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In 1968, the U.S. Armed Forces numbered 3,500,000 troops. Of those, just over one percent were female. Back in 1948 Congress, by passing Public Law No. 625, had capped the number of military women at two percent of that total. Those who did wear uniforms were limited to a very small number of Military Occupation Specialties. No military woman could be deployed abroad against her will. The highest rank any woman could attain was that of colonel. However, change was in the air. As the War in Vietnam peaked, the Johnson administration feared, with very good reason, that trying to call up more men might meet with massive resistance. It might even lead to civil war. Casting about for a solution to the problem, one measure the military took was to try and attract more women. That was how the latter got their feet in the door.
The decision to admit more women proved to be the opening shot in the gender wars in the military. Supported by the courts, which consistently insisted on “equal rights,” throughout the 1970s and 1980s female service personnel demanded, and were granted, greater and greater rights. The more time passed, the less inclined the forces to resist their triumphant march and the more they tended to roll over at the first sign of a feminist demand. To note a few landmark decisions only, in 1976 the Service Academies were opened to women. In the same year, women retained the right to remain in the services even when they were pregnant and, as a consequence, unable to perform some of the jobs to which they were assigned. The 1991 Tailhook debacle represented the worst defeat of the U.S. Navy since Pearl Harbor. In the next year, President Bush's Commission for Women in Combat solemnly recommended that they not be allowed to participate in it. However, no sooner did President Clinton assume office than the decision was reversed. Women were allowed to fly combat aircraft, crew warships, and participate in ground operations down to the brigade level.
Even as the forces were feminized, they also became progressively smaller. By the time the Cold War ended, the number or troops was down to 2,050,000. Of those, about 8.5 percent were female. Later, the number of troops was cut even further, to 1,400,000. As part of the process, the share of women rose to between 16 and 17 percent. It was with this force that the U.S. went to war first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. Now that incoming Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wants to carry out further drastic cuts, the last barriers to women’s participation in every kind of unit and activity are about to be demolished. Meanwhile, though the ratio of population to uniformed soldiers has gone down from 55:1 to 227:1, so unattractive has military service become that the forces have been reduced to recruiting tens of thousands of non-citizens. In many cases so low is their quality that, once they have been recruited, the first thing they must learn is how to read.
Looking back, clearly what we see is two long-term processes running in parallel. The first is the decline of U.S. armed forces (as well as all other Western ones, but that is not our topic here). The second is their growing feminization. Critics will object that, even as they were being downsized, the forces went through one qualitative improvement after another. In particular, the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs” is supposed to have increased their fighting power many times over. That, however, is an illusion. To realize this, all one has to do is look at Afghanistan. Over there, “illiterate” tribesmen—not, take note, tribeswomen—are right now about to force the U.S. to withdraw its troops after a decade of effort in which they achieved hardly anything.
Are the two processes linked? You bet they are. Consider a work by two female professors, Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos, with the title Job Queues, Gender Queues. First published in 1990, it has since been quoted no fewer than 1,274 times. As they and countless other researchers, both male and female, have shown, over time the more women that join any organization, and the more important the role they play in that organization, the more its prestige declines in the eyes of both men and women. Loss of prestige leads to diminishing economic rewards; diminishing economic rewards lead to loss of prestige. As any number of historical examples has shown, the outcome is a vicious cycle. Can anybody put forward a reason why the U.S. military should be an exception to the rule?
Are the processes welcome? That depends on your point of view. If the reason for having armed forces is to guarantee national security, then the answer is clearly no. By one count, almost one third of enlisted military women are single mothers. As a result, whatever the regulations may say, they are only deployable within limits. Adding to the problems, at any one time, one tenth of all servicewomen are certain to be pregnant. That again means that there are limits on what they can do on the job. Women are unable to compete with men when it comes to the kind of work that requires physical fitness. Those who try to do so nevertheless are almost certain to suffer a wholly disproportionate number of injuries. As a result, the part of their training troops of both sexes spend together often borders in the ridiculous and represents a gross waste of resources. Furthermore, women’s retention rate is lower than that of men on the average. As a result, bringing them to the point where they are qualified to do their jobs also represents a gross waste of resources.
Last not least, as figures from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show, relative to their number military women are 90 percent less likely to be killed than military men. In other militaries around the world, incidentally, women’s share among the casualties is much lower still. Uniformed women, in other words, are not pulling their weight. Whether this is because public opinion will not stand for large numbers of dead servicewomen or because the women themselves have found a thousand ways to avoid going where the bullets are is immaterial. Probably both factors play a role. Instead of fighting, women get all the cushy jobs. For anyone who serves in the military, or whose livelihood depends on public approval, the prevailing climate of political correctness makes it impossible to mention the problem even in a whisper. Obviously, though, it is bound to have some effects on the morale of male personnel.
One may also look at the problem in a different way. Over the last few decades people have become accustomed to think of the feminization of the military as if it were some great and mighty step towards women’s liberation. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. For thousands, probably tens of thousands of years, we men have laid down our lives so that the women we love might live. To quote the Trojan hero Hector on this, he preferred going to hell a thousand times to seeing his wife, Andromache, weeping as she was led into captivity by one of the “copper-wearing Greeks.” Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful if the tables were turned and women started laying down their lives for us? After all, people of both sexes live in a democracy where women form a majority of the population. Why, then, shouldn’t they die in proportion to their numbers?
In fact, as the number of troops of both sexes who are killed shows only too clearly, women’s presence in the military is little but an expensive charade. True equality—equality of the kind that will make service personnel of both sexes take the same risks and suffer the same casualties—is as far away as it has ever been. Everything considered, perhaps it is better that way.