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Jewish World Review May 15, 2000/ 10 Iyar, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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There's nothing like a (military) dame -- WILLIE AND JOE, cartoonist Bill Mauldin's famous World War II grunts, were sitting in a foxhole with water up to their waists. Willie, chewing on a day-old cigar, looks at Joe's three-day-old beard encrusted in grime and mud, and asks plaintively: "Why couldn't you have been born a dame?'' (Or was it a broad?)

That was only satire in World War II, but time has transmuted satire into reality. Soldiers today know better than to call a woman a dame (or a broad). Willie and Jo(sephine) share barracks, berths, tents and tarps, through thick, thin, wind, rain, sea sickness and morning sickness. If Willie makes passes, even at grunts who wear glasses, he can expect a court-martial.

This is not news. But when it's documented meticulously, satire becomes farce and military readiness turns into a terrible joke -- on us.

Stephanie Gutmann offers abundant documentation of the absurdities and difficulties of the Willies and Josephines in uniform in the thoroughly modern military in her new book, "A Kinder, Gentler Military." The subtitle asks the question almost nobody in Washington wants asked: "Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?''

The chilling answer is "no,'' if we're depending on keeping quality leaders serving up to their retirement age, leaders being the most important ingredient in any military. Mid-level career officers are leaving the army in regimental and battalion numbers, dissatisfied with a military mystique that has been trivialized, downsized and worst of all, feminized. Day care has become a commander's concern, pregnancy counseling more important than battlefield tactics and warriors are encouraged to become wimps, oh-so-sensitive but worthless in warfare.

This may warm the hearts of women who prefer to "make love, not war,'' but it's a strange way to make soldiers whose ultimate task has to be killing people and breaking things. Without irony, feminist Carol Gilligan, who celebrates women as the more nurturing, caring sex, reviewed "The Kinder Gentler Military'' for the New York Times. She suggests that women in uniform can help men combine sensitivity with aggression, creating a more efficient fighting force. Sensitive soldiering?

It's a sign of the times, if not progress, that safe sex in the military aims to prevent babies, not venereal disease, but this presents another set of problems. Instead of scaring recruits with terrifying footage of genitals withering from gonorrhea, as the "old Army'' did, a voice-over in a "new Navy'' film describes the unwanted pregnancy as merely letting the team down. "Pregnancy and parenthood are compatible with your Navy or Marine Corps career,'' the voice-over says, "but only when you're ready to make the personal choices and sacrifices necessary to raise a child.''

Purchasng this book
-- linked in 4th paragraph --
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The USS Acadia and the USS Yellowstone, the "love boats'' of the Gulf War, became joke mills for stand-up comics everywhere when 31 percent of the sailors on them came home expecting more than a shore leave. Shore leave has always been preceded by stern warnings about hanging out in bawdyhouses, but the new emphasis is less on what a guy might get there than what he might leave on shore (or worse, what a gal might bring back to the ship). And boastful men, the Navy says, are likely to create "a hostile environment'' for the women aboard, and that could mean trouble.

Harassment issues for the military are similar to those of civilian employers, but they're not identical. The military life not only stirs up sexual attractions between men and women thrown together for days and nights, but a barracks or a ship becomes a hothouse of sexual competition and rivalry. Soldiers fighting each other can't fight anyone else.

That's particularly true on submarines. Until now, the ban on women down below has been secure. Now that's in doubt, despite a preemptive strike last week by the House Armed Services Committee to block a recommendation by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, a civilian panel stacked with feminists. The panel wants to assign female officers to subs now, with female sailors to follow as soon as the subs can be fitted with proper female quarters. "Hot bunking,'' submariner slang for guys sharing a bunk in shifts, takes on new meaning.

Women are evacuated from ships for medical reasons (usually pregnancy) two and half times more often than men. Proportional losses on submarines would ruin combat missions and make rescues at sea far more hazardous. But, hey, maybe losing a war and getting a lot of men killed is a small price to pay for "equality'' on submarines.


05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate