Should Women Be Allowed In Military Combat
? Essay, Research Paper
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
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).
WOMEN IN COMBAT FACTS
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
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.
PHYSICAL DEMANDS OF COMBAT FACTS
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.
PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS OF COMBAT FACTS
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
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).
UNIT-COHESION IN A COMBAT UNIT FACTS
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).
HEALTH CARE OF FEMALES FACTS
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.
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