Mid-Term Election Results

Mid-Term Election Results

The Democrats took both houses of Congress and a woman, Nancy Pelosi, will likely become Speaker of the House next January. If only because they are disgusted with the Republican party and what conservatism has become, Americans have decided that they are not unwilling to trust the Democrats, derided these past few years as “the Mommy party” with national security. At the same time, women are 15% of the military and 11% of the troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are not required to register for the draft, and they do not serve in ground combat specialties or (officially) small ground combat units.

Democratic control of both houses of Congress means that both these situations are likely to change, and the catalyst is likely to be a report due to Congress on December 31 from the Pentagon on the use of servicewomen overseas. The report is being prepared by Rand Corporation, which has a history of being rational about servicewomen. Everything is now on the table. We can now expect a serious discussion of opening all military roles and positions to servicewomen, as well as expanding the number of servicewomen. We can also expect an enormous amount of posturing by the Bush Administration, which has not changed its position one iota (use women in combat but deny what you’re doing, and them, their recognition), while the Cultural Conservatives are opposed to equality in all its forms.

Real change during the Bush Administration is, however, unlikely unless there is a military disaster on the ground. (The most likely scenario is either the largest defeat of a US Army military unit since World War Two at the hands of Iranian soldiers, or the use of tactical, if not strategic, nuclear weapons to stave off such a defeat.) Nevertheless, the Army and Marine Corps are in such bad shape that they will continue to expand the use of selected women (volunteers or not) in combat and continue inching servicewomen as a group closer to combat. This will give more women combat experience (and increase female casualties). It will also give more men more experience with women engaging in combat, which we were once told was probably impossible for women, and certainly impossible for men and women to do together.

Given that the regular, active military needs to be some 200,000 people larger, and the Army and Marine Corps need the greatest expansion, there is no way the military can reverse servicewomen’s growing participation in combat. Nor should it try. The exclusion of women from combat, in an institution that is all about combat, put servicewomen in a terribly difficult personal and professional position that has only begun to ease with their participation in the core of their profession. Many of the problems that attended the integration of women into the military had far less to do with women, and far more with the military’s pretense that they would not be in combat (because that was all it ever was, epsecially in Cold War Europe) and the small numbers of women in the military, especailly in “non-traditional” roles. The military (especially the Army and Marine Corps) would do well to seriously appeal to women in their recruiting ads, including a candid appeal for the same kind of qualities in women, that in men have historically made good soldiers.

We can also expect serious discussion of a draft, including women, brought to us by an alliance between the far right ( which wants a military and preferrably male-only draft) and far left (which wants national service with military and non-military options to provide supposedly cheap labor for a welfare state, although there will be nothing cheap about this labor: incentives aside, it will gut the low end of the economy). Rostker v. Goldberg (1981) upheld the Constitutionality of a male-only draft, based upon the Supreme Court’s deference to Congress, which in turn deferred to the military’s assessment of its own needs. The military, which has never been honest about servicewomen’s vulnerability to combat and its dependence upon them, argued that a draft was necessary to provide combat replacements in case of a war with the Soviet Union, and that since women were barred from combat by law, the military had no need for female conscripts.

A quarter-century later, the growing acceptance of servicewomen as military professionals by their male peers, and their increasing, solid performance in combat means that the military can no longer argue that it does not need women, even in combat, even as draftees. Especially as most families these years are small, and the dramatic reduction of childhood mortality no longer means that many regard a younger son as a spare to be contributed to the military. And a sizable minority of parents of sons are likely to look unkindly upon excluding the daughters of other people, if only because equality of rights means equality of responsibilities.

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