Feminism Conquers America's Armed Forces

by Robert Bork

Slouching Towards Gomorrah (Regan Books, 1996), pp. 218-223.

What has happened to education at all levels is paralleled by the ongoing feminization of the military. Because of the political strength of the feminist movement, women are assigned jobs close to combat and, in some cases, placed in combat roles. The result is certain to be additional lost lives — of men as well as women — and perhaps lost battles. Feminists advance two arguments for this disastrous policy. One is that putting women in combat is crucial to women's self-esteem and to men's respect for women. That has never been true in the past and it is impossible to see why it should be true now. The other, more effective argument in today's egalitarian culture is that combat roles are important to military advancement. With that observation feminists have framed the terms of the debate as one about fairness and the equality of women.

The question of whether equality in the military is worth the loss of additional lives and the decrease in our armed forces' fighting capability has virtually been ruled out of bounds as sexist. It has been entirely ruled out of bounds within the military. The military is to be used as a means for reforming society and not exclusively as the means of defending our country and our interests around the world.

The inevitable result is that training standards are lowered, and that fact is then ferociously denied. That has apparently already cost one woman her life. Navy Lieutenant Kara Hultgreen, one of the first female fighter pilots, was killed in October of 1994 on an approach landing to a carrier ship off the coast of San Diego. As she approached the landing deck, she over-corrected a mistake and plunged into the ocean. The episode triggered another debate concerning women's roles in the military. Congresswoman Pat Schroeder and columnist Ellen Goodman seized on reports that engine failure caused the Lieutenant's death. Goodman said: "So it was the engine after all. Not the pilot. Lieut. Kara Hultgreen did not die on the altar of political correctness or reverse discrimination (41) But that is apparently precisely what did happen. Two formal investigations and a confidential Mishap Investigation Report cited "multiple instances of pilot error. The reports faulted Hultgreen's badly overshot landing approach, her excessive over-correction and then her failure to follow the standard, designated procedures for recovering from a single-engine landing emergency," which resulted in her ejecting directly into the ocean. (42) The press, by and large, refused to investigate, and almost everything reported on the case was untrue. "[W]hile the Navy was saying publicly that Hultgreen was blameless, privately it had reached a different conclusion: Pilot error, not engine failure, was the principal cause of the crash. Political expedience, however, made it unwise to say so. And the real media story ... was that so few reporters wanted to know." (43)

Lieutenant Hultgreen had failed the carrier landing phase of her training in April. Just after her failure, an admiral announced that he wanted to open combat positions to women, and it needed to be done quickly. Hultgreen took the training again, and passed. The Navy distributed a four-second video to the networks but had a twelve-second version that was passed around among present and former naval aviators, who were said to be appalled by what they saw.

Ironically, Hultgreen herself felt the pressures of militant feminism and gender quotas and wanted no part of it. On behalf of female naval aviators, she had earlier appealed to Rear Admiral Robert Hickey, saying, "Guys like you have to make sure there's only one standard. If people let me slide through on a lower standard, it's my life on the line. I could get killed." (44) Yet Hultgreen was permitted to continue although she had recorded seven crashes in combat conditions during training. That record would have grounded a male pilot. (45)

Unfortunately, those in the best position to testify on this subject, our career officers, would destroy their careers if they spoke objectively, so they are forced into silence or to repeating the feminist line. An official committee on Women's Issues headed by an admiral has recommended that "disagreement with the women-in-combat policy disqualifies officers from positions of leadership." (46)

The extent to which the armed forces have been intimidated by feminists and their allies in Congress is made clear by the case of Lt. Commander Kenneth Carkhuff. On July 26, 1994, Carkhuff's superior officer recommended him for early promotion ahead of his peers because he was an "extraordinary department head," a "superior officer in charge" with "unlimited potential ... destined for command and beyond."

Six weeks later that same superior revised Carkhuff's fitness report to downgrade him in every category and to rate his "overall performance as unsatisfactory," so that he could not recommend him for promotion or even retention in the Navy. The intervening event that caused this drastic reevaluation was that Carkhuff, in a private conversation with his commanding officer, had said that his religious views made him doubtful about putting women in combat, though those views also required him to lead women into combat if ordered by his superiors. That remark led to the revised report, which criticized him for "His inability to fully employ and impartially judge the female members of his [helicopter] unit." The superior summed matters up quite succinctly: "A bright future has been lost and otherwise superb performance completely overshadowed by this glaring, irreconcilable conflict with Navy policy." (47) Even if you are willing to lead women in combat, your thought that that might not be suitable is sufficient to end your career. The Navy's Separation Board voted to discharge the Lieutenant Commander. The Navy threw away a man of great ability and gained peace with the feminists.

With such threats hanging over their heads, it is not surprising that career officers do not speak out about the performance of women in combat positions. It is not just the Navy that has been cowed. Though it is not discussed publicly, training in the other services has been made less arduous in order to accommodate women, and problems experienced in the field go unreported. David Horowitz offers specifics: (48)

¶ "Gender norming" is now the rule at all three service academies, so that women are measured against other women, rather than against men who outperform them. ¶ The official position at West Point is that there have been no negative effects from the admission of women. But a Heritage Foundation study by Robert Knight draws on the sworn courtroom testimony of a West Point official that women cannot perform nearly as well as men and that the men's training program has, for that reason, been downgraded. For example, men are no longer required to run carrying heavy weapons because women are unable to do that. ¶ William S. Lind, former defense adviser to Gary Hart, testified to the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces that the Army has not released detailed information on problems with female troops during the battle with the Iraqis. Pregnancies due to sex during the preceding phase, Desert Shield, was the primary reason the non-deployability rate of women was many times higher than that of men when the troops were called to battle in Desert Storm. ¶ Three "top gun" flight commanders had their careers destroyed because they were present at or performed in the Tom Cat Follies, which included a rhyme denigrating Pat Schroeder. President Bush and Vice President Quayle were also lampooned, but only parodying a fiercely feminist congresswoman was considered a grave offense. (49)

In physical fitness tests, very few women could do even one pull-up, so the Air Force Academy gave credit for the amount of time they could hang on the bar. Female cadets averaged almost four times as many visits to the medical clinic as male cadets. At West Point, the female cadets' injury rate in field training was fourteen times that of the men, and 61 percent of women failed the complete physical test, compared to 4.8 percent of men. During Army basic training, women broke down in tears, particularly on the rifle range. (50)

Since Desert Storm's pregnancy problems, it has been reported that Navy ships have had to be recalled from missions because of the pregnancy of female sailors. A male and a female sailor on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, both married to others, videotaped themselves having sex in a remote part of the ship. There had been thirty-eight pregnancies since the crew went aboard the Eisenhower, fourteen of them after the ship was deployed. The Navy said there was no indication that any of the pregnancies resulted from sex on board the ship. (51) Those who wish to may believe that. Only someone who has never been with troops could not anticipate this result or fail to realize that it will be a major problem forever. The troops in question are very young, at an age when their hormones are, to put it mildly, fiercely insistent.

Effects on morale can be particularly adverse. The presence of women among male troops weakens combat readiness. All-male units in the field experience bonding that enhances unit cohesion and effectiveness. When women are introduced, men stop relating to each other and begin trying to attract the women. Nor can morale be improved when accusations of harassment are always a threat. Male officers leave the office door open or have a third person in the room when dealing with a female subordinate. An accusation of sexual harassment by the woman, even if unproven, would severely damage the man's service career, and both the man and the woman are acutely aware of that fact. They could hardly not be sensitive to the issue when, for example, Representative Pat Schroeder demanded and got sexual harassment training for all personnel in order to rid the Navy of bad attitudes.

The Israelis and Soviets, when in desperate need of front-line troops, placed women in combat, but later barred them. Male troops forgot their tactical objectives in order to protect the women from harm or capture, knowing what the enemy would do to female prisoners of war. This made combat units less effective and exposed the men to even greater risks. In the Gulf War a female American pilot was captured, raped, and sodomized by Iraqi troops. She declared that this was just part of combat risk. But can anyone suppose that male pilots will not now divert their efforts to protecting female pilots whenever possible?

Our military seems quite aware of such dangers, but, because of the feminists, it would be politically dangerous to respond as the Israelis did by taking women out of harm's way. Instead, the American solution is to try to stifle the natural reactions of men. The Air Force, for example, established a mock prisoner of war camp to desensitize male recruits so they won't react like men when women prisoners scream under torture. (52) There is a very considerable anomaly here. The military is training men to be more sensitive to women in order to prevent sexual harassment and also training men to be insensitive to women being raped and sodomized or screaming under torture. It is impossible to believe that both efforts can succeed simultaneously.

It is clear that mindless feminist ideology is inflicting enormous damage on the readiness and fighting capability of the armed forces of the United States. Every other career is open to women. There is no reason why access to combat roles, for which they are not suited, has to be open as well. But political intimidation by radical feminists is so powerful that there seems little prospect that the continuing feminization of the U.S. military can be reversed. At least not until some engagements are lost, or won at unacceptably high costs, and women and the men who tried to protect them begin coming back in great numbers in body bags.


41. John Corry, "The Death of Kara Hultgreen," The American Spectator, June 1995, p. 40.

42. Robert J. Caldwell, "Navy files cast doubt on gender neutral," San Diego Union-Tribune, May 14, 1995, p. G1.

43. Corry, p. 40.

44. K. L. Billingsley, "Dancing with the Elephant," Heterodoxy, March/April 1995, p. 12

45. Much of this material is taken from Billingsley, "Dancing with the Elephant" and K.L. Billingsley, "Feminist Forced March," Heterodoxy, June 1995, pp. 1, 13.

46. Cal Thomas, "Navy's thought police," World, June 17/24, 1995, p. 17.

47. Ibid.

48. David Horowitz, The Feminist Assault on the Military, Center for the Study of Popular Culture, Studio City, CA, 1992, pp. 21-3.

49. Ibid., p. 16.

50. Billingsley, "Feminist Forced March," pp. 9-10.

51. Dana Priest, "Navy Punishes Two for Sex Aboard Ship," Washington Post, February 19, 1995, p. Al3.

52. Horowitz, The Feminist Assault on the Military. Testimony before the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces also claimed that the military is desensitizing male soldiers to screams of women prisoners being tortured. "Major Mom," World, September 26, 1992, p.7.