In case you didn’t notice, something momentous happened this week. In fact, it might even be more momentous that something this momentous happened and few Americans noticed its momentousness.
Women can now serve in combat jobs in the U.S. military.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced this week that he is lifting the ban on women in combat. It goes into effect in May.
What’s that? You thought they already could serve in combat? Well, sort of. Women comprise about 15 percent of the military, mostly serving in support roles, though a few are combat pilots in the Air Force and Navy.
But even in those support roles, women are still dressed and armed for combat and in today’s limited-war/nation-building conflicts that we’re embroiled in, women are increasingly in harm’s way.
Nearly 1,000 women have been wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and more than 150 have been killed.
The only thing keeping them out of “combat” jobs was paternalism. They already were in combat, it just wasn’t their job.
Now it can be.
And the only people squawking about it seem to be Christian conservatives who still see women as something soft and frilly, as baby makers and child raisers who are supposed to leave the tough stuff to men.
But those kvetching about women as killers seem unaware of the lessons of history. Women have been fighting and dying in wars for centuries. The most significant contribution of women in war came in World War II when nearly 1 million Russian women served in combat and helped beat back the Germans. And Israel might not have the borders it does today, or perhaps even still exist, if not for women soldiers.
The biggest arguments against women in combat are the fear that if women are captured by the enemy they’ll be raped and that if they serve with men, the men will get all gooey-eyed and forget what they’re supposed to be doing – killing the enemy (there is also hand-wringing that men and women suffering through the indignities of combat might see each others’ nasty bits, but that’s just immature prudishness).
Yet, women are already serving in combat with men, and if there’s any lovin’ goin’ on, it doesn’t seem to have been too debilitating to unit effectiveness.
As for rape, lots of bad things can happen to soldiers who are captured. Is one worse than another? If a man is willing to accept the risk of torture, and all that it implies, then women should also be allowed to accept the risk of torture, which might include rape. It’s up to them whether they choose to expose themselves to that risk, not some man who thinks it’s his job to protect women.
Since 1948, the military has strangely served as the American proving ground for treating people decently, honorably and fairly.
There were warnings of horrendous social chaos when the forces were integrated (by Executive Order, no less) in 1948. Didn’t happen. In fact, it partly served as the impetus for the Civil Rights movement.
There were dire warnings about the horrors of allowing homosexuals to serve in the military, either secretly or openly.
Nope, no horrors.
There were warnings in the 1970s about letting women serve in the military in support roles, claiming it would make soldiers girl crazy and how all the girl soldiers would end up pregnant.
So it’s a safe bet there will be no horrors resulting from women being snipers or tank gunners or even good, old-fashioned infantrymen.
Though we may need to come up with a different sobriquet. Infantrypersons sounds kinda wimpy.