Small Wars Journal

To Wreck a Military

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 3:30am

In 1968, the U.S. Armed Forces numbered 3,500,000 troops. Of those, just over one percent were female. Back in 1948 Congress, by passing Public Law No. 625, had capped the number of military women at two percent of that total. Those who did wear uniforms were limited to a very small number of Military Occupation Specialties. No military woman could be deployed abroad against her will. The highest rank any woman could attain was that of colonel. However, change was in the air. As the War in Vietnam peaked, the Johnson administration feared, with very good reason, that trying to call up more men might meet with massive resistance. It might even lead to civil war. Casting about for a solution to the problem, one measure the military took was to try and attract more women. That was how the latter got their feet in the door.

The decision to admit more women proved to be the opening shot in the gender wars in the military. Supported by the courts, which consistently insisted on “equal rights,” throughout the 1970s and 1980s female service personnel demanded, and were granted, greater and greater rights. The more time passed, the less inclined the forces to resist their triumphant march and the more they tended to roll over at the first sign of a feminist demand. To note a few landmark decisions only, in 1976 the Service Academies were opened to women. In the same year, women retained the right to remain in the services even when they were pregnant and, as a consequence, unable to perform some of the jobs to which they were assigned. The 1991 Tailhook debacle represented the worst defeat of the U.S. Navy since Pearl Harbor. In the next year, President Bush's Commission for Women in Combat solemnly recommended that they not be allowed to participate in it. However, no sooner did President Clinton assume office than the decision was reversed. Women were allowed to fly combat aircraft, crew warships, and participate in ground operations down to the brigade level.

Even as the forces were feminized, they also became progressively smaller. By the time the Cold War ended, the number or troops was down to 2,050,000. Of those, about 8.5 percent were female. Later, the number of troops was cut even further, to 1,400,000. As part of the process, the share of women rose to between 16 and 17 percent. It was with this force that the U.S. went to war first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. Now that incoming Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wants to carry out further drastic cuts, the last barriers to women’s participation in every kind of unit and activity are about to be demolished. Meanwhile, though the ratio of population to uniformed soldiers has gone down from 55:1 to 227:1, so unattractive has military service become that the forces have been reduced to recruiting tens of thousands of non-citizens. In many cases so low is their quality that, once they have been recruited, the first thing they must learn is how to read.

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. Critics will object that, even as they were being downsized, the forces went through one qualitative improvement after another. In particular, the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs” is supposed to have increased their fighting power many times over. That, however, is an illusion. To realize this, all one has to do is look at Afghanistan. Over there, “illiterate” tribesmen—not, take note, tribeswomen—are right now about to force the U.S. to withdraw its troops after a decade of effort in which they achieved hardly anything.

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?

Are the processes welcome? That depends on your point of view. If the reason for having armed forces is to guarantee national security, then the answer is clearly no. By one count, almost one third of enlisted military women are single mothers. As a result, whatever the regulations may say, they are only deployable within limits. Adding to the problems, at any one time, one tenth of all servicewomen are certain to be pregnant. That again means that there are limits on what they can do on the job. Women are unable to compete with men when it comes to the kind of work that requires physical fitness. Those who try to do so nevertheless are almost certain to suffer a wholly disproportionate number of injuries. As a result, the part of their training troops of both sexes spend together often borders in the ridiculous and represents a gross waste of resources. Furthermore, women’s retention rate is lower than that of men on the average. As a result, bringing them to the point where they are qualified to do their jobs also represents a gross waste of resources.

Last not least, 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. In other militaries around the world, incidentally, women’s share among the casualties is much lower still. 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. For anyone who serves in the military, or whose livelihood depends on public approval, the prevailing climate of political correctness makes it impossible to mention the problem even in a whisper. Obviously, though, it is bound to have some effects on the morale of male personnel.

One may also look at the problem in a different way. Over the last few decades people have become accustomed to think of the feminization of the military as if it were some great and mighty step towards women’s liberation. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. For thousands, probably tens of thousands of years, we men have laid down our lives so that the women we love might live. To quote the Trojan hero Hector on this, he preferred going to hell a thousand times to seeing his wife, Andromache, weeping as she was led into captivity by one of the “copper-wearing Greeks.” Wouldn’t it be truly wonderful if the tables were turned and women started laying down their lives for us? After all, people of both sexes live in a democracy where women form a majority of the population. Why, then, shouldn’t they die in proportion to their numbers?

In fact, as the number of troops of both sexes who are killed shows only too clearly, women’s presence in the military is little but an expensive charade. True equality—equality of the kind that will make service personnel of both sexes take the same risks and suffer the same casualties—is as far away as it has ever been. Everything considered, perhaps it is better that way. 

About the Author(s)



Thu, 01/31/2013 - 12:41am

In reply to by motorfirebox


Well you know what they say "Boys will be boys." But to paraphrase Rooster Cogburn, "You go ahead and think what you think is best Ned."


Wed, 01/30/2013 - 9:59pm

In reply to by carl

A parent who believes that the attitudes of their children contain sufficient data to make sweeping statements about the nature of all human societies might be forgiven for the hilariously flagrant failure of their analytical abilities; a good parent's view of the world, after all, is often sharply limited to that which immediately relates to their offspring. A person who tries to draw that data from the attitudes of someone else's children is less likely to be able to claim that defense.


Wed, 01/30/2013 - 1:31pm

In reply to by motorfirebox


My brother used to believe that there were no immutable laws of human nature. He figured that the behavioral differences between boys and girls weren't due to differing natures, they were due to cultural expectations. Then he had two boys.


Wed, 01/30/2013 - 1:25pm

In reply to by Malaguerra

I definitely agree that physical standards need to be maintained. I think one of the biggest mistakes in female integration was providing an alternate physical standard for women. But if someone can meet the physical standards, I don't think gender should factor in.

I don't buy the "immutable laws of human nature" argument. They aren't laws and they aren't immutable--they're cultural standards, and they mutate generationally. There were (and, to a decreasing degree, are) cultural standards that say gays can't serve alongside straights. There were cultural standards that said blacks can't serve alongside whites. Those have changed and are changing, and the cultural standards that contraindicate women serving alongside men can change as well.


Wed, 01/30/2013 - 10:23am

Van Creveld would have done his argument some service by explaining the underlying causality of Reskin and Roos work, then demonstrating how it has also been occurring in the US Armed Forces. Is it just the percentage of females? In order for his argument to be valid one also has to accept that the US Armed Forces have been in decline since they began "feminizing" under LBJ. This is a stretch to say the least. Van Creveld comes off here as a crotchety old chauvinist. "The damn split-tails are ruining everything," a retired First Sergeant once quipped to me. As impressive as Van Creveld's academic credentials are, he doesn't add much to the First Sergeant's statement.

On the notion of women in the infantry, there are two general issues. First is that physical standards must not shift in order to accommodate female Marines and soldiers. I once read that only 10-20% of the US male population aged 18-25 was eligible for service in the Marine Corps, once all factors (fitness, height/weight, education/intelligence, criminal history, etc.) have been considered. Advocates of "women in combat" have to accept that the eligibility ratio for women in the infantry will likely be <%1. The standards must be maintained in the face of what could be significant political pressure.

All that said, physical standards are actually the lesser issue. The more significant issue is human nature. There will be ugly instances that come out of this. Unintended pregnancies, division amongst the ranks, sexual assaults, false claims of sexual assaults, are to be expected by anyone with a realistic grasp of how young men and women behave. The U.S. military may already have a crisis on its hands with sexual assault and its existing female population. Is including females in the type-A-dominated combat arms fields going to improve this situation?

The first general argument - meeting physical standards, makes inclusion of females in the combat arts impractical. However, the immutable laws of human nature make it unwise and dangerous.


Wed, 01/30/2013 - 10:09am

This is the silliest article I have ever read on this site. I mean, honestly: equating reduction in troop numbers to military decline? Really? Because--without saying anything at all bad against our Vietnam-era forces--I'd lay a lot of money on our modern, "declined" military whooping the panties off our military circa 1968. Nor is the example of Afghanistan in any way a <i>military</i> failure. If our goal in Afghanistan were to fly to the moon, rather than to "win hearts and minds", you wouldn't count our inability to achieve the stated mission as a military shortcoming despite both goals being equally unachievable when shooting tribesmen is the primary method employed.

And the real crown jewel is your hilarious circular logic: we don't allow women to take direct combat roles, but then when they end up with 90% fewer casualties than men, that's a reason to not let them take direct combat roles? Really? Seriously? That's your idea of logic?

Can anyone tell me how integrating women into combat units makes us a better fighting force? Until I hear this I reject it completely


Tue, 01/29/2013 - 6:00am

Those who want woman in the infantry/SOF seem to think that just because a few woman have been wounded, that these woman should now be in the line. I no longer have faith in the Army's senior leadership(not that I had alot before) and I am not the only one. Morale has been effected by these so called leaders (who are realy just polticians). This was probably done to take the heat off all those generals who tripped and accidently fell into bed with someone other than their wives. The BLUF: Being a helo pilot who gets wounded is a hell of a lot different than being a infantry guy. The job of the Army was to fight and win our nations wars... Not equality and making dreams come true.

Dempsey and Oderniro: You and rest are gutless.

Am I the only one finding the formulation of the "the women themselves have found a thousand ways to avoid going where the bullets are" really crass?
Like other people, I have a hard time following both "the military decline is correlative to women presence" and "women are not shot at enough to pretend having access to combat roles".

Fabius Maximus

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 11:40pm

This is a well-known exchange about Martin van Creveld's views about women as soldiers:
<li>“The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Martin van Creveld, <em>Millennium – Journal of International Studies</em>, 2000; 29 (subscription only <a title="Millennium" href="; target="_blank">here</a>; free Scribd PDF <a title="Scribd" href="…; target="_blank">here</a>)</li>
<li>“`Shooting’ at the Wrong Target: A Response to Van Creveld”, Bethke Elshtain (Prof Ethics, U Chicago Divinity School), <em>Millennium – Journal of International Studies</em>, 2000 #29 (subscription only <a title="Millenium" href="; target="_blank">here</a>; free Scribd PDF <a title="Scribd" href="…; target="_blank">here</a>)</li>
Also see: <em><a title="Amazon" href="…; target="_blank">Men, Women &amp; War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?</a></em>, Martin van Creveld (2002)

SJP Oneill

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 3:26pm

After all the hype pumping this article...?

Sometimes a big name actor stars ina movie that is clearly beneath their abilities, what I call a 'rent' movie i.e. an activity conducted purely for the income e.g. to pay the rent, and not to contribute anything meaning ful to the greater body of human knowledge of culture. This is no more than a 'rent' article...

The logic such as it is is flawed and the arguments such as they are superficial, although in my opinion, these are hallmarks of Martin van Crefeld's work so we got what we probably expected.

I would have at least have expected him to have pointed out perhaps, the irony that opening up more roles to women fifty years ago when we generally fought wars according to accepted rules against a clearly defined opponent in a clearly defined environment would probably have been safer than it is now in the complex contemporary environment where adversaries and front lines are no longer clearly defined or easily identifiable...


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 3:10pm

In reply to by carl

With pharmacies, it was apparently the expansion of the generic CVS and Walgreens type of jobs. With book editing the expansion of computers and therefore the job became less prestige-oriented and more work-a-day. Think about when being a web-page developer used to be considered like wizardry. Now the job is a vastly automated through software. Prestige gone. Once the prestige rolls out and the wages drop the males move on to other jobs that pay more and offer more respect. The women then step into those roles because the men don't want them.

Pretty standard economics and technology story.


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 3:05pm

In reply to by Kollars

How did industry automate book editing and pharmacists work?

There may be reasons to support van Creveld's view but HOLD

Van Creveld states….

"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?"

WRONG: We have a reverse causation problem : Van Creveld cites a book he seems never to have read personally.

The actual central argument here is that the industry restructured the payoffs that produced the prestige and THEREFORE the jobs became open to women. CAUSATION IS BACKWARDS FOR VAN CREVELD’s ARGUMENT.

The women participating in the job did not CAUSE the drop in prestige. The prestige fell out because the industry restructured jobs and automated them such that they could pay women less and that is when the prestige fell. ….. because of automation and restructuring to save money. Women stepped into those roles that men won’t do.

This means that the book cited by Van Creveld is irrelevant to his argument the authors make no such claim.….. he is making a causation argument that the original authors did not make and a correction must be published immediately.

Please be careful! There are reasons but his center on a text that he misunderstood

Direct quotes from the text below.
IF read the book he misunderstood the claim.

Presumably his argument came from this snippet below

Pg 303 last chapter--summary
“More important than sheer growth for women's disproportionate entry
into most of the occupations we studied was a change in the work process
or rewards that rendered jobs less attractive to men than competing opportunities.
2 Some occupations such as insurance adjusting/examining and typesetting/
composing deteriorated after employers reorganized the work process
or introduced new technologies that robbed jobs of their skill, diversity, and
autonomy. Technological change figured also in the feminization of baking,
both by creating new retail jobs that men did not want and by disproportionately
eliminating male production jobs. Other occupations such as book
editing and pharmacy deteriorated in men's eyes as their prestige, job security,
promotion prospects, and real earnings declined. When these deteriorating
occupations were simultaneously undergoing growth-as did residential real
estate sales, insurance adjusting and examining, and bartending-they feminized
especially rapidly. In a nutshell, employers turned to women to fill jobs
that men, for various reasons, eschewed.”

Snip…In pharmaceuticals chapter for clarification:
“Several factors have contributed to women's increased participation in pharmacy.
First, for several decades, women have been overrepresented in hospitals,
a sector that added more than 20,000 jobs during the 1970s. Second,
men's attraction to retail pharmacy weakened as real earnings dropped and
entrepreneurial opportunities declined with the growth of chain pharmacies.
The view that pharmacy is a less attractive occupation than it was a generation
ago is reflected in the fact that four out of ten pharmacists say they do not want
their children, particularly their sons, to follow in their footsteps (Schering
Laboratories, 1988)”

Snip….In book editing for clarification:
“In sum, the factors that facilitated women's increased representation in editing
and the decline in sex segregation across editorial roles began with outside
ownership and conglomerization, which tarnished the industry's image and
reshaped the editor's role-especially that of the trade editor-robbing it of
autonomy and the chance for creative risk taking. Job security declined, and
wages failed to rise and may have declined. As a result of these changes, publishing
could no longer attract the caliber of men it desired because they had
better alternatives.. “


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 7:05pm

In reply to by Martin van Creveld

Why would you conclude that Iraq and Afghanistan are indications of a declining military? Is it not possible that the difficulties experienced in those places are attributable less to military decline than to the persistent adoption of vague, unrealistic, and ephemeral policy goals? Asking a military force to transform Iraq or Afghanistan into a modern stable representative democracy is like asking a beautician to transform my neighbor's sow into Miss Universe. It's just not going to happen, regardless of the talent or abilities applied.

To me the lesson from Afghanistan and Iraq is that when the US military is handed a task that can reasonably achieved by military force, such as removing Saddam Hussein or the Taliban from power, the task is achieved effectively and expeditiously. When the US military is handed a task not suited to accomplishment by military force, such as "nation building", the results are not so good. That should not come as a surprise, and I'd put the blame less on the military force than on those who selected the inappropriate goal.

Overall, the piece seems curiously incoherent, especially given the apparent prominence of the author. The purported wreckage of the institution is not demonstrated, and the lines between correlation and causation seem less blurred than completely absent. It comes off as more rant than analysis.

Martin van Creveld

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 2:16pm

I was writing about the U.S, not Israel. However, the situation in Israel is no different. In some ways it is worse.

I never blamed women for Iraq and Afghanistan. I only used them as proof that the U.S military is in decline.

And, yes, probably there is no solution. As Zorba the Greek said about women, we cannot do with them and we cannot do without them.


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 2:01pm

The author may have a point about the general decline of Western militaries. One perhaps could argue though that RMA was directed at the wrong sort of war to be effective in Afghanistan. Based on my personal observation, the problem in Afghanistan is more about timid staid senior uniformed and civilian leadership than the short comings of an RMA charade. That said though, his attempt to link "feminization" with this decline in the following paragraph seems very weak and would appear to be in direct contradiction with the reality that presently the prestige of the military in the US is increasing.

Vitesse et Puissance

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 1:02pm

I would like to echo that comment that Dr. Creveld should have, at the very least, cited the Israeli experience within women in combat and contrasted it with emerging US policy. The Israeli think tankers have a very bad habit of telling the Americans when they think the Americans are messing up, without being entirely open about the plusses and minuses of their own practice. Look, we're flying blind here, and every scrap of experience could be the difference between the US military getting this right (or at least as close to right as we can) and getting it wrong in a profound and deadly way.

I don't get his logic.

Female soldiers were kept out of combat jobs so they didn't pull their weight in combat thus they should be kept out of combat jobs?!?

He wrote a long text, but I suppose a fair and coherent summary of the issue would still be very different and longer.

It would be easier to take this argument seriously if the author weren't blaming something as large as the failures in Afghanistan on the presence of women. Just seems too convenient and simplistic to believe that all the military's problems are the result of allowing females in the armed forces.


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 2:26pm

In reply to by carl

BTW, though the Israelis and Wiki may call the Caracel an Infantry BN we have nothing like it in our military. It is actually a border patrol unit.

The details make a big difference.


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 9:42am

In reply to by BigByuval

According to my in depth research on Wikipedia, the Caracal Battalion has been involved in a single small skirmish that occurred last Sept. Citing that as a significant success may be overstating things a bit.


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 7:20am

In the IDF, women have been involved since the Haganah and Etzel days. women in combat are rife in certain unitis such as Caracal, deployed in the south, having scored some significant success in recent firefights. Would you generalize your remarks to Israel, and if not, why not

Y Brandstetter MD,


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 10:01am

In reply to by major.rod


I don't think Dr. van Creveld could recommend a solution because there probably isn't one, at least not one the Americans can effectuate. The lobby pushing this agenda has too much political power. As long as we don't get involved in big time combat that political power won't be diminished. When we do next get into big time battle and if this experiment doesn't work out, then and only then will that political power be diminished enough that this policy might be changed. I don't think there is any painless, by pain I mean extra dead soldiers and perhaps defeat, way out of this.

Here is the article you are looking for.…


Mon, 01/28/2013 - 5:24am

I found this article very interesting. I wish the Dr. could recommend the solution. There was another article written by a female Major and Phd taking the opposite tack. If anyone can help me find it, it would be appreciated.

One hauntingly accurate comment by Dr. Crevald is the inability of the military to acknowledge there is a problem because of the PC costs. It took a week for the Army to force Gen Cucculo's to rescind his policy that soldiers who got pregnant in theatre and their fathers would be subject to NJP. Heck, if you ask the Army they will tell you they don't track how many women soldiers get pregnant and require evac from the combat theatre. How can that even be possible?

Diversity policies and the fear of PC allowed Major Hasan to kill 13 soldiers. This policy will be exponentially worse.