The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?

The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?

by Stephanie Gutmann


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The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars? by Stephanie Gutmann

The Kinder, Gentler Military is a devastating critique of how and why the military--the most tradition-bound, masculine institution in the United States--spent the 1990s in a tortured attempt to reform its time-proven warrior culture in favor of a new, politically correct value system, a system that is decimating morale in our armed forces.

In The Kinder, Gentler Military, Gutmann scouts the field--the bases, the boot camps, the ships, and the flight lines--to observe what is often called the "New Military." She then shows why the complete integration of women into the military is physically and sociologically impossible and how the pursuit of this unrealistic ideal is profoundly demoralizing to soldiers of both sexes and a sure setup for battlefield disaster. While the politically correct stance on this hot topic is pro-integration, Gutmann's fresh and informative take on the practical and political inner workings of the nation's military will command national attention.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684852911
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 03/01/2000
Series: Lisa Drew Bks.
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.39(w) x 9.61(h) x 1.07(d)

First Chapter


"Truth be known, that's one of the reasons I'm getting out. It's all too PC. I came in to be in an organization with a clear mission policy and a focus on individual and unit efficiency (although at the time, I didn't know that). Now, the focus is what you say, how you say it, and to whom do you say it. Whatever happened to simply training Marines? And how in the hell did we ever get stuck in this mire?"
-- S.Sgt. Charlotte Crouch, USMC, age thirty, April 1998, Okinawa, Japan

Five or ten years from now, if we find ourselves in an air and ground war with Iraq or North Korea or somebody else we haven't noticed yet, and we get utterly whipped, you can blame Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, Secretaries of Defense Richard Cheney, Les Aspin, and William Cohen, the Congresses who wrote and passed the bills they signed, and the Pentagon leadership who just grinned nervously and sat on their hands while all of this was going on.

For the last ten or so years the legislative and executive branches have cynically, knowingly used the armed forces mainly as a political symbol to shuffle around the globe in a show of "readiness" and "force," as if the people making up those forces were toy soldiers without bodies and lives and minds. With a few exceptions, the big boys (and a few big girls) expressed their disinterest in the hearts and minds of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in various ways during the last half of the nineties: by sending a force cut by nearly half since the eighties to carry out missions that have increased 300 percent in frequency over the last decade; by asking soldiers to act, asone senator put it, like "international social workers giving rabies shots to dogs in Bosnia and picking up garbage in Haiti," then expecting them at the flick of a switch to morph right back into full Sergeant Fury warrior mode.

They allowed military pay to slip 14 percent behind civilian pay (at a time of greatly increased op-tempo and high civilian employment), cut pension benefits, and spent money that could have gone to nuts-and-bolts stuff on weapons and bases that even the Pentagon says it does not need. They tolerated a surreal level of bureaucratic bloat while people on the ground couldn't find parts for their trucks and planes, and they set down Draconian social policies without showing any interest in -- and in many cases actively suppressing -- good-faith information about how those policies were playing out at ground level.

What all of this feckless policy signaled to the rank and file was that they were, in effect, leaderless; drifting toward war -- already occupied with quasi-wars, wanna-be wars, scattered around the globe -- with leaders whose attention was...elsewhere...anywhere, everywhere, else but on their troops and their welfare and readiness.

One of the projects mesmerizing the brass throughout the nineties was the integration of women. If they'd thought about this and kept their eyes on the readiness, war-fighting ball, things might have worked out OK. Instead, the nineties were a decade in which the brass handed over their soldiers to social planners in love with an unworkable (and in many senses undesirable) vision of a politically correct utopia, one in which men and women toil side by side, equally good at the same tasks, interchangeable, and, of course, utterly undistracted by sexual interest.

Certainly, women have been in the forces since...well...forever, and certainly, their numbers and options have been growing steadily, too. But something new happened in the nineties in respect to the way the military handled "women's issues." For reasons this book will explore, their goals changed from making good use of the relatively small numbers of women the military had been attracting over the years, to achieving what President Clinton and Secretary of the Army Togo West have called "a force that looks like America." Certainly, there has always been a political subtext around anything to do with women and the military, but in the nineties it took precedence. To bring in more women the services doubled recruiting budgets and retooled advertising campaigns. In 1991 the Marine slogan "We're looking for a few good men" was replaced by "The Few, the Brave, the Marines." The big drive has brought the percentage of female recruits from 12 percent a decade ago to about 22 percent today; in a decade the female percentage of the forces has gone from 11 percent to about 15 percent. In 1994, laws and policies were changed so that in each of the services today, only a few job categories are still closed to women.

Recruiting "goals" -- or, to use the Army's term, a recognition of gender in selection decisions -- in search of "proportional representation" for women operated in the seventies and eighties, but for reasons I will discuss later, the military brass's interest in numbers became an obsession, a kind of madness. In the midnineties, a young Marine officer named C. J. Chivers, who left the corps after eight years and is now a reporter for the New York Times, found that recruiting nineties style was about "chasing the slide":

We had to get numbers; if you didn't, you were in professional trouble. Basically it was a sales culture: "If you don't meet this minimum -- I'm not going to use the word quota -- but if you don't meet this minimum number of recruits, then we're going to mark up your career."...Invariably we would fill up the white male quotas almost immediately, usually by Christmas, because there were so many college students who wanted to be pilots or Marines. Then we'd work for the next five or six months filling the other positions. In the meantime people stacked up wanting to get one of those white male slots. I'd have twenty to thirty people for the one remaining job on a waiting list.

So it became any woman who came in there that met the minimums, we gotta hire. What that did was take all the subjectivity out of it. I couldn't say, "I got a bad vibe." The subjective part of the evaluation is normally enormous. If I went to them and said, "Hey, yank this guy's application. I don't trust him," without question they'd dump his application.

Basically, the attitude [about female applicants] was "Get 'em on the plane." If there were any problems, boot camp could sort it out. My boss would go through my schedule and say, "What are you doing to hire a junior female?" and then he would basically say, "Get her no matter what!" The mentality became "Smooth out the snags."

With more women coming in and moving up, the last all-male bastion had to make a decision. Assuming they were now committed to creating a force that looked like America, would they ask women to change themselves to fit into military culture and infrastructure, or would the institution change itself to ensure that women came and stayed? The significant fact about the nineties is that after decades of operating on the first premise, the institution became convinced it had to adopt the latter. For one senior Army officer who's served since the early eighties, the old attitude was something like "Let's just treat 'em the same; you gotta join us, these are the requirements: You gotta run, you gotta jump, you gotta fight; you shoot, move, and communicate...." In the nineties, he says, that has shifted to "What can we do so we can join you?"

In other words, the "Old Military" said, "Here's the way we do things; we do things this way because we think they are morally right and because centuries of experience have told us they work. You can come with us, but you may have to change yourself to do things the way we do." Whereas now the official line is something like "We want you to join us; we want you to stay with us. Tell us what you don't feel 'comfortable' with so we can change it."

In decades past, without the hard-sell recruiting drive we have now, women joined the military because they loved its values, its traditions, its bloody triumphs, and the try-again quality it has always shown in defeat. They loved its guns and ships and tanks and men and its no-bullshit, shut-up-and-do-it culture. In general, they didn't join to be political symbols. Sometimes money was a factor, but amazingly often they really did join "to serve [their] country." There are still many women like this serving, and they are as appalled as the men by the changed values of what is often called the "New Military."

For reasons to be discussed later, the brass were so frantic for "numbers," and photo ops featuring women with stars on their sleeves, that they actually began to undercut the pillars -- trust, fairness, stoicism, and a concern for "the unit" over oneself -- on which a successful military stands. The thinking seemed to be "If the warrior culture frightened away women, then the warrior culture had to be changed," and over the decade, in hundreds of ways little and big, it was. The new policies big and small "have rendered a ready room atmosphere so different now that it is nearly unrecognizable," according to former F-18 pilot Robert Stumpf. "The emphasis has shifted dramatically from how to administer death and destruction to the enemy, to how to 'get along,' and how to prevent killing each other in the air. Pilots are hampered in their ability to train as warriors by the policies of their senior leaders."

It is a common lamentation. The author of a poignant essay entitled "We Came Here to Be Soldiers, Sir" grieves that he has lived to see "war-fighting marginalized" in his "beloved Army."

In the chase for women and to cajole them along once they managed to bag a few, the obsequious services (less so the Marines) allowed double standards (de facto, de jure) to influence everything from recruiting, to basic training graduation, to moral conduct, to promotion qualifications. Women were allowed to come into basic training at dramatically lower fitness levels and then to climb lower walls, throw shorter distances, and carry lighter packs when they got there.

In the Gulf War, physical disparities were often glaring: Men in many units took over tearing down tents or loading boxes because most of the women simply couldn't or wouldn't do these chores as fast. Moral standards were double-tracked, too, with women being able to do things that would (and did) get men court-martialed.

One of the worst examples of a military working desperately to be "female friendly" appears in an Army War College monograph by Lt. Col. Donald E. Fowler II. He describes arriving in Saudi Arabia as part of Desert Shield/Storm, finding that some of his female troops were sent home because they were pregnant, and discovering later that they "were allowed to wear a combat patch on their right sleeve and were awarded the Southwest Asia Service Medal, even though they had avoided combat and served in Saudi Arabia for a few weeks."

Perhaps the worst thing was what former Army Spec. Catherine Aspy called "the 1984 feeling, the totalitarian feel, the doublethink, how one's leaders seemed able to tell you two contradictory things and then, if they were called on it, deny the contradiction, like when they represented women as weak and exploited victims on the one hand, and as an all-powerful mighty force on the other, and then say it's an 'insult to imply that women aren't identical to men.'"

This de facto gag rule was worse around the subject of gender integration. Everyone knew someone who'd been fired or penalized in some way for saying something incorrect about the way the integration project was going. Women had become "the third rail"; not wanting to risk saying "the wrong thing," commanders who were having troubles with their new mixed-sex units simply shut their mouths or used approved language with extraordinary care.

The really sad thing, of course, is that it never had to be like this. If we had had sensible, plainspoken, morally courageous leaders, we could have had a force that continued to be appreciative of the women who are currently serving and the women who qualify to serve, without alienating (and in too many cases actively persecuting) the men who make up -- and will always make up -- the majority of the armed forces. We could have opened new positions for women when it was sensible to do so and discouraged overt antifemale hostility (in the pockets where it can be found) without imposing a kind of totalitarian blackout on reasonable criticism of gender-integration policies, without practicing a kind of doublethink that said, "Everything's great," when often, sometimes right in front of a CO's eyes, it was not.

I never expected to find myself writing about the military, but the politically driven "reformation" of the American military during the last decade is one of those stories that just stand there blocking your path until you have done their bidding, which means attempting to tell the story as fully and honestly as you can, given constraints of time (the story had to be told soon) and the often secretive, disingenuous, dissembling ways of the people who control access to troops, bases, and military records.

I remember the day I got an inkling that something strange was going on in our armed forces. It was 1995 -- embarrassingly late in the day to be getting this inkling, but there it is. I'd just called Army public relations to check a fact in an article I was writing. When I told the officer (most public relations people in the services are military officers) that I was doing a story on "sexual integration in the military," there was an awkward silence and then a strained laugh. "The term we use now," the Pentagon flack finally said primly, "is gender integration."

It was a small moment -- as telling moments often are -- but I suddenly felt I had drawn aside a curtain and come face-to-face with what is often called the "New Army."

As a magazine and newspaper journalist, I'd been writing a lot about various species of political correctness through the late eighties and early nineties, but I'd always thought of the U.S. military as unassailable, off the radar screen of politically correct-dom's most hawk-eyed enforcers, insulated in a cocoon of bureaucracy and tradition from the clamor outside its gates.

Well, actually, it's more accurate to say I'd hardly ever stopped to think about folks in uniform. I spent my elementary school years in a college town where nobody went off to the Vietnam War. The armed forces were just cardboard characters who made occasional appearances in grade-school history or civics textbooks.

The last relative I knew of who'd had any connection to the U.S. military had been my grandfather, who'd driven an ambulance in World War I. When World War II rolled around, my dad, then too young and nearsighted for U.S. Navy ships, became an oiler in the U.S. Merchant Marine, which was usually convoyed by the U.S. Navy in the war years. Most of his war stories, however, were about what he did after he left the Merchant Marine to sail with the nascent Israeli Navy, on the ships owned by the Haganah, an underground movement that, in violation of a Royal Navy blockade, ferried European Jews to the tiny strip of desert land that would become Israel.

Until I worked on my first gender-integration-in-the-military story, I'd never even knowingly met a real American soldier. (I had the typical condescending view I once saw in a guest at a dinner party, who dismissed a bright young Army lieutenant by saying, disdainfully after he'd left, "Yes, he was surprisingly thoughtful and articulate for someone from West Point." West Point, which had, that year, a lower acceptance rate than Harvard! West Point, a school where the students actually collect a salary while they attend!

During the Vietnam years the only soldier-age men in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan -- then a cauldron of leftist politics -- were college boys who were trying to dodge the draft assisted by girlfriend aides-de-camp, who pitched in with marches and leaflets and occasionally -- like my baby-sitter, who, unbeknownst to my mother, had joined the Weatherman Underground -- homemade bombs.

Dismantling the war machine was the most exhilarating action around in a college town like Ann Arbor. "The Movement," as it was called, was the local version of the beach, the place to meet and mingle. Drawn by the heat, fecklessly and ignorantly, in the way of recruits since time immemorial, I enlisted in the antiwar army's preteen brigade. My "service" basically featured a lot of marching -- stowing away on a D.C.-bound bus to add my body to the crowds milling around the Washington Monument, or skipping sixth-grade classes to clump along with the rest of the barefooted brigade, chanting, "Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh! NLF is gonna win!"

Who the hell was this dude Ho? I didn't have a clue, but the chant had a good rhythm; you could march to it.

The point I am trying to make is that by the midseventies one of the ugliest trends of our time -- the split between "elite" civilians and their military and the consequent onset of what Phillip Gold, an essayist and former Marine, called "military illiteracy" -- was firmly in place, made even worse by the availability of student draft deferments that exacerbated the cultural chasm and turned whole cities (like Ann Arbor) into "military-free zones."

The war that interested people in Ann Arbor was the one supposedly perpetrated by men against women. People in Ann Arbor actually believed that sex differences were a conspiracy driven by something called the Patriarchy, and that our town was the Brave New World where everyone would (if they knew what was good for them) become interchangeable, androgynous -- which generally meant that men were supposed to get out of the way so that women could run pretty much everything.

When I finally got out of Ann Arbor, I felt impelled to spend a big part of the next two decades (in between attempting to make a living) writing about the strange -- and often very funny -- sexual politics mutations that were moving from cities like Ann Arbor into the national bloodstream. Accusations of something called "date rape" were dividing campuses. Antioch College in Ohio had gone ahead and, in all seriousness, published a how-to-have-sex-"correctly" policy for their students. Lawyers had been promoting a new legal concept called "hostile environment" sexual harassment, and litigation over this vaguely worded charge was beginning to appear.

Naturally my antennae began to quiver in 1991 when the news stories about the 1991 Tailhook Association annual symposium started coming out. For the dedicated student of sexual politics, this story -- even though it was located in that distant continent called the military -- gave off many of the same vibes as the sexual politics stories I'd done before.

It was lurid enough, but I didn't think it would come to much. I was sure the imbroglio would stay self-contained, that it was an aberration the powerful military immune system could neutralize.

Yeah, right. It soon became clear that the whole service was, in fact, in a rictus of political correctness, that it was going through an anguished self-examination, particularly over the issue of "gender" -- an antiseptic word popular because it is more sexless, less dangerous, than the word sex. It seemed the American military had begun a huge project of transformation, and renunciation and absolution for past "gender" sins. That project was to be accomplished with the stepped-up integration and promotion of women, and the new influx was quietly affecting every area of military life -- from the design of uniforms, to the weight and configuration of rucksacks, to the manuals written to define tasks and procedure, to the way recruits were trained at boot camp. And not just material aspects, the immaterial, too -- like the ongoing revision, apology for, and eschewal of what is called "the warrior culture" in favor of a new value system that worshiped "sensitivity."

The concept of a huge established institution remaking itself to accommodate women (while simultaneously announcing that nothing had changed) was fascinating enough, but the story became even sexier when you realized that, for political and budgetary reasons, the actual logistical details were mostly hidden from the public at large. The official version of gender integration was something like "Yep, we're just kind of slotting them in and everything's going great."

It didn't work like that, of course. It was not a seamless meshing at all. All over the place, below the serene assurances of the brass, at ground level, there were armies of beleaguered middle managers (noncommissioned officers, junior commissioned officers) slogging away trying to "make it work" -- and attempting to cope with the often messy consequences of the directives for a "gender free" force.

Even though everyone knew women are pretty much just like men, there were so many details to take care of, details that no one had ever predicted. Who would have guessed, for example, when they imagined flanks and flanks of men and women marching together in lockstep, that a significant number of women would develop urinary tract infections on long desert marches because they were embarrassed about taking a pee in view of their male comrades? Or that because many women were turning up pregnant while on deployment in third-world countries like Haiti and Somalia, someone would have to test routine inoculations to see if they would harm a fetus? Or that you'd have to adjust the thrust of ejector seat mechanisms so they didn't kill the lighter-boned female aviator as they punched her out of the aircraft?

Besides the medical research, there was a welter of activity on the physical infrastructure side: The living areas of aircraft carriers had to be retooled if women were going to have some privacy when they undressed for bed or brushed their teeth in the morning. And then there was the sprawl of the all-male culture that had been left mostly undisturbed for a century or so. To the women in Congress who were now calling the shots, it was rather like opening the doors to Animal House. Because the brass believed -- not without the evidence of early "hostile environment" suits and such -- that many women would be made uncomfortable by the way men live without the civilizing influence of women, the brooms and mops went to work. Raunchier "jodies" (the singsong rhyming chants used to set the pace when a unit marches) were banned, sailors were told to take down that locker photo of Heather Thomas and the Valvoline girl, carrying on at officers' clubs was discouraged, and all kinds of innocuous military jargon -- from "cockpit" to "leg" to "box" -- were examined for "sexist" potential.

At least one riddle had been explained -- why the brass had officially decided to use the word gender instead of the word sex. Gender, a trendy, academic word, has been used to mean behavior and self-image learned from one's society, a society determined to keep women "in their place." The word sex, on the other hand, suggests sex differences that are hardwired, basic, primal, dictated by chemistry and hormones, as stubborn as the tides.

Given the military's new project, it's very important that the folks in charge remain wedded to the idea that sex differences are just a societal construct, erasable with a few strong lectures and a bit of "sensitivity training." Achieving a force that recruits, assigns, and promotes in a "gender neutral" way means believing that (after the requisite amount of sensitivity training, of course) men and women can eat, sleep, tent, march, and haul loads together like a merry band of brothers without the fireworks and histrionics that have characterized, gender...relations throughout human history.

And this would be, in historical terms, quite an achievement. As anthropologist Olivia Vlahos puts it:

There is no question that women have valor. No question that they are as intelligent, capable, and brave as men. And yet I know of no society which has routinely treated men and women as interchangeable and equivalent units in war -- the policy now being pursued by the American military.

Humankind has been around long enough to have tried everything at least once. If females belong in foxholes, we should find evidence of it in previous experiments that have worked. Alas, annals of the past offer no examples of formal, sexually integrated military forces, and only one of a formal but sexually segregated fighting unit.

In other words, we are in the middle of a huge social experiment. The returns are beginning to come in -- and I will elaborate on them in later chapters -- yet the real test is sometime in the future, maybe sooner and more suddenly than we think, when we find ourselves in full-scale war, not just an air war as in Kosovo, and something longer, on a larger scale, and against soldiers a little more resolved and well-armed (and well-fed!) than the average Iraqi infantryman of Desert Storm.

What the experiment will tell us is whether men and women -- primarily young, as 60 percent of the force is under thirty -- can live and work together quite intimately in conditions of high stress and still turn out the performance we need. By extension, though, the experiment will give us even deeper, more profound, information about sex roles.

Fighting a war -- or even doling out supplies in the territory close to the front line of a war -- is different from working in a corporation. Executives at Fortune 500 corporations like to pretend that they march into battle each day -- duking it out cell phone to cell phone -- but we know they don't really face matters of life and death. The stress of war and its primal, elemental, physical nature have a way of stripping away the veneer of civilization, and the physical, unforgiving, either-you-do-it-or-you-don't nature of much military work flushes out what is most elemental about ourselves. What we will know, then, in a way that thirty years of women-in-the-workplace has not really answered, is which parts of ourselves are malleable, which are unmalleable, what is fixed, what is not fixed. The experiment, in other words, is a test of the central assumption of the last thirty years of feminist doctrine.

What we will know are answers to such questions as: Does the presence of large numbers of women necessarily "feminize" the culture of the armed services? How much can one change (or "feminize") the military without turning it into something that is not-the-military? Can the sexes ever be truly "equal" -- in the feminist sense, which equates equality with sameness and interchangeability? Is war an intrinsically "male" endeavor or can it be sanitized by technology? Is the kind of aggression unleashed and required by war an intrinsic male quality? What do the experiences in the military tell us about society's ability to regulate sex? A bit of data on this was provided by one ex-Marine writing on an Internet bulletin board about the Aberdeen Proving Grounds sex imbroglio in which the Army discovered that everybody was, in effect, sleeping with everybody else (and sometimes trading off):

All the oversight programs were in place. Everyone had been through sexual harassment training. Everyone had been sensitized to EEO issues. Everyone had probably received several "warnings" about sexual misconduct and its consequences in their careers. Everyone knew what the consequences would be if they got caught. Some normal, healthy people just saw an opportunity and took it.

Well, answers to these questions will have to wait. Right now, as I write this in 1999, the military is in crisis. "The Army is broke like it's never been broke before," says a highly placed Army officer; he is part of a chorus one hears servicewide down the ranks. Morale among service people is at rock bottom. The services have just completed what military newspapers have called the "worst recruiting year in memory," and the Army's six thousand recruiters have been averaging about one recruitment a month. To counteract the pullouts, the different branches have begun offering huge new incentives to get in and stay in, yet attrition is way too high. In 1998, 79 percent of Air Force pilots declined to extend their service when the time came, even as the Air Force was offering, for one example, an additional $22,000 per year if you committed for another five years.

The services (except the Marines) are meeting recruitment goals by the skin of their teeth, if at all, even though they have been digging deeper and deeper in the potential recruit pool and offering "recruits everything but a new car," as one soldier put it. At the end of the fiscal year that ended in September 1999, the Air Force reported that it is losing 1,136 pilots, whose training has cost an estimated $6.6 billion. According to Defense Week, another 430 Air Force pilots have "vowed to leave" in the next fiscal year. In 1999, the Navy's ships put out to sea with what the Detroit News called "an astounding 22,000 berths unfilled." Attrition is a problem everywhere, even though the brass are throwing out money (in the form of bonuses, not raises) as if it were confetti. Attrition is a particular problem in the Navy, where the most experienced people (especially the aviators, who cost millions to produce) are leaving the service in droves.

The brass have many explanations, some of which are actually true -- explanations involving a "hot" civilian economy, too much work for too few people, et cetera. But people like former F-14 pilot John Gadzinski, now flying for a commercial airline, say there is another "no-kidding, core reason," and it is one the brass haven't wanted to hear. "It's about the command climate, stupid," says one officer, paraphrasing Bill Clinton.

It is the reason that dare not speak its name. One learns that there is one iron rule governing military reporting these days: People on active duty do not tell reporters the truth if the truth is something they know their COs will not want them to say. Many, many service people have ruined or lost their careers testing this rule. "We live," one soldier commented, "in a politically correct fishbowl."

"It's becoming like Mao's cultural revolution," says ex-Army officer John Hillen. "Everybody knows it's a system built on a thousand little lies, but everybody's waiting for someone that's high-ranking who's not a complete moral coward to come out and say so." "I can't voice this the way I want to because you know what would happen," said one serviceman in an on-line bulletin board where much samizdat is exchanged. "I would get fragged from the top." When the press came to talk to service people on the more "sensitive" issues (the resignation of Air Force pilot Kelly Flynn, for example), whole units received strict instructions about how to answer reporters' questions, including "useful" phrases to use. Reporters visiting bases or ships usually must be "escorted" by a military public affairs officer (PAO) when they interview soldiers or sailors, and the PAO usually assumes that he will listen in so he can timely offer "corrections." Male handlers don't follow female reporters into the bathroom -- thus I learned to have chats and collect phone numbers there -- but I have had flacks who waited for me directly outside the door. The New York Times's Steve Myers once spent a lovely evening in Bosnia in a laundry room watching his clothing go round and round with his assigned PAO sitting at his side. Sometimes reporters are able to slip their traces if they find one less diligent about his reporter-minding duties. Sometimes reporters just beg, wheedle, and threaten enough to be left alone some of the time, but often, especially if they are on daily deadline, reporters end up just recycling the same stock "quotes" -- thus the stale Pravda-like tone of much military news coverage in the major news media.

Attention reporters at major news outlets! Read speeches, memos, press releases. If Joe Enlisted Man or Jane Junior Officer responds to your questions with lines from the last address given by the deputy secretary of defense, you're getting reportorial garbage. The only service people who will speak "for attribution" -- that is, with their words attached to their names -- are those who've retired or resigned, those on the brink of "getting out," those who've just joined and haven't figured things out yet, and, for some reason, drill sergeants, particularly the southern ones with that rebel look in their eyes. As a result, there are more unnamed sources than I would like in this book. Still, the majority of those unnamed sources are people I have come to know personally, people I've talked to on the job, people who've been cleared by other reliable sources. Some spoke for name attribution because they had filed resignation papers and assumed they would be out in a matter of months, but were then called back to active duty to serve in the Kosovo conflict of spring 1999, and had to retract their agreement with me.

But we have to work harder to get around the Potemkin villages they have erected. In times of protracted peace, citizens grow fat and lazy and careless. One day during London's blitz, George Orwell sat down at his desk and wrote: "At this very moment, highly civilized beings are overhead trying to kill me."

Many Americans have forgotten what a sense of threat from other-civilized-beings-who-don't-know-you-but-would-kill-you-anyway feels like. We forget that serious fighting always involves triage -- sometimes of simple decencies, sometimes of First Amendment rights, certainly of luxuries like the thought of giving everybody equal opportunity to do everything and having everybody feel just okeydokey about their treatment. We are particularly lulled because the last war, our first "coed war," seemed so easy -- at least from the TV screen. You push a few buttons on a plane and, bam, they're on the run! Proponents of putting women in infantry and artillery with men (i.e., "in combat") have spent the last decade saying serenely that "technology will level the playing field." Anybody can push buttons, right?

But our recent engagements in Iraq (limited by Saddam Hussein's mobility) and in Kosovo (where bombers had to wait for clouds to clear) showed we're decades and decades from a bloodless, push-button war. If we want women to be in direct combat this year or next, we will have to square our consciences and our desire to win with the prospect of putting them up against enemy soldiers like the hulking Serbian farm boys we saw on TV throughout the 1999 air war. There is some high-tech stuff, but it's mostly just in the hopeful planning stage right now; whether we will have the money to develop it is uncertain, and even if we really had it, it will be ages before everybody who needs to knows how to use it -- and knows how to fix it when it inevitably breaks down. As Arizona senator John McCain said in October 1998, "'[B]etting on things to come' trades readiness we have on hand for technology that is still in the bush. Historically, we have never deployed such systems on time, at the estimated cost, or, often, with the anticipated effectiveness."

In times of affluence and peace, with technology that always seems to arrive like a deus ex machina to solve any problem, it becomes easy to believe that life is perfectible. But life always involves choices. Everything has its price. The pursuit of "gender equity" is exacting a huge price in dollars and morale. The brass claim we are wedded to finding ways to integrate women because we can't find sufficient numbers of qualified men and/or because integrating women is just like integrating black men: Whatever the cost, they say, it's the right thing to do.

Maybe. I didn't intend to write "the last word." This is not "Resolved: The Military Should Do Such and Such and Not Do This and That." What I wanted to do is write a "first word" for some future scorched-earth-honest discussion in which the silenced are allowed to speak.

We can start here, with me giving you a look at what I saw when I went out to look at the "New Military" -- on the ground, in the late nineties, while it was tortuously attempting to become kinder and gentler, to tame the great beast of sexual attraction, to reform "the warrior culture" and become thoroughly gender integrated but sex free.

Copyright © 2000 by Stephanie Gutmann

Table of Contents

1.Postcard from Fort Jackson, an Army Base, Columbia, South Carolina, March 199827
2.The Kinder, Gentler Boot Camp44
3.At Sea with the "New Navy"80
4.How Did We Get Here?114
5."Sex and Lies and Aircraft Carriers and Bosnia and ..."189
6.Women in Infantry?244
Sources Consulted287

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