Jewish World Review May 15, 2000/ 10 Iyar, 5760
There's nothing like a (military) dame
WILLIE AND JOE, cartoonist Bill Mauldin's famous World War II grunts, were sitting in a foxhole with
water up to their waists. Willie, chewing on a day-old cigar, looks at Joe's three-day-old beard
encrusted in grime and mud, and asks plaintively: "Why couldn't you have been born a dame?'' (Or
was it a broad?)
That was only satire in World War II, but time has transmuted satire into reality. Soldiers today
know better than to call a woman a dame (or a broad). Willie and Jo(sephine) share barracks,
berths, tents and tarps, through thick, thin, wind, rain, sea sickness and morning sickness. If Willie
makes passes, even at grunts who wear glasses, he can expect a court-martial.
This is not news. But when it's documented meticulously, satire becomes farce and military
readiness turns into a terrible joke -- on us.
Stephanie Gutmann offers abundant documentation of the absurdities and difficulties of the Willies
and Josephines in uniform in the thoroughly modern military in her new book, "A Kinder, Gentler Military." The subtitle asks the question almost nobody in Washington wants asked: "Can
America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?''
The chilling answer is "no,'' if we're depending on keeping quality leaders serving up to their
retirement age, leaders being the most important ingredient in any military. Mid-level career officers
are leaving the army in regimental and battalion numbers, dissatisfied with a military mystique that
has been trivialized, downsized and worst of all, feminized. Day care has become a commander's
concern, pregnancy counseling more important than battlefield tactics and warriors are encouraged
to become wimps, oh-so-sensitive but worthless in warfare.
This may warm the hearts of women who prefer to "make love, not war,'' but it's a strange way to
make soldiers whose ultimate task has to be killing people and breaking things. Without irony,
feminist Carol Gilligan, who celebrates women as the more nurturing, caring sex, reviewed "The
Kinder Gentler Military'' for the New York Times. She suggests that women in uniform can help
men combine sensitivity with aggression, creating a more efficient fighting force. Sensitive soldiering?
It's a sign of the times, if not progress, that safe sex in the military aims to prevent babies, not
venereal disease, but this presents another set of problems. Instead of scaring recruits with terrifying
footage of genitals withering from gonorrhea, as the "old Army'' did, a voice-over in a "new Navy''
film describes the unwanted pregnancy as merely letting the team down. "Pregnancy and
parenthood are compatible with your Navy or Marine Corps career,'' the voice-over says, "but
only when you're ready to make the personal choices and sacrifices necessary to raise a child.''
The USS Acadia and the USS Yellowstone, the "love boats'' of the Gulf War, became joke mills
for stand-up comics everywhere when 31 percent of the sailors on them came home expecting more
than a shore leave. Shore leave has always been preceded by stern warnings about hanging out in
bawdyhouses, but the new emphasis is less on what a guy might get there than what he might leave
on shore (or worse, what a gal might bring back to the ship). And boastful men, the Navy says, are
likely to create "a hostile environment'' for the women aboard, and that could mean trouble.
|Purchasng this book|
-- linked in 4th paragraph --
helps fund JWR
Harassment issues for the military are similar to those of civilian employers, but they're not identical.
The military life not only stirs up sexual attractions between men and women thrown together for
days and nights, but a barracks or a ship becomes a hothouse of sexual competition and rivalry.
Soldiers fighting each other can't fight anyone else.
That's particularly true on submarines. Until now, the ban on women down below has been secure.
Now that's in doubt, despite a preemptive strike last week by the House Armed Services
Committee to block a recommendation by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the
Services, a civilian panel stacked with feminists. The panel wants to assign female officers to subs
now, with female sailors to follow as soon as the subs can be fitted with proper female quarters.
"Hot bunking,'' submariner slang for guys sharing a bunk in shifts, takes on new meaning.
Women are evacuated from ships for medical reasons (usually pregnancy) two and half times more
often than men. Proportional losses on submarines would ruin combat missions and make rescues at
sea far more hazardous. But, hey, maybe losing a war and getting a lot of men killed is a small price
to pay for "equality'' on
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©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate