America's armed forces have a new military objective-and military families have been the first to suffer the consequences. Pentagon political appointees are advancing the prime tenets of feminism and are giving in to civilian activists, who demand that their goals-not military readiness-be given priority. The object is to change the culture of the military and force it to comply with the "ungendered" visions of feminists like Sara Lister, a former assistant secretary of the Army who became famous in 1997 for calling the Marines "extremists." A still influential counterpart of Ms. Lister's who served in the Bush administration, former assistant secretary of the Navy Barbara Pope, declared that "we're in the process of weeding out the white male as the norm; we're about changing the culture." And the current secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, has called the submarine community "a white male bastion," and suggested that the admirals should curry favor with female members of Congress by accepting women on submarines. Mr. Danzig's doctrinaire views are championed by the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), an influential body composed of mostly civilian women and a few men. DACOWITS members seem unconcerned about predictable problems much worse than anything experienced so far in the surface fleet. These include costly refittings that would replace essential combat equipment, unresolvable medical risks for pregnant sailors, and the resulting need for unplanned surfacings that would compromise the stealth mission of the submarine. The drive for radical cultural change began in the aftermath of the infamous 1991 Tailhook scandal. Feminists were outraged by the alleged abuse of female officers at the hands of male aviators during a rowdy convention. Patricia Schroeder, then a powerful congresswoman from Colorado, used the Tailhook scandal to force the admirals to comply with her demands for women in combat. She suggested, illogically, that the abuse of women in a hotel corridor was wrong, but abuse of women during combat, at the hands of an enemy, would be perfectly all right. The campaign gained momentum when Bill Clinton entered the White House after winning the 1992 election. In 1993, Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered that women be assigned to combat aviation duties, and admirals chastened by the Tailhook scandal stopped opposing efforts to repeal the law exempting women from service on combat ships. Civilians at the Pentagon, led by Sara Lister and former Navy Secretary John Dalton, subsequently ordered a host of collateral directives to make the policy "work." Mandates included "gender-norming" techniques that redefined (and lowered) training standards, co-ed basic training and housing arrangements, and liberalized pregnancy policies that subsidize single parenthood. Pregnant pause: Sailors with child are often undeployable
Problems have arisen. The last thing the Navy needs is more non-deployable sailors, particularly when so many ships are currently leaving home ports with shorthanded crews. When female sailors get pregnant, they are frequently undeployable for as long as a year, and replacements are rarely available. The medical evacuation rates of women are two and a half times those of men. Nevertheless, the Navy's 1995 pregnancy policy offers generous medical, housing, and educational benefits, which are given without regard to marital status or number of pregnancies. Sailors left to take up the slack had better keep quiet; under the pregnancy policy, men can be punished for making negative comments about female sailors absent because of pregnancy. The much-publicized problem of servicemen and women subsisting on food stamps has a little-publicized side. In numerous interviews with military chaplains and family counselors around the country, members of the Blair Commission on Military Training and Gender-Related Issues learned in 1999 that the need for food stamps exists primarily among single parents. What's really going on is a clash between practical reality and some core feminist tenets. These beliefs underlie the "ungendered vision" of law professor Madeline Morris, who was a paid adviser to former Secretary of the Army Togo West Jr. Ms. Morris pushed for the obliteration of "masculinist" influences in the military, which she considered conducive to rape. In a Duke University Law Journal article, Ms. Morris suggested that disciplinary rules should be expanded to foster an "incest taboo" among male and female soldiers. Teaching them to live as a "band of brothers and sisters," she suggested, would remedy the sex-scandal problem. Tell that to the drill instructors at Aberdeen Proving Ground-some of whom are doing time at Leavenworth for taking advantage of female trainees who were willing to exchange sexual favors for special treatment. Similar misconduct has occurred at basic training bases in all the services, other than the Marine Corps, which trains men and women separately. Feminists contend that men and women are interchangeable in all roles. The consequences to families of this gender-free vision were painfully visible during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, when hundreds of young mothers, many of them single, were photographed kissing their babies goodbye on their way to the Persian Gulf. Several members of Congress, including then-Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), offered "Gulf orphan" bills to prevent the wartime deployment of single or dual-service parents, but the war ended before the bills came up for a vote. Those photographs were lasting images; a full year after the soldiers came home, a Roper poll done for the presidential commission found that 69 percent of Americans did not want to see young mothers marching off to war. Post-deployment baby blues
The profound effects on children are only now being acknowledged. In 1999, a Pentagon-financed study revealed evidence of serious anxiety among the children of deploying parents. Children separated from mothers deployed at sea for five to six months, compared to those whose mothers drew shore duty, were more likely to experience deep feelings of sadness and anxiety before and during the separation. About 12 percent of children of deployed mothers showed signs of chronic depression that reached "clinical" levels-meaning they warranted close monitoring or professional help-compared with less than 5 percent of children whose mothers were assigned on shore. Separation anxiety was most severe among low-ranking enlisted mothers, the majority of whom were divorced, separated, or single with very young children. Military life is in conflict with motherhood and the needs of children. A 1998 Navy survey found that four in 10 pregnancies for enlisted women on sea duty ended in miscarriage or abortion in 1996, compared with 23 percent for shore-based sailors. The Wall Street Journal noted last December that "some babies are being thrown out with the seawater." Even among higher-ranking, married female officers, feminist theories about "equality" within the family are inconsistent with reality. Consider the case of Army Col. Lois Beard, whose retirement from the service at age 45 became front-page news in The New York Times (Nov. 29, 1999). Col. Beard had an exemplary career, having attended all the right schools and participated in deployments from Panama to Bosnia. During the Persian Gulf War, she and her husband Glenn, also an Army colonel, were ordered to Saudi Arabia for nine months. The Beards' three children, who were 7, 3, and 2 years old at the time, were sent to live with an aunt. Nine years later, Col. Beard saw that the distance was widening between herself and her children, even though they are older now and better able to cope. She loved her job and was on a fast track for promotion to brigadier general, but recognized that the children still needed her presence on a daily basis. Realizing that she had more important things to do with her family, and that she "would be a better commander if I wasn't a parent and a better parent if I wasn't a commander," Col. Beard chose retirement instead. Understandable choices such as this increase attrition rates, which are worsened by artificially high recruiting and promotion goals for women. In an article headlined "Early Exodus of Enlisted Women Troubles Army," the Los Angeles Times reported last December than 47 percent of Army enlisted women left the service before the end of three years, compared to 28 percent of Army men. Three-year loss rates across all the services are about 38 percent for women, compared to 33 percent for men. Attrition is expensive, since the services invest approximately $35,000 in the training of each first-term (four-year) recruit. But on the same day that the Los Angeles Times was reporting on high attrition rates among women, The Washington Times revealed Army plans for a new computerized program that would increase the number of women in jobs formerly reserved for men. The gender-based program is called Gender Apportionment of Enlisted Accessions (GAEA). According to Army Times, GAEA will permit up to 40 percent women in the Army's combat medic category, despite the fact that a previous study showed only 12 percent of tested women were capable of carrying a two-man stretcher, compared to 100 percent of the men. This critical job is now defined as a four-person task, even though extra personnel are not always available during combat emergencies. Feminists know how to test the mettle of the brass
It should be noted that the majority of military women, who serve their country well, are not to blame for social policies being demanded in their name. The marching orders come from civilian feminists, who know little about military culture but are skilled at intimidating the brass. Ironically, the debate over cultural values and respect for women has come full circle. In a recent draft report prepared for Attorney General Janet Reno, the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women called for protection of military women and spouses subjected to domestic abuse. The report asserts: "In day-to-day military operations, the safety of women must be given priority over concerns about the need for the offender to meet military readiness objectives." But safety for women must not, apparently, be given priority over ideological calls to arms. Sending female soldiers to confront an enemy directly, in combat, would signify that Americans are willing to tolerate and even encourage deliberate violence against women. That would be a step backward for civilization, not a step forward.
-Elaine Donnelly is director of the Center for Military Readiness