by comparing men and women

physically then comparing men and women psychologically. Then I will evaluate the health

care needs of women in combat support units. Finally I will discuss the effect that women

would have on unit cohesion. Undoubtedly, the majority of women are less muscular and

lack the endurance of men. However, there is a small percentage of women that can equal

or surpass some men currently serving in combat units. Also, I found very little research

stating that women were not psychologically equal to men. There were three factors,

which I used to compare men and women psychologically. I discussed how males are

perceived to be more aggressive than females, the stress that males and females will face in

combat, and female’s effect on unit moral. Also I showed how important unit cohesion

was in determining a units effectiveness. The health care needs can be met by combat

support units when there are well trained physicians and nurses that can handle the needs

of women (Military Medicine, 1995, p. 221).



Only two countries besides the United States have used women in modern warfare.

The first was Russia during WWII and later Israel in 1948. Russian women flew fighters

to protect Stalingrad from advancing German armies and also took up arms to protect the

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city (The Journal of Military History, 1993, p. 319). After the war, Russian women were

banned from all combat positions while in these positions it has been documented that they

performed extremely well. The women pilots were soon called “Night Witches” due to

their great performance (The Journal of Military History, 1993, p. 320). Israel during the

War for Independence, also used women in direct combat positions. The need for women

to serve in combat positions became great because so many men had been killed on the

front lines. Like the Russians, after the conflict ended the Israeli military prohibited

women from serving in these positions. Many researchers after examining how women

performed in these positions came to the same conclusion. They noted that the

effectiveness of the combat unit was in jeopardy because of women. Men became

overprotective of women and jeopardized the safety of the unit by taking unnecessary

risks to protect women from danger (Harvard International Review, 1992, p. 58). Also

less then one percent of the soldiers who were killed during the war were women. The

Russian women who flew combat missions during WWII are similar to the types of

missions female pilots are expected to perform. During, the Gulf War, they flew jets and

helicopters into combat zones along with their male counterparts. Although, the women as

a whole did not see much combat, the performance of Russian women prove that they

would be able to handle the stress of air combat. The Israeli experience with women in

combat is much different from the Russian. After the war ended the Israeli military

conducted a survey which determined that the men were adversely affected by seeing

women killed or maimed in combat. In 1948, women all over the world accounted for a

very small percentage of the military. This led to a traditionalist view of the role of women

in the military and many Israeli men shared this view.

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Serving in a ground combat unit is the most physically demanding job in the

military. To serve with a ground combat unit males have to be in excellent physical

condition. Women as a whole according to Pentagons studies have half the physical

strength as men and only 2/3 the endurance (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p.

846). The Canadian military has acknowledged these differences and still allowed women

to serve in direct combat positions. Any female that can pass the 10-week infantry course

can serve in the Canadian infantry. The Canadians have not lowered their standards for

allowing women in combat but set rigorous standards and applied them to both sexes. The

Canadian military has taken the first step toward allowing women to serve in ground

combat. The vast majority of women are unable to handle the physical demands of combat

but there are many that can function in various combat environments (Hamline Journal of

Public Law and Policy, 1991, p.217). To determine if women are suited for ground

combat the military should conduct field testing. Females have to be able to do everything

their male counterparts can do. A female in an infantry unit should not only be able to

carry the standard M16A2 service rifle but every weapon in the company. If the machine

gunner or mortarman is killed a female should be able to carry his weapon. The whole

team concept that is vital to a combat units effectiveness and is called unit-cohesion

(Editorial Research Reports, 1989, p. 582). Maintaining unit cohesion is vital for any

leader to lead his troops into combat (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p.

213). If women were unable to meet any of these physical standards then the military’s

exclusion policy should remain in affect.

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There are many psychological differences among men and women that are as

important as the physical ones that separate the genders. The first difference is that men

are more aggressive then women due to testosterone levels (Law and Inequality,1991, p.

21). Under this assumption females would not perform as well in combat because they

lack the aggression that males have (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991,

223). Another psychological factor is that men would feel the need to protect women from

harm similar to the Israeli soldiers in 1948 (Harvard International Review, 1992, p. 58).

The stress in combat is another factor that many people feel women would not be able to

handle. There have been no documented cases among women who served in the Gulf

War that they could not handle the stress (Hypatia, 1995, p. 65). Air Force pilot Rhonda

Cornum who was shot down during the gulf war is an example of women’s ability to cope

with stress (Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 222). As a POW she dealt

with many forms of abuse and still managed to cope with her situation that her fellow male

prisoners did. Almost fifty percent of service members surveyed during the Gulf War said

that fraternization within the unit decreased its morale (Congressional Quarterly

Researcher, 1996, p. 375). The performance of Russian women in W.W.II refutes the

theory that women are less effective in combat then men. German troops were quoted as

saying they were more afraid of the female pilots then the male (The Journal of Military

Affairs, 1993, p. 320) Secondly, the women seeking combat positions will generally be

more aggressive than the majority of females who stay within traditional

roles within the military. Although women performed well in the Gulf War, the 4-day war

was not long to provide empirical evidence as to how women would perform in combat

situations (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1992, p. 842). More research has to be

conducted to determine the long-term effects women would have on a combat unit.

Decreasing fraternization within a unit is the commanders responsibility. This relies on

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effective leadership from the bottom all the way to the top ensuring each member within

the chain of command understands the effects of fraternization (Hamline Journal of

Public Law and Policy, 1991, p. 215).


When a units moral is lowered this can lead to a decrease of the unit-cohesion that

must take place within a combat unit. No studies have been done to prove or disprove

women in combat would lower a units moral. In the majority of combat units it is effective

leadership and training that results in the unit cohesion. Also many senior military officials

feel that anything feminine destroys male-bonding and units should remain strictly male.

However, a study of cohesion and readiness of combat support units during extended field

exercises proved otherwise (Armed Forces & Society, 1996, p. 17). Male and female

soldiers were asked questions about how they felt their unit performed in the field. “The

study showed that the proportion of women (up to 35%) had no significant effect on the

operational capabilities of the unit.” (Armed Forces & Society, 1995, p. 17).

Unit-cohesion is the commander’s responsibility for his unit. As the above survey shows

men and women can interact without a decrease in unit cohesion. More importantly this

survey was done while the unit was on a field exercise where stress levels are the highest.

It was determined through the survey that when there are up to a third of the women in a

unit this has no effect on unit-cohesion (Armed Forces & Society, 1995, p. 17). There

have been no long-term studies done to determine if women in combat units will reduce

unit cohesion (Editorial Research Reports, 1989, p. 582).

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Both men and women in the military face many of the same health care needs.

When a member of any unit becomes sick or injured and cannot be deployed this affects a

units effectiveness. In the Gulf War, 9 percent of women could not be deployed with their

units (Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 1992, p. 839). Women also have many

“gynecologic and non-gynecologic needs” (Military Medicine, 1992, p. 221) that would

have to cared for by trained physicians. In 1992 army researchers conducted the first

extensive study on women deployed with combat support unit. In the study of a Heavy

Armor Division during the Gulf War, it was discovered that women’s health care needs

can be met by well-trained physicians and that there presence did not have a significant

impact on a units effectiveness (Military Medicine, 1992, p. 221). There are many

stereotypes people feel make a combat unit not feasible for females. However, closer look

at the numbers reveals that men lose more time because of drug and alcohol abuse then

women do with these three factors combined (Congressional Quarterly Weekly, 1992, p.

839). As women continue to become an integral part of the military their health care needs

should be meet by well-trained doctors and nurses (Military Medicine, 1992, p. 219).

Given this evidence there is no logical basis for excluding women

from combat to their health care needs.


1. The Journal of Military History, 57(2), 310-325. Decaw, J. W. (1995).

2. Harvard International Review, 15(1), 52-58. Durand, D. B. & Rosen, L. (1996).

3. The impact of acceptance of women and gender ratio. Armed Forces & Society, 22(4),

17-31. Hines, J. H. (1992).

4. Military Medicine, 157(5), 219-221. Katz, L. V. (1991).

5. Should women be allowed into combat? Editorial Research Reports, 570-582.

Peach, L.J. (1991).

6. Women at war: The ethics of women in combat. Hamline Journal of Public Law and

Policy, 15, 199-238. Stencel, S. (Ed.). (1996).

7. New military culture. The Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 6(16), 363-382.

Stencel, S. (Ed.). (1992).

8. Women in the military. The Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 2(36), 835-853.


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