“We would go months without bathing, except when we could stand naked among each other…”

By Jack Limpert

Those words are how Jim Webb, before he became Secretary of the Navy and then a United States Senator, started his 1979 Washingtonian magazine article “Women Can’t Fight.” The story caused Webb endless headaches as the Naval Academy graduate and former Marine Corps officer in Vietnam became more political and had to first face congressional hearings and then take part in them as the Democratic senator from Virginia.

Contrast what Webb wrote 33 years ago with this new look at the subject of women in combat, described below in an e-mail from Foreign Affairs magazine.

Dear Colleague:

“Today, 214,098 women serve in the U.S. military, representing 14.6 percent of total service members. Around 280,000 women have worn American uniforms in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 144 have died and over 600 have been injured.”

“Yet the U.S. military, at least officially, still bans women from serving in direct combat positions.”

So writes international relations expert Megan H. MacKenzie in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. According to MacKenzie, arguments against female soldiers are simply outdated.

“Proponents of the policy, who include Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), former chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), rely on three central arguments: thatwomen cannot meet the physical requirements necessary to fight, that they simply don’t belong in combat, and that their inclusion in fighting units would disrupt those units’ cohesion and battle readiness. Yet these arguments do not stand up to current data on women’s performance in combat or their impact on troop dynamics.”

“Banning women from combat does not ensure military effectiveness. It only perpetuates counterproductive gender stereotypes and biases. It is time for the U.S. military to get over its hang-ups and acknowledge women’s rightful place on the battlefield.”

Read “Let Women Fight.”


Here, from each of their websites, are the bios of the two writers:

Megan MacKenzie is a lecturer of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, Australia. She is a former post-doctoral fellow with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University. Working through feminist security studies, development studies, and international relations, her research interests include the combat exclusion for women, gender and the military, the aftermaths of war- including disarmament processes and the impacts of sexual violence, and transitional justice.

Her book Female Soldiers in Sierra Leone: Sex, Security and Post-Conflict Development came out in August 2012 with New York University Press. Other publications include “Securitization and Desecuritization: Female Soldiers and “The Reconstruction of Women in Post-Conflict Sierra  Leone,” in Security Studies and “Securitizing Sex? Towards a Theory of the Utility of Wartime Sexual Violence,” in the International Feminist Journal of Politics.

At the Naval Academy Jim Webb was a four-year member of the Brigade Honor Committee, a varsity boxer, and was one of six finalists in the interviewing process for Brigade Commander during his senior year. Graduating in 1968 he chose a commission in the Marine Corps, and was one of 18 in his class of 841 to receive the Superintendent’s Commendation for outstanding leadership contributions while a midshipman.

First in his class of 243 at the Marine Corps Officer’s Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, he then served with the Fifth Marine Regiment in Vietnam, where as a rifle platoon and company commander in the infamous An Hoa Basin west of Danang he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts. He later served as a platoon commander and as an instructor in tactics and weapons at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, and then as a member of the Secretary of the Navy’s immediate staff, before leaving the Marine Corps in 1972.

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