In the 1970s, the services traditional attitude toward women was challenged; change was forced upon a reluctant establishment (Holm, 198). The decision to end the draft was the catalyst to such change. This decision allowed for womens participation in the armed forces in unprecedented numbers. The United States Armed Forces have more female numbers than any other nation in the world, both in actual numbers and in percentages (Holm, 1982). The drive for an all-volunteer force, along with an “aggressive tide of feminism” and congressional passage of the equal rights Amendments led to a gradual shift in the role and status of women in the military (Holm, 1982). In todays military, women were no longer confined to traditional roles in the medical and administrative fields. Almost all military job categories and military occupational specialties (MOS) have been opened to women. They now repair tanks, warplanes, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). They serve on naval vessels that deploy to service ships and submarines of the operational fleet and on Coast Guard cutters operating off United States shores. They serve on missile crews, operate heavy equipment, and direct air traffic. They also provide essential support to combat troops in the field (Holm, 1982). It appears that women have been integrated into practically every aspect of the military; yet there are some jobs that remain closed to them, namely-direct combat specialties (Holm, 1982; Goldman, 1982). It is over these residual exclusions that controversy rages.
Technically, women are barred by low or policy from what is defined in narrow terms as “combat”. Each of the United States Armed Services excludes females from active Combat. The nature and extent of the exclusion varies with each service. Yet, many argue that the distinction between combat and non-combat becomes blurred in the context of women warfare (Gilder, 1979; Holm, 1982, Goldman, 1982). In actually, many women are assigned to jabs that will expose them to enemy attack, and this has been openly acknowledged by the top Pentagon officials (Women in combat-closer than you think, 1980). The United States Army has also recognized that women would be deployed in combat zones as an inevitable consequence of their assignments. This was confirmed in the following statement made by then Army Chief of Staff, General Bernad W. Rogers: “Some people believe that women soldiers will not be deployed in the event of hostilities: that they are only to be part-time soldiers here in peace, gone in war. Women are an essential part of the force; they will deploy with their units and they will serve in the skills in which they have been trained” (Holm, 1982, p. 286).
It appears that the combat exclusion policy does not realistically exclude women from combat, and it seems the militarys reliance on women is increasing. Schneider (1988) conducted interviews with women in traditionally male jobs, asking them what they felt their status would become if a war broke out. In general, they believed that “…they could not and would not be removed in combat situation” (p. 162). The following was taken from two of these interviews. “Ive already asked,” said a first flight engineer on a C-5, what happens if Im sitting on alert in Europe somewhere and something really happens? Does that mean that they dont have a legal crew anymore because the engineer cant go?” A Coast Guard female lieutenant had this to say: ” I was the trained CIC officer, responsible for the combat information center. Along with a team of radar men, CIC must plot all enemy and friendly forces and advise the bridge of such things as incoming missiles…. Im the one thats used to working with these guys. That was the purpose of sending us through that simulated training, so that we could get used to working together as a team. What would they do? They couldnt just fly me off and stick somebody else in there” (Schneider, 1988, p.162).
It appears that the United States military is in a position where women are so fully and flexibly involved in the organizational structure, that in a war, it would be very difficult to separate them out. Yet, there are those who feel those women are not physically and mentally capable of withstanding the effects of combat. There are many grounds on which this argument could be disputed; some are as follows. Women have contributed greatly in past wars. They have served in combat in many skills during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam (Holm, 1982). One study (Binkin & Bath, 1977) found that many NATO and several WARSAW PACT countries employed women in combat roles during World War II. Russia was reported as using military women on the “front lines”. In Israel, where they are actually conscripted, women have also experienced armed combat. Binkin and Bech (1977) found that in the first phase of Israels war of Liberation, “…one out of every five soldiers was female and they shared equality in both offensive and defensive battle situations” (p. 134). Holm (1982) found that some 7,500 military women served in S.E. Asia during the Viet Nam War. She maintains that these women proved “….the modern American military woman is fully capable of functioning effectively in a military role in a combat environment, even under direct hostile fire” (p. 207).
The United States Army has even conducted its own tests to examine the performance of individual units with women in the field, under simulated combat conditions (Goldman, 1982). The first test, labeled “MAX-WAC” studied women in three-day field exercise, and assessed their effect on unit performance. The second test, “REF-WAC”,” studied women in thirty-day sustained combat related exercises during the NATO annual “REFORGER” exercises in Europe. The tests proved that women did not adversely impact unit performance. According to Goldman (1982), these tests provided a great deal of evidence that military women can perform on a par with their male peers; and in terms of their psychological that women are not inferior to men.
In general, military women feel the argument that they are not fit for combat physically is irrelevant, as combat is no longer characterized by physical activity. The technological and industrial advances of the twentieth century have caused extensive changes in the nature of warfare (Goldman, Holm, 1982; Gilder, 1979). Due to this changing nature of warfare and military technology, “….combat will no longer depend on bayonets and physical force rather on lasers, microprocessors and other sophisticated devices that gender obsolete the conventional images of battle” (Gilder, 1979, p. 29). Clearly advanced technology requires a more highly educated workforce, and it has been maintained that military women do fit in such category. According to a back ground study on women in the military done by Commander Richard Hunter, one of the Pentagons leading experts on personnel matters, military women are better educated than military men and score higher on aptitude tests. He found that more than 90% of women recruits have high school diplomas, compared with only 60% of men, and women aptitude scores are approximately 20% higher than the men (Gilder, 1979).
Women have clearly demonstrated their capabilities and their potential for future contributions to the military. Their most recent “victory” was achieved in the Persian Gulf War. There, women helicopter pilots participated in an air assault for first time. They were involved in airlifting the 101st Airborne into Iraq, in what has been called the “largest helicopter action in military history” (GI Jill deserves a shot at combat, 1991, p. 36). In general many feel that the experience of the Persian Gulf War has called for a new look at the ban on women in combat roles. Indeed, very recently the House Armed Services Committee took the first step toward abolishing the combat inclusion rule. They approved legislation authorizing the Pentagon to assign female pilots to fly fighter and bomber combat missions (GI Jill, 1991). Clearly, this will accelerate the trend already established toward eliminating womens combat exclusions.
As public opinion is a force in shaping policy, the attitudes of the American public must also be considered. A national survey of 560 Americans aged eighteen to twenty-four conducted by the Gallup organization asked the following question concerning women in combat: “If women are drafted, should they be required to take combat roles as men are, should they be given combat roles only if they volunteer for them, or should they not be eligible for them? (Goldman, 1982, p.284). The responses were as follows:
Given Combat Roles As Men 12% 9%
Only if Volunteer 61% 74%
Not Eligible 26% 16%
Clearly, the majority of the survey population, men and women alike favored the inclusion of women in combat roles on a voluntary basis.
A data analysis taken from a General Social Survey done in 1988 reveals similar liberal attitudes of general population regarding the role of women. When asked to respond to the statement, “Women should take care of home, not country,” it was shown that the majority, including both male and females respondents, disagreed with the statement. Overall, more women disagreed than men, but this could be explained by the fact that there were more women in survey population than men. Yet overall, there were also more women who agreed than there was men; strikingly the percentages show that men are more likely to disagree with the statement than women are. The same results were seen when the question “Should women work” was asked.
Clearly, it has been demonstrated that women are a valuable resource to the military. Women are thoroughly integrated into the armed forces, and they are now so dependent on women that it would be virtually impossible to go into combat without them. In large part, women have already proved themselves. One needs only look at their role in past wars. Regardless of the combat exclusion rule, women have served in combat roles throughout out history and it is inevitable that they will need for future combat roles. War has become much more diverse in the skills it demands. Today, combat is as much a matter of technical expertise, as physical strength. This increase in skill requirements further signifies the militarys need for all dependence on women; they are currently serving in highly technical roles.
Along with the changing role of women in the military, American attitudes a nature and roles of women in our society are also changing. Polls and statistics have shown that there is a clear tendency toward liberalization in terms of womens roles. Indeed, the majority of American believes women should be allowed into combat roles if they are willing. In general, the use of women in essentially combat environments has been considered successfully, and will certainly have implications for their future roles. It may take some time for liberal policies to be implemented but the preliminary groundwork has been laid. In light of the Persian Gulf War, the first significant steps have already been taken toward allowing military women to serve in combat roles.
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