All we can be
Open combat policy for women brings great uncertainty
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 19:01
At the beginning of December, we called for the end of the military policy barring women from combat. We’re pleased that just one month later, we can discuss the open combat policy as a very present reality.
The Pentagon formally opened combat to women on Thursday, creating approximately 230,000 jobs with the possibility of future openings in special-operations units and ending a 19-year-old Pentagon ban. This is all following a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Defense Department early last month as four servicewomen and the American Civil Liberties Union demanded combat equality.
A Gallup poll taken the same day the ban was ended showed 74 percent of American adults polled believe women should be given equality in military combat. But despite the overwhelming support, there will always be debate, criticism and discomfort. As the new combat policy is ushered in, it brings uncertainty with it.
With the end of the Combat Exclusion Policy, the typical age-old excuses and debates have re-ignited – casualty and illness rates, physical endurance and strength limitations, pregnancy rates and sexual attraction, just to name a few. In addition, the military has a major problem to worry about, which it needs to address immediately: a sexual assault epidemic. In 2011, approximately 19,000 sexual assaults were estimated from the 3,200 reported cases.
But the criticisms are not isolated to a single gender – men and women of all ages have found reasons to oppose it, some debatable and others completely primeval.
Last summer, a female Marine officer went as far as to state “we are not created equal” and that putting women in combat would not improve national security. Over the weekend, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called to Conservatives to not be pressured by the war on women and should resist the new order.
Many looking for a reason look to last year, when women were allowed to engage in combat training, and only two signed up, neither of whom completed it, leading to a concern of how many women actually want to join combat.
And what has many people at a crossroads is a hypothetical situation: the possibility of a draft. Selective Service law is currently written as “male persons” are required to register following their 18th birthday. However, with the combat ban overwritten, there’s a high possibility the exemption will be removed from requirements, and women will, too, have to register as part of the Selective Service System. So if a draft is ever forced upon the country again, is it fair to assume women will be a part of said draft? And if so, how many people will be just as supportive to that kind of implementation as they were to the idea of it?
As an editorial board, we do not have an answer for that. But we’ve said it before, and we will say it again: we will not know the validity of these arguments unless we drop the assumptions and take a chance.
Of the 1.4 million active-duty personnel in the U.S. military, women make up 14.6 percent and total more than 10 percent of those sent to war zones. In the past, women have slipped through loopholes and ended up on the front lines but have not received the combat credentials or recognition required for promotion.
There is one woman in history to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor (Dr. Mary Walker, 1865) and two to ever become four-star generals (Ann Dunwoody and Janet Wolfenbarger). We now join eight other countries that send their women to combat and can now give more women the opportunity to be recognized. For this, we have so much to be proud of.
The effects of war have no discrimination, but neither should the rewards. With uncertainty comes optimism, and that’s a risk worth taking.