Should Women Be Assigned to Combat Duty?

by Rebecca Doran / June 2005 issue of Socialist Action



In May, The House Armed Services Committee, in a 61-1 vote, approved  a bill that would set Defense Department policy and spending plans for the upcoming budget year. The bill envisions creating a $50 billion fund for conflicts in the upcoming year; however, it provides no money for it. The measure also calls for increasing the military by 10,000 Army soldiers and

1000 Marines.


The most controversial provision in the bill is language that would allow the Pentagon to reinforce the current restrictions on the roll of women in the

military. It would put into law a Pentagon policy from 1994 that prohibits female troops in all four service branches from serving in units below brigade level

whose primary mission is direct ground combat.


This section is an amendment from language that would have placed a sweeping ban on women in combat support and service units. Instead, the provision now puts forward the Pentagon’s policy barring women from

direct ground combat operations. It also creates a policy that would require the Pentagon to obtain congressional approval before opening additional

military jobs to women.


On May 22, on the ABC-TV program, “This Week,” Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of the House Armed Services Committee supported the gender restrictions. He stated, “I think one of the marks of civilization is we have not had our women in direct ground combat. In fact, we have decried the enemy when they have pushed women into the frontlines and into combat situations, and utilized women to attack combat forces. We have said that is wrong. That is not something that civilized nations do.”


Democrats on the committee opposed the women-in-combat language, saying it would tie the hands of commanders who need flexibility during wartime. Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) echoed the sentiments of other

Democrats and some Republicans when he said, “We did not want to limit the role of women or deny what they have done so well.”


Neither one of the ruling-class parties has any qualms about sending the young men of this country into a bloody and unjust war. The majority of Republicans

state gallantly that they would exempt women from combat, while the Democrats prefer to shove both sexes headlong into the slaughter.


The Democrats’ argument in favor of women in combat offers a direct glimpse into the program of the party supposed by some to be antiwar and pro-feminist. Under the counterfeit banner of democracy, the Democratic

Party arrogantly stands on the ashes of the feminist movement’s gains. They argue for poor and working-class women’s equality, not on critical social

or labor issues, but on the deadly frontlines of a bloody, racist war.


Discrimination in the military must be barred, but not in defense of imperialist war. The true mark of “civilization” (in Rep. Hunter’s words) is neither a

patriarchal society that treats women as the weaker, inferior sex nor a society that indiscriminately wages war and throws its women into the frontlines of a

blood-soaked arena.


“It is said that the level of culture is best characterized by the legal status of woman. There is a grain of profound truth in this saying. From this point of view, only the dictatorship of the proletariat, only the socialist state, could achieve and did achieve a higher level of culture,” said V.I. Lenin in his 1920 article, “On International Women’s Day.”


The October 1917 Revolution granted Russian women full civil, legal, and electoral equality. In return, Russian women played significant roles during the

Civil War, which was fought to save revolutionary Russia from collapsing once again into capitalist barbarism. Russian women fought on every front, and

with every weapon.


The most famous of the Russian women warriors was the great Bolshevik writer and poet, Larissa Reissner. In Leon Trotsky’s autobiography, “My Life,” he wrote fondly of Reissner: “This fine young woman flashed across the revolutionary sky like a burning meteor, blinding many. With her appearance of an Olympian goddess, she combined a subtle and ironical mind and the courage of a warrior.”


Larissa Reissner fought in the front lines in the battle between the Red and White armies. In the biography, “Larissa Reissner” by Cathy Porter, she

outlines Reissner’s battles on the Kama, a tributary of the Volga:


“Larissa Reissner sailed up the Kama on the flotilla’s warships and destroyers. Traveling mainly by night, she fought as scout, commissar and flag-secretary in

fierce and daily battles for the capture of Chistopol, Elabuga and Sarapul.”


Stories of Reissner’s fearlessness have been told from fighters on the flagship-destroyer Karl Liebknecht, on which Reissner sailed. They recalled Reissner clandestinely boarding a White ship to try to persuade them to capitulate. Another story has Reissner on a torpedo boat with Trotsky in which they aimed their artillery at a caravan of White barges and watched the White flotilla go up in flames.


Countless other brave women also took part in the Russian civil war, in propaganda, espionage, and police work. Some served as riflewomen, armored-train commanders, and gunners. They performed police work in

the towns, and combat duty in time of enemy siege.


However, women today are on the verge of losing the last of the rights gained by the struggles of past generations of feminists. To engage in the argument

that women should be on the front lines of a war like that in Iraq, which kills other innocent women, razes entire towns, mutilates children, and slaughters the working class would be a grave mistake.


It is the duty of the feminist movement to raise the value of life for all women. The desire to follow men into imperialist war in the name of feminism indicates

the profound misunderstanding this generation has in regard to feminism. Over 20 years of disintegration in the movement have muddled the very definition of the word “feminist.”


It is time to rebuild the feminist movement, to bring the troops home now, and to build a society in which all people enjoy full equality. Let women abandon

their struggle for a place in the front lines of a chauvinist war and begin their new battle against their oppressors.

Related Articles

Rage Against the War Machine: A Reactionary “Right-Left Antiwar” Alliance 

In these momentarily difficult times, tragically a small layer of antiwar personalities and a few well-meaning organizations have been drawn into the reactionary “right-left coalition” that is planning a February 19 “Rage Against the War Machine” Washington. D.C. demonstration. In the unlikely event that this effort meets with even a modicum of success, it will represent a serious defeat for antiwar, anti-racist, anti-sexist, LGBTQI and social justice activists as well as all groups that have been fighting against the inherent horrors of the capitalist system for a lifetime.