A recent press conference held by the NAACP and a group of angry white, female Army personnel at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland was a public relations breaktrhough. It had the intended effect of showing that over-zealous Army brass had pressured the women to make unfounded rape charges against a group of black male soldiers. But it also demonstrated how sordid an atmosphere of gender politics has been created in the armed forces.
The source is a form of social engineering on gender roles that defies common sense and creates real victims among all services, races, and the families of service personnel. Women have been at least as damaged as men.
Many principled officers have been cashiered or passed over for promotion for resisting unwarranted punishment of troops and a system of advancement unknown in other times and countries. There have been a few suicides. At least one woman Navy aviator may have died because of relaxed performance standards.
We are not talking here about equal treatment, a proper principle now well-established. The long term policy aim, rather, is extreme, extending even beyond hidden quotas and gender-normed tests to mandatory combat service assignments for women.
A 1992 survey by the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces showed that women personnel are opposed to such a policy. Some 52% of Army women said they probably, or definitely, would leave the service if mandatory combat assignments were implemented. Only 41% said they probably, or definitely, would stay.
A survey by Harvard researcher Laura Miller shows that only three percent of Army enlisted women believe they should be treated exactly like men in regard to involuntary combat assignments. Sixty one percent, in fact, think that sex harassment would increase, not decrease, if combat exemptions for women were repealed.
Another, far larger group of military-connected women is consulted even less than active servicewomen; namely, the wives of servicemen. Military families are hard-pressed even in the best of times. With frequent moves and long absences by spouses, the divorce rate for service families is higher than in the civilian population. This problem is badly neglected, while growing emphasis is put on the problem of rape, the incidence of which is actually lower in the military than in the civilian population.
Service wives are not organized and usually are fearful of any protest that could damage a husband’s career. But lately a kind of underground network has begun to develop. Particularly upsetting to these women is the forced intimacy of service men and women in living arrangements in the field. Warnings by chaplains and psychologists have been ignored.
It is not uncommon now for males and females to be assigned to share the same tents–small tents–in overseas places like Bosnia, dressing and undressing around one another. A 14 year Army veteran, Warrant Officer James Buchanan, was quoted in the Detroit News, “There’s supposed to be no difference whether you’re a man or woman. But that’s not the way we’ve been brought up. When there’s a woman (in your tent) without clothes on, a lot of guys look.”
What a surprise! You’d have to be a Pentagon sociologist or NOW activist to expect otherwise.
It also is commonplace these days for women to go to sea on Navy warships. And it is not unusual for up to ten percent of them on a six month cruise to come back pregnant. Indeed, the annual pregnancy rate for Navy enlisted women is 13.4 percent, with somewhat lower figures for the other services. Pregnancies at sea obviously damage morale and combat readiness more than pregnancies ashore.
Some personnel of both sexes accept the new living circumstances readily, and discipline themselves. Others obviously are enjoying lots of sex in the service of their country. Still more are resentful. As Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana reported after a trip to Bosnia, “If two people are paired off, what are the other 60 people in the unit doing? They’re getting angry.”
Back home, service wives are bitter. “For thousands of years,” writes one woman in an essay presently under a kind of samizdat private circulation, “military wives have risked everything they hold most dear and have made enormous sacrifices to free their men to fight.” Now they feel mocked, she says, their sacrifices belittled.
“Nothing in the last 20 years has improved the status of the wives,” she continues. “In fact the reverse is true. Yet, every day the expansion of women into combat roles—a change that threatens the wives directly–is held up as `progress for women.'”
An antagonist of the social engineers who does not mind going public is Elaine Donnelly, the widely respected head of the Center for Military Readiness in Livonia, Michigan. Donnelly wrote recently that a new Pentagon Senior Review Panel on Sexual Harassment seems destined to make matters still worse.
“Given the one-sided makeup of the panel,” she reports, “it doesn’t appear that civilians or military women with different views will have a fair hearing–or any hearing at all.”
The changes are pursued by an abstract and reckless ideology. Yet, if large majorities of military people–men and women alike–do not embrace that ideology, it is not hard to imagine how common sense public opinion might regard it. The problem in Washington, DC is translating common sense to public policy.