From the November 1979 Washingtonian
We would go months without bathing, except when we could stand naked among each other next to a village well or in a stream or in the muddy water of a bomb crater. It was nothing to begin walking at midnight, laden with packs and weapons and ammunition and supplies, seventy pounds or more of gear, and still be walking when the sun broke over mud-slick paddies that had sucked our boots all night. We carried our own gear and when we took casualties we carried the weapons of those who had been hit.
When we stopped moving we started digging, furiously throwing out the heavy soil until we had made chest-deep fighting holes. When we needed to make a call of nature we squatted off a trail or straddled a slit trench that had been dug between fighting holes, always by necessity in public view. We slept in makeshift hooches made out of ponchos, or simply wrapped up in a poncho, sometimes so exhausted that we did not feel the rain fall on our own faces. Most of us caught hookworm, dysentery, malaria, or yaws, and some of us had all of them.
We became vicious and aggressive and debased, and reveled in it, because combat is all of those things and we were surviving. I once woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of one of my machinegunners stabbing an already-dead enemy soldier, emptying his fear and frustrations into the corpse’s chest. I watched another of my men, a wholesome Midwest boy, yank the trousers off a dead woman while under fire, just to see if he really remembered what it looked like.
We killed and bled and suffered and died in a way that Washington society, which seems to view service in the combat arms as something akin to a commute to the Pentagon, will never comprehend. And our mission, once all the rhetoric was stripped away, was organized mayhem, with emphasis on both words. For it is organization and leadership, as well as the interdependence sometimes called camaraderie, that sustain a person through such a scarring experience as fighting a war.
This is the only country in the world where women are being pushed toward the battlefield. The United States also has one of the most alarming rates of male-to-female violence in the world: Rapes increased 230 percent from 1967 to 1977 and the much-publicized wife-beating problem cuts across socioeconomic lines.
These are not separate issues, either politically or philosophically. They are visible peaks in what has become a vast bog. They are telling us something about the price we are paying, in folly on the one hand and in tragedy on the other, for the realignment of sexual roles.
Lest I be understood too quickly, I should say that I believe most of what has happened over the past decade in the name of sexual equality has been good. It is good to see women doctors and lawyers and executives. I can visualize a woman President. If I were British, I would have supported Margaret Thatcher. But no benefit to anyone can come from women serving in combat.
The function of combat is not merely to perpetrate violence, but to perpetrate violence on command, instantaneously and reflexively.The function of the service academies is to prepare men for leadership positions where they may someday exercise that command. All of the other accomplishments that Naval Academy or West Point or Air Force Academy graduates may claim in government or business or diplomacy are incidental to that clearly defined combat mission.
American taxpayers dip into their pockets to pay $100,000 for every Naval Academy graduate. They are buying combat leaders, men with a sense of country who have developed such intangibles as force, clarity of thought, presence, and the ability to lead by example, who have lived under stress for years and are capable of functioning under intense pressure. When war comes and the troops move out, our citizens can assume that the academies have provided a nucleus of combat leaders who can carry this country on their backs.
Other officer programs are capable of producing combat leaders, but the academies have traditionally guaranteed it, made it their reason for existence. Forty percent of West Point’s class of 1943 died in World War II and ten percent of the class of 1966 died in Vietnam. The POW camps of North Vietnam were packed with Air Force and Naval Academy graduates. The six midshipmen in my Naval Academy class of 1968 who served as liaisons between the Marine Corps and the Brigade of Midshipmen later suffered nine Purple Hearts in Vietnam, and one man killed in action. As Douglas MacArthur said in his “Long Gray Line” speech to the West Point graduating class of 1962, “Your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable— it is to win our wars. Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes . . . will find others for their accomplishment; but you are the ones who are trained to fight; yours is the profession of arms.”
So it had been at the military academies since they were established — West Point in 1802, the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845, the Air Force Academy in 1954— and so it would have continued to be had not Public Law 94-106, passed in 1975. decreed that women be brought into this quintessentially male world.
There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat. And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation. By attempting to sexually sterilize the Naval Academy environment in the name of equality, this country has sterilized the whole process of combat leadership training, and our military forces are doomed to suffer the consequences.
Civilian political control over the military is a good principle, but too many people, especially those involved in the political process, have lost their understanding of what that principle means. The classic example of a military force beyond control of its country’s political system occurred during World War II in the Japanese Imperial Army, which took over Manchuria on its own initiative and informed the Japanese government after it had done so. The Japanese military machine was exercising its own judgment, not that of its nation. In attempting to avoid this extreme, the United States is dangerously near falling into the World War II German pratfall: a military system so paralyzed in every detail by the politcal process that it ceases to be able to control even its internal policies.
Civilian arrogance permeates our government, and during my two years on Capitol Hill was particularly strong on the staffs of the “consistent dissenters” of the Armed Services Committee. It was bad enough when the Vietnam war was being fought from Washington, DC. It was worse when McNamara and his whiz kids began social experimentation by instituting “Project 100,000,” whereupon 100,000 borderline intellects were dumped into the military, and the military was then faulted for having failed to make them good soldiers (Harvard and Yale at that time having decided to sit out the war, and Johnson choosing to go after the mental rejects rather than the deferred leaders of tomorrow). But it has become absolutely intolerable during the 1970s. The military has a politician’s toy, a way to accommodate interest groups without losing political support in the home district. a test tube for social experimentation.
Nowhere is this more of a problem than in the area of women’s political issues. Equal-opportunity specialists, women’s rights advocates, and certain members of Congress have prided themselves on the areas of the military they have “opened up” to women. The Carter administration has come out in favor of “allowing” women to go into combat. These advocates march under the banner of equal opportunity.
Equal opportunity for what? They should first understand that they would not be “opening up” the combat arms for those few women who might now want to serve in them, but rather would be forcing American womanhood into those areas, en masse, should a future mobilization occur.
The United States is the only country of any size on earth where the prospect of women serving in combat is being seriously considered. Even Israel, which continually operates under near-total mobilization requirements, does not subject its women to combat or combat-related duty. Although some 55 percent of Israeli women— as opposed to 95 percent of the men— serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, the women have administrative and technical jobs that require little or no training.
Their military function is to free the men to fight. According to a recent article by Cecile Landrum, a US Air Force manpower analyst, Israeli women conscripts train for three and a half weeks with only a minimal amount of that time dedicated to the handling of weapons. Israel has terminated flight training for women, reversing an earlier policy. When three Israeli women soldiers were killed during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the nation went into shock. As Congressman Sonny Montgomery noted after a visit military units, “When they go into combat, the women move to the rear.”
Why? Because men fight better. We can try to intellectualize that reality away, and layer it with debates on role conditioning versus natural traits, but it manifests itself in so many ways that it becomes foolish to deny it. When the layerings of centuries of societal development are stripped away, a basic human truth remains: Man must be more aggressive in order to perpetuate the human race. Women don’t rape men, and it has nothing to do, obviously, with socially induced differences. As Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin observe in The Psychology of Sex of Differences, man’s greater aggressiveness “is one of the best established, and most pervasive of all psychological sex differences.”
Man is more naturally violent than woman. Four times as many men are involved in homicides as women. You might not pick this up in K Street law offices or in the halls of Congress, but once you enter the areas of this country where more typical Americans dwell, the areas that provide the men who make up our combat units, it becomes obvious. Inside the truck stops and in the honky-tonks, down on the street and in the coal towns, American men are tough and violent. When they are lured or drafted from their homes and put through the dehumanization of boot camp, then thrown into an operating combat unit, they don’t get any nicer, either. And I have never met a woman, including the dozens of female midshipmen I encountered during my recent semester as a professor at the Naval Academy, whom I would trust to provide those men with combat leadership.
Furthermore, men fight better without women around. Men treat women differently than they do men, and vice versa. Part of this is induced by society (for the tendency to want to help women who are, more often than not, physically weaker), and part is innate (the desire to pair off and have sexual relations). These tendencies can be controlled in an eight-hour workday, but cannot be suppressed in a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week combat situation. Introducing women into combat units would greatly confuse an already confusing environment and would lessen the aggressive tendencies of the units, as many aggressions would be directed inward, toward sex. rather than outward, toward violence. A close look at what has happened at the Naval Academy itself during the three years women have attended that institution is testimony to this.
What are the advantages to us, as a society, of having women in combat units? I don’t know of any. Some say that coming manpower shortages might mandate it, but this country has never come close to full mobilization, and we are nowhere near that now. During World War II, 16 million men wore the uniform. Today, the active-duty strength of the US military is only 2 million people, out of a much larger group of eligible citizens. Furthermore, bringing women into the military does not mandate bringing them into combat.
Some say men and women have a duty to share our country’s burdens equally, that it is sex discrimination to require only men to fight. But history has shown the wisdom of this distinction, and the Israelis, who must do more than merely intellectualize about such possibilities, demonstrate its currency. Equal does not mean the same. Any logical proposition— sexual equality— can be carried to a ridiculous extreme— women should fight alongside men.
If Congress had considered these realities when it debated whether to open the service academies to women, and approached this as a national defense rather a women’s issue, it may have voted differently.
Two thirds of the House of Representatives voted for the measure, which appeared as a rider to the 1975 Defense Appropriations Bill. Those who argued favor of the proposal dismissed the notion of women in combat, and instead maintained that the issue was mere sexual equality. Congressman Samuel of New York, who proposed the amendment, downplayed the prospect of women in combat billets, claiming it was irrelevant: “It’s just a simple matter of equality. . . . All we need is to establish the basic legislative policy that we wish to remove sex discrimination when it comes to admissions to the service academies.” Stratton’s key statistic in establishing that the academies did not “train officers exclusively for combat” was that “only” 90 percent of current Academy graduates had served in a combat assignment.
That is a fascinating statistic to have been used on Stratton’s side of the debate. The key point is not that 90 percent of the Academy graduates to that time had served in a assignment, but that 100 percent had been equipped to do so, physically, mentally, and emotionally. By way of analogy, I would estimate that something less than 90 percent of my classmates in law school went out and practiced law, but that did not detract from the training they received, and I don’t see many law schools deciding to add theology or journalism to their curriculum to accommodate the others.
So how do you teach combat leadership? You don’t do it with a textbook; you do it by creating a stress environment. My academic education at the Naval Academy always took a backseat to my military education. During our first year, I and my classmates were regularly tested and abused inside Bancroft Hall, our living spaces. We were pushed deep inside ourselves for that entire year, punished physically and mentally, stressed to the point that virtually every one of us completely broke down at least once. And when we finished our first year, we carried out the same form of abuse on other entering classes. That was the plebe system. It was harsh and cruel. It was designed to produce a man who would be able to be an effective leader in combat, to endure prisoner-of-war camps, to fight this country’s wars with skill and tenacity. And it is all but gone.
They still call it Plebe Year at the Naval Academy. Freshmen still have to memorize certain facts called “plebe rates”and still have to call the upperclass “sir.” But there it ends. Now you cannot physically punish a plebe. You cannot unduly harass a plebe. God forbid that you should use abusive language to a plebe. Plebes do not “brace up” in the mess hall or in the corridors of Bancroft Hall. It is now a punishment, limited to fifteen minutes maximum, to require plebes to do what they once did as a basic activity for a year: stand at attention.
“I like women at the Academy,” one of my classmates who is still on active duty told me recently. “They’ve brought a measure of . . . refinement to the place.”
If there was one thing that was irrelevant to preparation for combat it was refinement, and if there was one thing that helped my combat preparation it was plebe year. I broke down plebe year. We all did. I went around to an upperclassman once with three M-1 rifles and held them in front of me all 33 pounds until it was physically impossible to do so. Then I held two, straight in front of me, straining until my arms hit my knees. Then one. Then seven books. Then six, five, four, three, two, one. Then a pencil. Then a toothpick, as the upperclassman gathered his friends and they surrounded me, talking about the irrelevance of pain as the toothpick hit my knees, demanding answers to questions, imploring me to resign and go home. The next night, after physically running me to exhaustion, he and three others took turns beating me with a cricket bat, telling me they would stop if I admitted it hurt. Finally they broke the bat on my ass. I returned to my room and stuck my head inside my laundry bag and cried for fifteen minutes, standing in the closet so my roommates wouldn’t see me. I hated the upperclass and I hated the Academy. But I had reached a place deep inside myself, and when I got up at 5:30 the next morning and began preparing to enter that man’s room yet another time, I knew something about myself that I could never have learned in any other way.
That may seem a sadistic and barbaric way to learn self-truths, and I would not suggest a reinstatement of plebe year to that extreme, but I will say this: When I watched 51 of my men become casualties over seven weeks in Vietnam, and when I sat down next to number 51and cried like a baby, I’d been there before. It was a lot easier to pick up and keep going, and by then I was not merely Jim Webb, plebe, trying to survive a morning of a malicious upperclassman; I was a Marine platoon commander.
I don’t see anything at the Naval Academy anymore that can take a person deep inside himself.
I see refinement. I see an overemphasis on academics at the expense of leadership. Harvard and Georgetown and a plethora of other institutions can turn out technicians and intellectuals en masse; only the service academies have been able to turn out combat leaders en masse, and they have stopped doing so.
The implements are there, as they always have been. Midshipmen and cadets remain stronger and more aggressive than their male counterparts at civilian schools. A few days of exposure to Academy routine will convince any skeptic of this. Midshipmen and cadets love contact sports; nearly every mid and cadet is an athlete. They play the traditional sports and they eagerly play others such as rugby, boxing. karate, lacrosse, and fieldball. They drive fast cars, usually sports cars. They play hard. They drink hard. They are physical, often comically abusive among each other. They are not trying to prove their manhood; they are celebrating their masculinity. They are competitive, often vulgar, and tough, and every citizen who may someday send a friend or relative into war should rejoice that these future professionals develop and retain such qualities, because combat is competitive, vulgar, and tough, and they will be leading men in combat.
The men are essentially the same; it is the institution that has changed. It has changed primarily because of female midshipmen, for the same reasons women would adulterate the performance of combat units themselves. Externally looking in, the system has been objectified and neutered to the point it can no longer develop or measure leadership. Internally, sexual attractions and simple differences in treatment based on sex have created resentments and taken away much of the institution’s sense of mission.
Not long ago, Richard Gabriel and Paul Savage, two former Army officers, wrote the book Crisis in Command, examining the deterioration of Army leadership following World War II. The book had many flaws, but nonetheless struck at the jugular vein: that the American military attempted to employ corporate management techniques in essentially military situations, and as a result was predestined to have many of the leadership problems that became manifest in Vietnam, regardless of the political difficulties of the war. Management is not leadership. Management can be approached as an academic discipline; one can be taught to analyze data, to weigh alternatives, and to make a decision. Leadership is something else. It is a subjective chemistry filled with human variables. It takes more than the ability to analyze data to make a leader; one must be able to motivate those who are being led, to reach their emotions through command presence, force, and example. It is much easier to educate a manager than to develop a leader.
Rather than react to this crucial distinction, the academies seem bent on perpetuating the crisis. On the one hand, plebe year has been eviscerated. As an example of how far stress indoctrination has deteriorated, one first-classman I spoke to was reprimanded by his company commander during the first week of academic year, traditionally the most rigorous week of the entire year for plebes, because he had “upset” a female plebe. After having corrected her table manners numerous times with no success, the upperclassman ordered her to eat with oversize utensils at the next meal, a ridiculously mild sanction. The woman returned to her room and wept in anticipation of her embarrassment at the coming meal, and her roommate then went to the company commander and protested such maltreatment. The upperclassman was told to stop harassing her. If this series of events had occurred in an all-male Academy, both plebes would have been disciplined rather than the upperclassman.
On the other hand, leadership evaluations have become sterilized, thrown over to tangible measurements that “protect” women from possible bias. Until women came to the Naval Academy, midshipmen wrote “peer evaluations” on their classmates. This was an important measurement of leadership ability, one that our leadership instructors claimed was the most accurate measurement of leadership attributes in a closed environment such as the Academy. This anonymous and accurate evaluation process erected a buffer against the officers selecting out their favorites from above and pushing them for “stripes,” or high leadership positions. It never to my knowledge boomeranged against minorities a black man was brigade commander in the class of 1970. But Academy officials feared it would harm women.
The upshot has been that a lack of peer evaluations has favored women, made the leadership selection process capable of penetration by officer staff, and caused a heavier reliance on tangibles such as academics rather than the intangibilities of true leadership. Male midshipmen universally complain that a female with good grades and a modicum of professionalism will be “groomed” for stripes by the officers.
If academics were the test of leadership, Albert Einstein, who couldn’t even work a yo-yo, would have been a general, and George Catlett Marshall, who graduated last in his class academically at VMI, but first in leadership, would have been a clerk. Yet this is the direction leadership evaluations have taken at the Academy. Academics are objective and tangible. Traditional leadership measurements are subjective, capable of discrimination, and thus not to be trusted.
The whole world awaits an outcome that will show whether women can compete for leadership positions with men in the traditionally grueling Academy routine. This year, as women become seniors for the first time, the whole world will see women in high “striper” positions, possibly even that of brigade commander. What the whole world may not know is that women did not attain these positions in the same way that men historically have, and that not one midshipman out of hundreds I talked to, either male or female, actually believes that women will ever be accepted as comrades, in the traditional sense, by the men.
Women will not be leading men inside the brigade this year. They will be managing, buttressed by the officers who hurried them along. And the morale of the brigade will demonstrate this distinction far better than this article ever could.
From the inside looking out, all the problems I mentioned as probabilities if women were introduced into combat units have already surfaced at the Naval Academy. Men and women are different, they treat each other differently, and the ramifications of this different treatment permeate every aspect of the brigade. It is one thing to sexually sterilize a work environment during an eight-hour day. It is quite another to do so in a closed environment where males and females engage in forced interaction on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week.
Captain Jack Darby, the recently departed commandant of midshipmen, frequently mentioned that there had been only three cases of sexual fraternization in the three years women had been midshipmen. While there have been only three major conduct offenses of this sort, it is no secret that sex is commonplace in Bancroft Hall. The Hall, which houses 4,000 males and 300 females, is a horny woman’s dream. Virtually every female midshipman who dates is seeing either a male midshipman or a recent graduate. Of the 25 women who have left the class of 1980 since induction day, 20 are married to former midshipmen. While this is a natural human phenomenon, it gets in the way of military indoctrination, and creates a very real resentment among males due to the evolution of a double standard of discipline. Furthermore, it is scarring many women in ways they may not comprehend for years.
Courage comes in many forms. And today at the Naval Academy, courage sometimes means simply stating your opinion when it varies from prescribed policy.
The 55 women of the class of 1980, the first class with women, assumed striper positions last July. Journalists have descended on Annapolis from all over the world to cover this historic first. Their stories have had all the subtlety of a 1950 “Men of Annapolis” television show. A reporter spends one day at the Academy and watches a real, live woman first-classman brace up a real, live male plebe, then returns to the typewriter and proclaims that the system is working.
Female midshipmen are interviewed like movie stars. I would not be surprised if Liz Belzer, who commanded the plebe summer program for half of its duration, has given two dozen interviews this year. But if a male midshipman, during an infrequent interview, states a personal opinion about women that varies from official policy, his Naval Academy education could be on the line.
The Washington Post ran a front-page feature story last July that lionized one female midshipman, showing a picture of her bracing up a plebe. Late in the article, the reporter quoted two male midshipmen who had mentioned, while drinking in a bar, that they thought the presence of women at the Academy was debilitating, and that the women midshipmen were not of particularly good officer potential.
The two men were severely reprimanded for stating their beliefs. Both were invited to resign from the Academy, and one man did leave the summer detail program. I ate dinner in the mess hall that night with a plebe summer squad. As I watched the so-called indoctrination on the mess-hall tables, several first-classmen stopped to speak of their disgust both for the article and for the treatment their classmates had received. None would speak for attribution, however. The system had scared them silent.
I do not understand such censorship. It is as if one statement of dissent left unrepudiated might beget a tidal wave of agreement. From my conversations, I would estimate that easily two thirds of the males in the brigade, with political philosophies that run the entire gamut, believe women should not be at the Academy. Why should they not be allowed to say so, and to say so without fear of retribution? A citizen does not give up his First Amendment right to free speech when he puts on a military uniform, with small exceptions. And the presence of women at the Naval Academy hardly constitutes an exception.
“I’m in a continual state of anxiety about this.” Brad Taisey is muscular and lean, a former enlisted Marine who has done exceptionally well at the Academy. Taisey talks though. He is intense and direct, the kind of man I would want commanding one of my platoons if I were to take a company into combat again. “I’ve been enlisted. I know what a good leader can do to it. There isn’t a woman here who’s a military leader. Most of the midshipmen around here have only seen the Academy. They can only guess. I know. But what can I do about it? And look what it’s done to this place. The word came down not to shout at the plebes anymore. Treat them with courtesy, they said. Yeah. You ask the enemy to do that in the next war, too.”
Taisey served as Liz Belzer’s subcommander on the plebe detail last summer. When he was initially assigned the position, he attempted to resign from the detail, which is a voluntary program. Taisey claimed that Belzer’s appointment was political, and said that he wanted no part of it. His resignation was rejected.
“It was a token staff, from the word go. Belzer was the token woman, I was the token ex-enlisted Marine, we had a token ex-enlisted sailor, a token black, and a token high-school product. That’s just the way it is now.”
Taisey and Belzer argued frequently over the summer about women at the Academy. When the detail was over, Belzer marked Taisey deficient in a number of areas, giving him two Ds on his leadership evaluation. Taisey, who had an exemplary two-year enlisted career and is currently ranked first out of thirty midshipmen inside his own company, is amazed. “I’m going to frame the evaluation. She wrote that I would have scored higher if I could have gotten along better with women. Can you imagine what would have happened if things had been reversed, and I had written a chit like that on her for not being able to get along with men?”
Taisey is representative of, if perhaps more outspoken than, the majority of the men I talked to at the Academy. In fact, the men from the class of 1980 might have a theme song, I heard the quote so often: “I’d much rather have been in the last class with balls than the first class with women.”
Taisey’s objections are capsulized simply enough. “I used to look at officers who were Academy graduates and say, ‘That man has been through hell. He’s earned the right to lead me.’ It’s not true anymore. The whole place has been pulled down to the level of the women, and the most important area is grades.”
Don Burlingham is not as intense as Taisey. “I want to say this just right,” he began as we talked. He is a cautious man, who like Taisey has done extremely well at the Academy. He chooses his words carefully, and made clear his support of many of the goals of the women’s movement. “It just doesn’t work here, that’s all. I could see it from the first few weeks of plebe summer. All summer we were lectured about the high standards we were expected to meet. Our squad leaders talked about honor, performance, and accountability. Then before you knew it, they were going after the women plebes, sneaking some of them away on weekends. How can you indoctrinate the women when you’re breaking regulations to date them? And how can you indoctrinate the women when you’re doing these sorts of things? The attitude I’ve seen and practiced is turn the other cheek and bide my time until I can get back into the real military.”
Burlingham is aware of the many inequities that relate to a double standard discipline. “A male and female were convicted of the same honor offense at the same time. The man was thrown out. The woman was put on probation. That sort of thing has happened several times. It’s almost impossible for a woman to be thrown out of here.
“The problem,” notes Burlingham, “is that it’s affected attitudes, and it will eventually affect our whole military. I’m not resentful of the women; I’m worried about the country.”
So is Jeff Bush. A former enlisted Marine like Taisey, Bush spent time as a corporal with the elite First Reconnaissance battalion, and plans to return to the Corps upon graduation. But much of the Academy routine rolls off Bush’s back. “I don’t get too excited about much around here anymore. The place has lost a lot of its spark for me.”
One thing Bush does get excited about, however, is the way he perceives women being forced down the brigade’s throat. “When I first heard women were going to come, I didn’t care that much. I was curious, if anything. I was a little worried that they might not get a chance to prove themselves. But it’s been the other way around. The Academy has used a lot of pressure to establish women as stripers. Women are groomed from the plebe year. The scary thing is that it’s creating a presumption that women can command troops. I’m not kidding— there isn’t a woman here who could have handled the platoon I was in when I was enlisted. The whole thing has become like a fairy tale. And it’s the operating military that’s in for the biggest hurt.”
Jeff McFadden, a wide-shouldered, broken-nosed Irishman who served as the deputy brigade commander for the recently graduated class of 1979, sees it from a different perspective altogether. McFadden, who is currently at Nuclear Power school preparing to become a submariner, spent the greater part of his senior year as a prestigious Trident scholar, studying the notions of chivalry and the military officer. He is an encyclopedia of information on what makes combat units function, on good leadership and bad leadership, and especially on the special chemistry of camaraderie, the bonding agent of men under arms. And McFadden, like many of his classmates in ’79 who watched the Naval Academy change with the addition of women, believes the institution is dying, and with it a part of our culture as a whole.
“Historically,” notes McFadden, “the academies and a few other areas of the military— Marine Corps boot camp, airborne training— have provided a ritualistic rite of passage into manhood. It was one small area of our society that was totally male. Women now have a full range of choice, from the totally female— motherhood— to what was once the totally male— the academies, for example. Males in the society feel stripped, symbolically and actually. I wonder if that doesn’t tie into the increase in rapes over the past decade. Rape is a crime of revenge, not passion. In any event, the real question isn’t the women. The real question is this: Where in this country can someone go to find out if he is a man? And where can someone who knows he is a man go to celebrate his masculinity? Is that important on a societal level? I think it is.”
What of the women themselves? There are now about 300 female midshipmen at the Naval Academy, surrounded by some 4,000 males. The women wear men’s clothes, with slight variations. They live in a closed, pressurized environment where they are outnumbered almost fifteen to one by men, 24 hours a day. They are emerging into womanhood almost alone, in an isolation that resembles a tour of duty on a desert island. They study a man’s profession, learn the deeds of men, accept men as role models. They seem spirited but confused, tolerated but never accepted. They are for the most part delightful women, trusting and ambitious and capable in many ways, and I admire them, more for who they are than for what they are doing. As for what they are doing, it would be unfair not to mention that no other group of women in this country has ever undergone such a prolonged regimen, however watered down. But I cannot escape a feeling that even the women are losing, that someday they will come to believe they lost more than they gained inside those walls.
It is a delicate balance for any Academy graduate, looking back on those four years and measuring what he received in return for pouring every last hot ounce of his youth into Annapolis. But part of the price, until now, has never been sexual identity.
I have a recurring vision when I watch these women on the Academy grounds in their sterile uniforms, making their way into adulthood inside a harsh, isolated man’s world. I see them ten or twenty years from now, finally deciding that they did indeed lose something, something more intangible than mere femininity, which many of them yet retain. Perhaps it is something as simple as having had to find their womanhood inside a world of men, studying men’s deeds, learning a man’s profession, suffering taunts from men who feel they are invading a totally masculine world.
“I have never before had so few friends,” wrote one woman, a high-school beauty queen, in a lengthy paper written last year for an Academy psychology class. “Nor have I ever before had to prove my worthiness as a human being so many times. . . . Being a woman midshipman has made me doubt my usefulness, not only to the service, but to society as well. . . . I am tired of being different.”
Another woman, tall and reserved, commented that men she does not know frequently come up to her and tell her, “You don’t belong here, did you know that? Why don’t you leave?”
“I tell them, ‘That’s tough. I’m here.’ ” In her next breath she speaks of wanting to wear the same hat that males wear. “I’m a midshipman, not a midshipwoman. I am the same. I’m tired of sticking out.”
Many women appear to be having problems with their sexuality. Part of it comes from male scrutiny: What kind of a woman would seek out the Academy routine? Another part comes from the daily environment, which cannot help but create self-doubts and uncertainties. Part of it comes from what is left of the plebe system, which is designed to unsettle a person’s self-image, and has the potential of cutting deeper into women, who are traditionally not verbally abused by males in our society.
It is easy to say these women are pioneers who are breaking barriers, moving along the fabled cutting edge of social change, and perhaps they are, and I hope that sustains them. But there is a cost, and they, along with society and the men, are paying the price.
During the 1975 congressional debate on the amendment that allowed women to attend the service academies, one congressman offered a substitute amendment that would have required the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study on establishing a separate academy purely for women. Under this plan, one academy could train women to be commissioned in all of the services, much as Britain’s Sandhurst does for men. The substitute amendment failed on the “yeas and nays,” without a recorded vote. Perhaps, given the years of experimenting with the ideas that prevailed on that day, it is time Congress reconsidered, and mandated the Secretary to undertake his study.
The female midshipmen I interviewed unanimously resisted this possibility, claiming that it would not prepare them for leadership positions over men. My reaction is twofold: First, the present situation is not preparing anyone adequately for leadership positions over men in the combat arms, and second, all-male schools, such as the academies used to be, did not seem to hamper leadership preparations for those other areas in which men and women serve together.
What are the other alternatives? We could stop allowing women to attend the academies at all. ROTC scholarships and OCS appointments would remain available to women, as would career opportunities short of combat roles. Or, if it is the consensus of Congress that the service academies no longer perform their historic function of preparing men to lead in combat, but are now primarily mere academic institutions, it would be logical and cost-effective to close them down. If the taxpayers, now spending $100,000 for each Academy graduate, want simply to buy a brain with military training, they can purchase that combination through an expanded ROTC program at a fraction of the cost. I don’t recommend this alternative, but then, I view the academies quite differently than two thirds of the Congress did in 1975.
Command interest is growing in the operating military with respect to women problems. The commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert H. Barrow, is reportedly deeply disturbed over the effect of sexual mixing in Marine Corps training programs. For instance, all the symptoms that are manifest at the Naval Academy also exist in the Officers Basic School at Quantico: the loss of camaraderie, the trivialization of combat preparation, the reduction of physical standards, and the elimination of peer evaluations in leadership markings. Barrow is said to believe this directly affects the evaluation of future combat officers, and thus the ability of the combat arms to perform.
Barrow should know. He is the only combat veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam now serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is one of the most decorated Marines in history, a campaigner who led guerrilla troops in central China, a rifle company during the Chosin Reservoir breakout in Korea, and an infantry regiment in Vietnam, where he was known as one of the few “fighting colonels.”
I told this to a woman friend of mine, a law school classmate who is now an attorney in Washington and with whom I frequently discuss sexual roles. She was unimpressed with Barrow’s credentials.
She wanted to know what he knew about women.