Persuasive Essay – Women In Combat Roles In The Military Essay, Research Paper
Women in the United States have long fought for the right to be included in many facets of society such as the right to vote to breaking into professions like the medical field and getting females elected to major government offices. But one of the most intriguing questions of integration has yet to be fully answered. Apart from all others is the battle to allow women the right, the honor, and the privilege of serving and defending their country as part of the United States Armed Forces. Being in the military means prestige, honor, pride, and the satisfaction that comes along with engaging what is considered one of the most valiant and traditionally revered professions in our country. However, there has always been and continues to be considerable debate in this country as to exactly what extent women should be allowed to serve their country, and what the effects and trade-offs of such integration might be. Sex scandals such as what happened at the Tailhook convention in 1991 or the misconduct of former Lt. Kelly Flinn have served to raise questions about military integration. Can female and male military personnel be combined without the military losing some of its effectiveness? Can women be as good at being soldiers, sailors, naval aviators and fighter pilots as men? Should women be allowed in the line of fire and in direct combat? What role should sexual harassment and fraternization play in the combination of women into the military?
The real question, essentially, is not whether women can serve in any military capacity at all. The real question is whether or not women should be allowed in combat. To understand this debate it is important, as it is with any such discussion, to put the issue into historical context to better understand where things stand today. The following are some notable events to date in the evolution of the effort to get women more involved in the military thus far.
In every major war until World War II, thousands of women served in the military in traditional roles such as nurses, office staff, and the like. But as WWII broke out, sheer need, often the best equal opportunity employer, led to the creation of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Navy’s Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), the Coast Guard’s Semper Paratus: Always Ready (SPARs), which is their motto. The Marines and what was to later become the Air Force also began to accept women applicants.
In 1976, the three service academies all accepted their first class of women. While it was long debated whether women could compete and excel in the kind of environment that service academies are known for, at least the scholastic questions were answered when one of the female cadets at West Point was recently named the valedictorian of her graduating class.
On Tuesday, October 21, 1997, the United States government dedicated a new memorial at the Arlington War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Named the Women in Military Service for America Memorial , it was the first national monument of its kind that recognized those who fought and died in the protection of their country. Women have faced two fights when it came to the Armed Services, the first being the right and honor of serving their country and secondly on the battlefield itself. While women are now capable of being both enlisted personnel and officers in the military, a new question arises – should the role of women in the military finally be expanded to allow them to fight for their country in direct combat?
Many experts argue that when it comes to women in the military, there are over-riding reasons why the proverbial line must be drawn when it comes to making women part of America’s combat force. Among the most strenuous objections to the proposed integration comes from male officers and enlisted men themselves, whose primary fear is that this proposed change would have the potentially cataclysmic effect of significantly weakening the effectiveness of the U.S. military. They say that this change could cause a decline in the cohesion and the effectiveness of the troops, elements that could quite literally mean the difference between life and death. The most commonly cited reasons are: women are physically incapable of the tasks and strains that come along with combat, the risk of sexual misconduct that accompanies the combination in close proximity of young men and young women for long periods of time, the incalculable expense of accommodating women onboard combat vessels, and the risks and consequences of pregnancy. In a report to Congress entitled “Summary of Presidential Commission Findings and Record in Support of Alternative Views”, it was pointed out that the need for a superior military must outweigh any civil rights claim, no matter how noble or seemingly justified. “Civil society protects individual rights, but the military, which protects civil society, must be governed by different rules, civilian society forbids employment discrimination, but lives and combat missions might be put at risk by service members who cannot meet the demands of the battlefield, the military must be able to choose those most able to survive, fight and win.”
Most studies show that women are biologically weaker than men. They are smaller in stature and have weaker skeletons and upper bodies and cannot do as much as men. Combat not only pushes people to their emotional and mental limits, it can also be inordinately physically demanding as well. A test of Army officer candidates showed that “only one woman out of 100 could meet a physical standard achieved by 60 out of 100 men.” There is the question of whether or not women would be able to handle the physical strain of fighter planes. “Aviators on combat missions must maintain situational awareness on all sides while coping with repeated exposure to high G force; i.e., up to 9Gs in the Air Force, 7.5Gs in Navy aircraft. It has not yet been proven whether or not the female body can sustain exposure to this severe stress for long periods of time, but it is believed that very few women are strong enough to survive this magnitude of force.
It is also believed that women generally are less able to lift large weights than men because of their smaller upper bodies. Heavy lifting jobs onboard ship such as the transportation of bombs and missiles which previously were done by four men are now assigned to teams of five or six people of mixed gender to do the same task. On board ship, they say this kind of redistribution of manpower is not only expensive, it is nearly tactically impossible. At sea, every man counts, and having two people do one man’s job is not an option. Likewise in the Army, cadets and soldiers often need to carry almost 100 pounds of weight over rough terrain for several miles, both in training and in battle. People argue that the physical inferiority of women would make them costs rather than assets in the ranks of combat.
It is said that when he was asked what he thought of the Battle of the Sexes, Gerald Ford said that there could never truly be a Battle of the Sexes as long as there is so much “sleeping with the enemy.” This points out what people say is a real fact of life, if you put men and women together for long periods of time, even if there is no actual sexual misconduct, the risk and implication of impropriety will always exist. The movie, Starship Troopers, which was released last year, portrayed a futuristic view of the Armed Forces, including a scene where men and women who were about to go into combat together shared communal showers with no stigmatism whatsoever. While this was hardly the most unrealistic scene in the movie, it certainly implied a considerable amount of societal change between now and this time in the future when men and women can work and live together without any sexual tension. In addition to the intimate relationships that might distract from their work, mixed crews on combat ships could again cause manpower problems in an increasingly downsized military. Several men volunteered that objections from their wives to the introduction of women aboard ship could cause them to leave the Navy. Even in the book, Gender Differences at Work, which examines the issue from a feminist point of view, outlines some of the problems integration can cause. The author gives the example of how Titan missile silos require two people to work in very close spaces and as a result the Navy has adopted the policy of having only same-sex crews working at any given time. Unfortunately, unlike in society where a huge labor market is at your disposal, in the military it’s not always feasible to have a crew of all women working in the more specialized fields at any given time. If integrating combat vessels were to cause mass resignations and retirements in the Navy, problems with manpower and repairs, or even just serve to lower morale, the wisdom of the decision would be at best in doubt.
Also there is the risk of sexual molestation from the enemy if captured. One woman, Rhonda Cornum, was reportedly fondled and “violated manually, vaginally and rectally” when her helicopter was shot down by Iraqis in the Gulf War. Conversely, there are no recorded incidents of male POW’s being subjected to sexual violation since the Vietnam conflict.
Another set of limitations to putting women on combat vessels are the considerable changes that would have to be made to accommodate them. They say that whether in barracks or aboard submarines, creating separate sleeping areas, bathing and restroom facilities is simply not a realistic option. Especially in the case of attack submarines, their capacity is already near dangerous limits and there is simply no place to put new facilities. Also, giving separate facilities to the few female passengers onboard and forcing all the men to divide up the remaining ones could cause serious resentment among crewmembers if the impression of unfairness is given.
The biggest perceived risk of integration, however, could be the chance that a woman in a combat role run the risk of getting pregnant. The problem here is actually twofold: the first being that men think that women on the front lines are getting pregnant to avoid having to go into combat and the second being that once a woman becomes pregnant the kind of work she can be exposed to is severely limited.
As it stands, men can volunteer for combat, but they can also be assigned to combat. If women are allowed to volunteer for combat in the interests of fairness, they also would have to be subject to mandatory deployment on the front lines. For this reason, many women may be tempted to get pregnant as a way to get out of combat. According to a Newsweek report, about once every three days a woman has to be evacuated from Bosnia to Germany because she’s pregnant. That rate is less than half of the ‘Love Boat’, the repair ship Arcadia that lost 36 of its 360 women sailors to pregnancy during the Gulf War.” If a woman does not want to go into combat, all she has to do is get pregnant and she will be re-assigned. A man has no such means of getting out of the line of fire. Again the issue of loss of manpower comes up. Ships cannot always afford to lose 10% of their crew in one mission.
There is also limitations to where a woman can work if pregnant. Obviously she cannot be around any amount of nuclear radiation, toxic gases, or perform any heavy labor because of the risk of severely damaging the fetus. This eliminates a number of tasks from what women can do onboard a ship or a submarine. Although the law says that pregnant women in the military can serve up to twenty weeks into their term as long as at all times they are within six hours of medical facilities, on a submarine this is not always an option since they may be submerged for weeks at a time.
There are a number of compelling reasons that people cite for women to be allowed in combat roles too, however. Among the reasons they cite are: the fact that exclusion from combat impedes their chance of advancement in the ranks, studies that show women can train to be as fit as men, the success of combined units here and in other nations, and the insistence that readiness actually increases when a new pool of applicants exists. The fact that women are not allowed in combat roles, say supporters of integration, is one of the reasons why they do not advance to the highest ranks in the military. Another consequence of these policies is that women tend to be concentrated in the lower ranks. There are approximately 20 percent more women than men in the four lowest pay grades, and men outnumber women in the four highest pay grades eight to one. While there is no official government policy on the matter, combat experience is certainly beneficial when it comes to being considered for promotion. A recent study actually showed that contrary to popular belief, women can train to be as strong as men. The Department of Defense commissioned a $140,000 study to see just what effects a rigorous training program would have on the average woman. “The results were impressive, ” said an article in Working Woman magazine, “following the conditioning, 78 percent of women qualified for ‘very heavy’ Army jobs, versus 24 percent before.
This evidence supports a logical argument if even one woman can match the physical capacity of men, then outlawing them from combat solely on the basis of biological inferiority becomes unfair. Mixed gender military units have existed both in the United States and around the world throughout history. The most famous example of the ability of a woman to not only be involved in combat but to lead forces is that of Joan of Arc’s legendary battles leading the French army when she was just a teenager. These exploits are just one of any number of stories about how women in the past have successfully served in combined forces in the past. Russian women served in combat in World War II where they flew anti-aircraft planes made of plywood and fabric with no parachutes. They volunteered as bombers and fighter pilots, navigator-bombardiers, gunners, and support crews. Similar stories of bravery come from the Israeli army where women have bravely fought shoulder to shoulder with men in that country’s ongoing battles in the Middle East. Women in Israel are subject to compulsory service just as the men are and are considered a valuable asset in their army.
Similar success stories can be told of the non-combat battalions in our military. Studies were done by the U.S. Army to see if the varying “woman content” actually affected field units. Some controls in the study were units ranging from 0 percent to 15 percent female, where others went from 15 percent to 35 percent. Contrary to the results they expected to get, the test proved that the camaraderie, the effectiveness, the performance of combined units in America are not affected by the presence of women. Another study of combat exercises in Europe yielded virtually the same results. It seems that for all the talk, in practical application men and women can get over their tension and work together and get their job done when they have to after all.
Probably the most convincing argument in favor of allowing women to compete for combat positions is the inherent nature of competition. This nation, our entire capitalist system, and the laws of human nature rest on one basic and fundamental truth: competition makes for better products. It is true in the marketplace, where if one company has to compete with another to get a consumer’s dollar, they have to put out a more appealing product (”build a better mousetrap and the world will beat down your door”). In the same vein, when the applicant pool for any given position is bigger, competition theoretically yields the best person for the job. Because of this, people argue, the military is like any other field. Readiness is not decreased when more people are allowed to apply for combat, it actually benefits, say those who support desegregation.
Readiness is enhanced when we remove unnecessary impediments to the recruitment, training, and use of people. The Department of Defense has made major progress in removing such impediments. As a result, some 260,000 more jobs in the military can be filled by either men or women. This represents an increase in the flexibility that the Services need to maintain readiness. Altogether, about 80 percent of all jobs in the armed services and more than 90 percent of military career fields can now be filled by the best qualified and available person, man or woman. A study by RAND’s National Defense Research Institute proves that readiness does not suffer when the genders are mixed in the military. They say that “other influences, such as leadership and training, are perceived as being far more influential.” It seems that in practical application, readiness and cohesion at worst does not suffer much with these changes, and indeed can actually be benefited greatly.
Other reasons for integration exist as well. The NOW issued a resolution pointing out several good reasons for allowing women into combat, saying “WHEREAS, the combat exclusion does not protect women” and that “the definition of combat is ambiguous and varies from branch to branch; armed conflicts since World War II rarely involve readily definable front-lines, rear echelon units may be a 30 second missile flight from the so-called front-line, and in modern military theory rear support troops are destroyed first before assaulting those up front.”
If women are to be allowed in combat, they should be made fully aware of the risks that go along with it. They can be harassed by their fellow soldier, raped by the enemy, or forced to serve on the front lines even when they don’t want to. But it certainly makes more sense to use things like physical aptitude tests and field experience to tell who would make the best soldier, sailor, or fighter pilot than to automatically assume someone cannot do it. The truth is that all the debate in the world won’t settle the issue of whether or not letting women and men fight together will strengthen or weaken our Armed Forces. All the models defer to one thing in the end, as the expression goes, “run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it”- basically it has to be TRIED.
America’s present position on the issue is good, but it could be better. The Department of Defense recently removed its “substantial risk” clause from its definition of what exactly combat was– just because a woman will be at risk of capture does not mean she can not fill a position. As a result today in the Air Force 99.7percent of positions are open to women as are 91 percent of positions in the Navy are open. However, things are nowhere near equal. Secretary of Defense William Cohen decided that training had to be segregated in light of the continuing sexual allegations against high ranking army commanders. The service academies have had to lower their physical standards for women, which they say is necessary in order to get any decent percentage of women cadets or midshipmen. One of the places where the most stark contrast between what is expected of men and of women upon entrance can be found on the Air Force Academy’s website. Their Candidate Fitness Test Preparation Guidelines (http://www.usafa.af.mil/rr/cft.htm) has a list of what men and women should do in training to prepare for the physical exam to be admitted into the Academy.
It would seem that the best man for the job could always, theoretically, be a woman. However, do not make the standards any easier for women as this will just make things worse when it comes to adjustment for men and women. More than that, though, women should neither be given an unfair advantage nor disadvantage when it comes to the military because gunfire doesn’t discriminate. Neither should the Armed Forces.