As a long time student of war studies, Martin Van Creveld cast a long shadow over my tertiary education, which, I suppose, is why I find his wreck of an article on Small Wars Journal a tad disappointing. In short, Van Creveld is very much against the recent decision to lift the ban on women serving in front line roles by the U.S. military, even if he doesn’t mention it by name. Rather, Van Creveld takes aim at the integration of women into military forces in total. It would be hard to think that an article written about the “feminization” of the American military wasn’t penned in response to recent discussions, but Van Creveld’s failure to get to grips with the core issue (women wanting to try out for/serve in the highly dangerous combat roles currently denied to them) is perhaps responsible for some of the logical deficits below.
What disappoints me most about Van Creveld’s article (apart from disagreeing with him on the issue) is that there is a lack of intellectual consistency that one would expect from him. Indeed, the fact that he lauds the size of the American military in 1968, but makes no mention of the fact that some of those 3.5 million service personnel had to be conscripted to wear a uniform. In my mind, that’s far from laudable. In fact, it’s quite bizzarre that he holds this fighting force as some pinnacle of strength, and then denigrates the current military’s deficiencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. From what I remember, America’s 1968 military didn’t exactly win Vietnam, either.
The “decline” theme in Van Creveld’s article rests on this correlation:
Looking back, clearly what we see is two long-term processes running in parallel. The first is the decline of U.S. armed forces (as well as all other Western ones, but that is not our topic here). The second is their growing feminization.
Rather, it rests on linking the two:
Are the two processes linked? You bet they are. Consider a work by two female professors, Barbara F. Reskin and Patricia A. Roos, with the title Job Queues, Gender Queues. First published in 1990, it has since been quoted no fewer than 1,274 times. As they and countless other researchers, both male and female, have shown, over time the more women that join any organization, and the more important the role they play in that organization, the more its prestige declines in the eyes of both men and women. Loss of prestige leads to diminishing economic rewards; diminishing economic rewards lead to loss of prestige. As any number of historical examples has shown, the outcome is a vicious cycle. Can anybody put forward a reason why the U.S. military should be an exception to the rule?
Van Creveld is therefore primarily interested with how people think about the military, perhaps at the expense of considering why the military might be upping the number of women in its ranks. The general tone and use of figures in Van Creveld’s article makes it appear that women have been waging some sort of guerrilla war on the Pentagon, but the image of women forcing their way in to an occupation is perhaps at odds with Reskin and Roos’ conclusions from their work, to whit:
We must remember that women’s growing representation in the specific labor pools was largely a response to employers’ need for workers in more occupations that were more attractive than those which the gender queue customarily relegated women. Opportunities beckoned, and women responded.
Women have been fighting for the opportunity to serve. That’s probably the most contradictory sentence that I’ll ever write in relation to feminism. Stating that they are only now employed precisely because they were given the opportunity to be employed misses out the key point of what Reskin and Roos were arguing. Given that there isn’t an industry that hasn’t had some form of gender integration occur, it is not as if these potential soldiers and marines are running away from a profession that requires working with females into some other boy’s club.
Perhaps the most offensive thing about Van Creveld’s argument is that he selectively uses the lack of female participation in combat roles as an argument against their performance of such duties. After all, women don’t get shot often enough:
as figures from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show, relative to their number military women are 90 percent less likely to be killed than military men.
One could hazard a guess and say that maybe because women are denied entry to the combat roles that are likely to get a person injured, this might bias that statistic slightly. But Van Creveld isn’t finished:
Uniformed women, in other words, are not pulling their weight. Whether this is because public opinion will not stand for large numbers of dead servicewomen or because the women themselves have found a thousand ways to avoid going where the bullets are is immaterial. Probably both factors play a role. Instead of fighting, women get all the cushy jobs.
This statement, however valid it might be, makes absolutely no sense in the context of an argument about women demanding the chance to try out for combat units whose sole purpose in life is to act as a bullet magnet for any and all opponents of the U.S.A. Being in the infantry is many things (in no particular order according to viewpoint: honourable, dumb, lethal, the-best-goddamn-thing-you’ll-ever-do-with-your-life) but it isn’t cushy in any sense of the word. If women were arguing that they shouldn’t have to serve in those positions, Van Creveld’s argument might have a point, but it doesn’t exactly help in this context. Even worse, as Van Creveld descends into what might kindly be referred to as “patronising bullshit” (“For thousands, probably tens of thousands of years, we men have laid down our lives so that the women we love might live.” – NB: single dudes fight as well) it undermines this very premise, after all, if women do indeed get all the “cushy jobs” then that frees up men to go and die protecting the women that they love, right?
There’s plenty of arguments to be had on the topic (Van Creveld makes an important one about pregnancy), and personally, I think that combat forces’ selection requirements shouldn’t be altered to accomodate different sexes. That said, excluding someone who wants to put their life on the line for their country on the basis of gender is untenable in a contemporary liberal democracy. Even arch critics of the military like Bill Hicks get that:
You never see my attitude in the press. That’s what bugs me. You never see my point of view. For instance – gays in the military. Now, I don’t know how y’all feel about it. Gays want to be in the military. Here’s how I feel about it, alright? Anyone – DUMB ENOUGH – to want to be in the military should be allowed in. End of fuckin’ story. That should be the only requirement. I don’t care how many push-ups you can do, put on a helmet, go wait in that fox-hole, we’ll tell you when we need you to kill somebody.