Should women be treated differently than
men in the U.S. military?

The Virtual Editorials - E6 (June 12, 2005) - Dennis Foster

Introduction:  Due to the nature of our fight in Iraq, some women have been killed, even though they were not in combat units (e.g. Lori Piestawa, from Tuba City, AZ).  This has resulted in two major, and conflicting arguments: 1) Women should have reduced roles in the military to lessen the chance that they become casualties; and 2) Women should have the opportunity to become full members of the military, including participation in combat.  The way in which this topic question was framed allowed us some wiggle room in responding.  I believe that women should be allowed to serve to the maximum extent possible, noting that there is such a maximum.  So, I chose to focus on the second argument, about women in combat.  My editorial is more about the difficultly of any such "integration" than about just male/female differences.

Virtual Editorial #6

     Over the last sixty years, two huge structural changes have taken place in the military Ė racial integration of the services and the initiation of an all-volunteer force.  The former took almost 150 years to accomplish, while the latter came on the heels of the Vietnam War.  [There can be no more indefensible action, by government, than conscription.]

     Should women be allowed combat roles?  Eventually, that might happen, but it likely will be a long time off.  Blacks served in the military since the Revolutionary War, but mostly in segregated units, and often in non-combat roles.  Some exceptions include the 54th Massachusetts (Civil War), the 10th Calvary (late 1800s), the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions (WWI and WWII) and the 332nd Fighter Group (WWII).  Racial integration of the services didnít occur until 1948.

     I imagine that it will be even more difficult for women in this regard.  As long as strict physical standards are imposed for differing activities within the military, I doubt that there will ever be many women suitable for combat-related roles.  And, integrating them into existing forces is more than a little problematic.  Perhaps, all-female units may be formed, and, in twenty years, this issue can be revisited.

Afterword:  I thought that the experience of blacks in the military would better inform the issue.  After all, there can hardly be any debate about physical difference between men of different color.  Yet, the discrimination against blacks persisted for a long time in the military.  So, how can we expect to easily alter this institution to include the full participation of women?  It is just an issue that will have to be resolved further down the road.
     I did think it would be nice to review how moviemakers have envisioned women in the military.  The film, Starship Troopers, comes readily to mind.  In that film, there was a level of equality that transcended sex, although that was a difficult concept to fully embrace.  In two sci fi series, Star Trek and Babylon 5, we also saw women as full participants in the military.  In the case of the former, you may note that there is a great deal of personal privacy implied, which may be a necessary ingredient to any such mixed-gender force.
     I would have like to further address the draft issue here, but there was no room, beyond the aside at the end of the first paragraph.  I did like that this editorial begins with, what I believe, are the two most profound changes in the U.S. military.  Some recent rumblings about a return to a draft seem to be fueled by opponents of the Iraqi war, presumably as a device that would help to prevent such forays in the future.

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