This week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the military’s ban on women in combat will be lifted. According to the Department of Defense, 14.6% of the nation’s military is made up of women; according to The N.Y. Times and Huffington Post, more than 280,000 of them were deployed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While those women were banned from combat, they often saw combat action nonetheless, as they were attached to battalions in positions that sometimes came under fire. Of the more than 6,600 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 152 of them have been women.
There may still be some combat positions that women will not be allowed to fill; however, the presumption seems to be that all combat positions are open to women unless a particular branch of the military requests an exception and presumably has the burden to prove why women should not be so allowed. Previous opposition to women in combat often revolved around concerns about women’s strength and whether their presence might hurt unit cohesion. Clearly, not all women will be physically capable of certain assignments. But then again, neither are all men. At least now, those women who are capable and who want to fill those assignments will have the opportunity to do so. The argument about unit cohesion is also one that had long been made against allowing gays—and African Americans before them—to serve in the military. That argument, too, has been debunked, and since 2012, LBGT soldiers can serve openly.
Allowing women in combat opens up hundreds of thousands of new jobs for women and allows women the opportunity to climb the ranks in the military. Without combat leadership experience, military advancement, regardless of the soldier’s gender, is limited. In the past, this limitation disproportionately stifled women’s military careers. No longer. As The New York Times reported, General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in a letter that the lifting of the ban ensures “that women as well as men ‘are given the opportunity to succeed.’”
Despite the public support for allowing women in combat, there are those who oppose the idea, with one retired army general calling it “a vast social experiment in which hundreds of thousands of men and women will be the guinea pigs.” The decision, he maintains, is ideologically based and not militarily based. Read more »