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To begin an analysis of this policy, one needs to know the actual policy as the government words it. In a memo on 13 January 1994, Secretary Aspen laid out the policy for the heads of each branch of service. His policy stated:
“The following direct ground combat assignment rule, and accompanying definition of ‘direct ground combat’ are adopted effective October 1, 1994, and will remain in effect until further notice.
A. Rule. Service Members are eligible to be assigned positions for which they are qualified except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground, as defined below.
B. Definition. Direct ground combat is engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire or to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force’s personnel. Direct ground combat takes place well forward on the battlefield while locating and closing with the enemy to defeat them by fire, maneuver, or shock effect.” (Memo, pg. 2)
As previously stated, this policy was the result of a study done by an all male committee that was biased based on societies own beliefs of women’s role in the military. During the late 1980s and early 1990s when the study was done, the percentage of women in the military was still extremely low due to women still not being accepted as a soldier. This, along with the social bias, was the basis for the policy.
While doing the study, if the committee would have placed themselves behind John Rawls’ veil of ignorance, the would have been able to develop a policy that was supported entirely by fact and not by bias.
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The first area that needed to be studied was the physical restrictions women have that do not effect men. In 1992 Army Lt. Colonel William Gregor testified before the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces on a study he had done at West Point Military Academy. Following the study, he found that on the Army Physical Fitness Test, the top 20% of female cadets scored equivalent to the bottom 20% of male cadets (Heritage, pg.5). He also found that only 7% of women could attain a 60 on their push-up test while 78% of the males exceeded that score. Finally, he concluded that “Only one woman out of 100 could meet a physical standard achieved by 60 out of 100 men” (Heritage, pg.5).
To survive in a ground combat situation a soldier must be in superior physical condition. By nature, women have 40% less strength than men which translates into a lower physical capability to perform necessary combat tasks. With that decrease in capability, a female in a combat situation would seriously harm her unit’s ability to perform and survive. This would lead to the destruction or morale and cohesion which is necessary for any fighting unit to survive during war.
The next area that the committee should have looked at was the idea of safety for women in a ground combat situation. By looking at enemy countries and their views on women, the committee would have found a serious safety risk to females were they to be captured. In examples throughout the years, women that have been captured by an enemy who does not believe in women fighting in the military were brutally raped, beaten, and even killed in some cases. Overall, they were treated far worse than their fellow male prisoners. It’s a fact that many times male prisoners of war have been beaten brutally by their captors, but many that were held with women prisoners will openly state that males were treated much better than the females.
On the flip side of safety from captors is the problem of safety among comrades. Were a woman to be placed into an isolated situation, such as the case with men in the jungles of Vietnam, there would be large incidences of rape and sexual harassment. This is a problem that is due entirely to human nature during strenuous and isolated situations. One needs simply to look how male soldiers behaved during Vietnam to realize this. Stories have come about dealing with issues of males and sexual acts that were performed on fellow male soldiers as well as animals. By looking at those examples, it would not be hard to figure that a female would be treated the same, if not worse.
Finally, the committee needed to look at the psychological impact placing women into combat would have on both males and females. The biggest impact would be seen in the male soldiers for many reasons. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Israel allowed women to fight in combat alongside male soldiers. Due to the stereotype places on women as being motherly and nurturing, not killers, the males spent a large part of the battles struggling to protect the females from incoming fire. They claimed afterwards that it was because they saw their mothers and sisters in the faces of the female soldiers and could not let their family members get killed.
The sights of women being maimed and killed during battle destroyed not only the morale of the unit, but the psyche of each male member. The men equated these women to their mothers, and therefore saw images that destroyed them internally. Following the war, many of these men were permanently institutionalized because they were so mentally harmed. They lost all effectiveness to not only fight, but to lead a normal life. By allowing women to fight, Israel had self-destructed a large part of their male military force, leaving them helpless for future battles.
To look at the facts unbiased, the committee needed to place themselves behing the “veil of ignorance” as John Rawls calls it (Bickers & Williams, pg.21). The veil of ignorance is a way of viewing a proposed policy without knowing about ones own characteristics. The committee members would not have known if they were male or female or even what country and background they came from. They would have no idea if they grew up with a mother or sisters living with them, or even if they grew up raised by their father as an only child. By not knowing how the policy would affect them directly they could better look at the issues involved and make a sound decision.
After looking at the issue of physical restrictions they would have found that no matter how hard a female were to try, they would always be less capable of doing certain physical tasks that a man could do. Being incapable would not only put them at risk, but would put the unit at risk due to lack of abilities and lack of confidence from comrades. After looking at those facts, the committee would have decided that physical restrictions were one area that supported a ban on women in combat.
If they were then to look at safety from behind the veil they would conclude that there were several safety issues posed that were due entirely to the women themselves. The issue of putting a female at such risk to her captors as well as the risk of her being in isolation for an extended period of time would prove to great to anyone. By not taking into account their own personal characteristics, the committee would have found that the safety risks were too high for not just the females, but all soldiers involved. This again would hae been another area supporting a ban for women.
Finally, had the committee looked at the psychological implications allowing women into combat would pose they also would have found many things true. The risk to the nation’s defense force as well as population as a whole was to great to put aside for the sake of equality among the sexes. The government did not have the right to play with human minds in that way simply so females could be equal to males. By realizing that, the committee would have found a third area to support the proposed ban.
After the study was done, the correct thing was done, and women were banned from direct ground combat situations. This policy however had no legitimacy because it was not based on the facts from the 3 areas discussed, but was instead bases on social norms and bias. If the government would have instead based their policy on facts and figures they would have developed a policy that had legitimacy and reasoning. There would be no room for people to argue about equality when they discovered that based on facts, women truly are unequal to men, and there isn’t a single thing humans can do to change that. One would not be able to expect a government to allow something simply for equalities sake that had so many negative factors weighing against it, including human life.
In a report for the Heritage Foundation in 1994, John Luddy summarizes the proper policy best by stating “the purpose of the armed forces is to fight and win the nation’s wars, not to serve as a laboratory for social progress.” (Heritage, pg.8). If the committee and the Secretary of Defense had looked from an unbiased point of view they would have still developed the same policy, but instead would have developed it for the proper reasons.