Since the American Revolution women have been heavily involved in American military efforts. In a country whose short history has been marked by countless, defining wars, women have occupied all levels of involvement from nurses to fighter pilots. They’ve seen causalities as vivid and scarring as those seen by men. In some extreme cases, they have even hidden their identity as women for an opportunity to defend their country.
The American women’s struggle to be equally involved in the military is no new fight. The nature of combat may have changed, but the female population’s valor has not. At long last, their efforts have been officially and universally recognized. As of last Thursday, for the first time in American history, all combat roles in the United States Army are open to women.
“There will be no exceptions,” announced Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, as he opened up 220,000 previously restricted military positions to women. This includes all divisions of the Army, from the infantry to special operations. The declaration is one of many initiatives to bring the military into the 21st century. Supporters of the decision hope that it will promote women’s standing the military while simultaneously improving the Armed Forces’ overall pool of talent.
Although this may seem like a monumental move, Carter’s notable announcement has already spurred a slew of passionate op-eds which assert that the presence of women in all combat roles will both endanger women, and will reduce the overall effectiveness of the United States military.
They argue that women do not have an equal opportunity for survival in actual combat situations, so they should not have the opportunity to fill all combat roles. Furthermore, these vocal opponents of the change argue that women are more likely to be killed or overpowered by a male combatant, specifically in hand-to-hand combat situations.
Although the validity of these claims is not substantiated by any formal study, women have historically been less successful in obtaining higher-level positions in the military. For example, none of the 29 women who applied and trained for a position as a Marine Infantry Officer passed. In fact, the Marines were the only branch of the military who requested the power to enact exclusions to this rule.
This, however, is not a damning indictment of women’s ability to serve, as the military has been known to have issues in providing equal opportunities for women in selection processes. This recent decision will likely cause these bias and other similar issues of fair selection to be addressed and reconsidered.
Additionally, these roles are only available to wholly qualified women. Therefore, those who cannot pass the same basic training as their male counterparts will not be chosen for roles.
Quotas and gender specific constraints are not a part of the military’s current training program, as they can become a liability for the army in real life situations. That aspect of the process will likely not change dramatically. Thus, it should not necessarily be a concern that unqualified women will join elite ranks en masse, as previously agreed upon requirements are still in effect.
This momentous declaration has begun to raise additional questions about the nature of American women in combat. The most obvious question concerns women’s presence in drafts. Since women are now afforded the equal opportunity of participating in all military positions, many are now arguing that women should not be excluded from drafts.
Currently, the bulk of males in the United States are required to enlist in the Selective Services if they are between 18 and 25 and meet the dictated conditions. Some experts predict that the elimination of male-only draft requirements is likely to occur within the recent future.
Army Secretary John McHugh agrees. McHugh stated the following in regards to women’s draft prospects at the Association of the United States Army’s meeting this October: “If your objective is true and pure equality, then you have to look at all aspects and at some point Selective Service will have to be one of those things considered very carefully.”
Judy Patterson, CEO of the Service Women’s Action Network, welcomes this outcome: “The draft is another gender-biased policy rooted in another era. We welcome an open debate around the inclusion of women and even whether the law itself is an anachronism whose time has come. I have yet to speak with any woman who is personally opposed to registering.”
The majority of participants in a Quinnipiac University study determined that they agree with the idea of women being involved in conscription. 59 percent of male participants supported that stance, whereas 48 percent of women believed the same. The vast majority of these participants, however, were opposed to a draft in general.
Some are less optimistic about this evidently contentious issue. In the current political climate, war appears to be imminent. The clashes between Western society and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant continue to become more threatening, and the likelihood of the United States going to war is increasing considerably.
Moreover, the involvement of many nations across the globe in this struggle causes some to believe that the conflict could escalate to a level where a draft would be required. That harrowing situation would be the United States’ first draft since 1973. The recent advancement of women in the military indicates that women alongside men would have to enlist for Selective Services.
Other nations have already begun this transition. Norway became the first NATO nation to mandate that women were expected to enlist in 2014. For a major military power like the United States to follow in suite would likely set an international precedent.
The security of the nation will forever be the main, public priority of the Armed Forces. As of last Thursday, the portion of the population that will be able to participate fully in their efforts increased significantly. This decision, though controversial, honors the efforts of the women who built and protected this country, while shaping our generation’s contribution to the history of this nation. The world will undoubtedly be watching expectantly.
— Colette Juran, Science Editor