Monday, August 31, 2009

Gender and Arms

Gender and Arms: Equality in Life and Death


In early August I started on what I thought would be a single-entry update of personnel statistics regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the arrival of mid-month, however, my original intent seemed out of focus, even overwhelmed, by other issues. Lobbyists and other representatives of “special interests” were clamoring for recognition from the media. Activists were often not interested in rational discussions with Members of Congress but would not let other views be heard from other citizens in the democratic structure.

What August 2009 revealed was a fracturing of governance. Democracies form when individuals believe that the community to emerge will generally protect his interests (human dignity) and promote transparent policies within which he can prosper (equality) in concert with his neighbors. When these principles are ignored, as they have been for some time, democracy is put at risk.

The second half of August was, in a way, a declaration that the individual remains at the center of human endeavor in this world and remains so even in death. The two articles used as background are from major newspapers as noted. Separately, sometime in September, I will post an essay about Senator Edward M. Kennedy who died August 25, 2009 at age 77.

I. Women in Military Service

The Washington Post (August 23rd) obituaries included an appreciation of the life and work of Mildred C. Bailey, who died July 18th at a U.S. Army facility for military retirees.

I very rarely read this part of the paper. But in this case, the editors included a lead note about the 33 years of professional military life of the woman who became the third female to reach the rank of brigadier general in an army that was undergoing profound restructuring in the 1970s.

The Post’s account begins when, in 1942, General Bailey entered the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) – renamed Women’s Army Corps in 1943 – shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into World War II. Her linguistic fluency – she had been teaching French to American high school students – proved invaluable in teaching English to French pilots whose fierce independence contributed to tensions that pervaded most relationships between the allied commanders and the Free French led by the prickly General Charles de Gaulle.

In 1948, Congress passed legislation giving permanent status to women who had remained in the WAC if they accounted for no more than two percent of the total personnel in the four services. Congress also banned women from assignment aboard Navy ships (which was not rescinded until 1991) and in ground combat units. For her part, in the 1950s General Bailey worked in a variety of intelligence assignments in Europe and in Washington, DC. In the 1960s, she travelled the U.S. speaking to women’s groups about the important contribution women were making to an army – primarily as nurses or in clerical positions – that was being stretched to its limit in Vietnam. Not until 1967 did Congress respond by abolishing the two percent cap on the number of women in the services.

This action finally opened the flood gates. In 1971, the Army Chief of Staff, General William Westmoreland, summoned then-Colonel Bailey to his office and gave her two missions: restructure and integrate the WAC into the mainstream army, and pin on her brigadier general’s star as Director of the WAC.

Changes came quickly. In 1973 the volunteer army replaced conscription. By 1975, when General Bailey stepped down from her command, the Corps had tripled from 13,000 to 39,000. In 1976, women became eligible to participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs conducted at civilian universities and, for the first time, were members of the three military academies incoming “plebe” (freshmen) classes. In 1978, the WAC was formally disbanded with its personnel distributed into regular units. What was not resolved for another decade was the Pentagon’s decision that women could not be included in noncombat units whose missions would place them in direct contact with enemy forces or subject U.S. women soldiers to greater risk of hostile fire or capture by the enemy.

Only three years were to pass before this policy was tested in what was to be a transition from conventional lineal fighting to 360 degree Vietnam-style counter-insurgency in the dessert. Just before the four-day ground war by the U.S.-led multi-national coalition began in February 1991, a U.S. maintenance battalion made a wrong turn and came under Iraqi fire. Two women were wounded and captured and another woman soldier killed. U.S. commandos mounted a major and ultimately successful rescue. But the incident clearly foretold what was coming.

By this time, other women were rising up the ranks. The first woman to reach the rank of lieutenant-general in the U.S. Army, Claudia Kennedy, entered the WAC in 1969. She became a three-star officer in 1997 when the Senate confirmed her appointment as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Headquarters U.S. Army. And just last year, the U.S. Army became the first service to promote a woman, Ann Dunwoody, to full (four-star) general. She was confirmed by the Senate to command the Army Material Command (AMC), the command responsible for logistics (beans and bullets) and for working with industry to develop, build, and support the equipment the soldier needs on the battlefield.

While it took 37 years for women to go from brigadier general to full general, today’s U.S. military has women and men at every rank. And despite congressional statutes and Pentagon regulations that still exclude women from certain military jobs, the U.S. army is discovering that military women are present alongside military men – and sometimes when only women constitute a fighting “unit.” What is known is that of the more than two million U.S. military personnel who have had at least one tour in either Afghanistan or Iraq, 220,000 have been women.

Military women are also dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the nearly 5,000 U.S. military personnel who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001, 121 were women.

There will be more, inevitably.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

AND, THEY will be a waste, too.

10:00 PM  

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