Pentagon lifts ban on women in combat and it's about time - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Pentagon lifts ban on women in combat and it’s about time

The Pentagon’s groundbreaking decision to lift  the U.S. military’s official ban on women in combat actually acknowledges the reality that American woman in the military have already been in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 20,000 (women) have served…more than 800 women were wounded and more than 130 had died, according to The New York Times.

The last time the nation had a discussion about women in combat was back in the 1990s, but the Pentagon put a stop to all the debate in 1994 when it banned women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s Thursday announcement overturns that ban.

The United States finally opened the doors for women in the military with better pay and equal opportunities.

The United States finally opened the doors for women in the military with better pay and equal opportunities.

I’m too old to serve and probably wouldn’t have wanted combat, or military, duty when I was young enough for it to be a possibility.  But for those young women who today serve in our military or who wish to serve, hundreds of thousands of front-line jobs are now open to them because that combat restraint has been lifted.

And that’s a good thing.

Those jobs offer higher salaries and with our all- volunteer military, women who are willing and want to, should be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts to serve their nation and to advance up the ranks.

Today, a half dozen countries employ women in combat with few restrictions.  Norway was the first nation to allow women on submarines. New Zealand has no restrictions on women in combat.  And women are eligible for 92 percent of all roles in the Israel military.  In many resistance and guerrilla movements around the world, women have  had combat roles.

The arguments against women in combat have always eluded me in any case.

The Center for Military Readiness, the most proponent group that continues to oppose the use of women in combat, arguing for a severely limited role for women in the military (it also opposes gays’ service) bases its opposition on psychological, physical  and tactical arguments.

In its 2004 publication Women in Combat Frequently Asked Questions, it maintained that “Female soldiers [are], on average, shorter and smaller than men, with 45-50% less upper body strength and 25-30% less aerobic capacity, which is essential for endurance” and  “[w]omen in combat units endanger male morale and military performance.”

Yet both historical and contemporary examples show that women have been capable fighters in all women combat units, in mixed-gender units, as individuals in groups of men, and as leaders of male armies.


The DahomeyAmazons, Mino, of the Fon people, were an all-female military regiment of the West African Kingdom of Dahomey. (Wikipedia Commons)

The DahomeyAmazons, Mino, of the Fon people, were an all-female military regiment of the West African Kingdom of Dahomey. During the First Franco-Dahomean War at the end of the 19th century, the French army lost several battles to them—not because of French “hesitation” that they were women, but due to the female warriors’ skill in battle that was “the equal of every contemporary body of male elite soldiers from among the colonial powers”. Legionnaires later wrote about the “incredible courage and audacity” of these black Amazons.

During World War I, Russia used one all-woman combat unit and it mobilized substantial numbers of women combatants to increase its military effectiveness during World War II.

Also, during  World War II, hundreds of thousands of British and German women served in combat roles in anti-aircraft units, shooting down enemy planes.

Women combatants are no novelty in Eritrea where, during its 30-year war of independence from Ethiopia from 1961 to 1991, women fought side by side with men, were killed and killed like any other soldiers.

During the next conflict, one young Eritrean soldier, tired of being asked about being a woman combatant as she sat a few yards away from the frontline position, told a New York Times reporter: ”Do you think the enemy carries flashlights?They  are holding guns so I have to kill them.”

The real question is not whether women can fight and kill like male combatants, but whether warfare is inescapable, an integral part of human culture or whether we thinking bipeds can learn some other way of resolving conflicts.


About the author

Karen DeWitt

Karen DeWitt has a long distinguished career as a journalist, covering politics, but also has worked on political campaigns. She compares the later to the labor of a Hebrew working for the Pharaoh. She's covered the White House and the national politics for The New York Times; foreign affairs and the White House for USA TODAY before joining that newspaper’s management as an assistant managing editor. She switched to television as a senior producer for ABC’s Nightline, where she wrote and produced the award-winning, Found Voices about the digitization of 1930s and 1940s interviews with former slaves. She returned to newspapers, as Washington editor for the Examiner newspaper and eventually left to help on local political campaigns. She has several blogs, but contributes mostly to a food blog called “I don’t speak cuisine” at and Contact the author.

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