What you need to know about the recent policy change and the reactions.
- Where to start: the excellent NYT and Washington Post articles on the removal of the exclusion.
- Here’s a great breakdown on storify of the “some things to know” about the exclusion and the changes.
- Rachel Maddow weighs in on her blog, calling the change a dramatic step forward.
- Josh Voorhees on the Slate reminds readers that the proposal gives the military three years to identify any roles that they wish to remain closed for women- so the devil is indeed in the details.
- Former Marine Infantryman Ryan Smith warns of “the realities that await women in combat” in this critical Washington Post opinion piece.
Today it was announced that the combat ban for women will be fully removed within the US military. This reverses a long-standing policy that restricts women from serving below the brigade level in positions specified as front-line, ground combat. Given that the policy had been recently reviewed, the change may come as a surprise to some, however there are three main reasons why this policy had to be changed right now.
First, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has long been a supporter of gender integration within the forces and has publicly acknowledged the exclusion as contradicting operational practice and untenable. Panetta plans to step down from his post after only 18 months in the job, making the removal of the combat exclusion his legacy.
Second, the Department of Defense is facing a lawsuit from several female soldiers and backed by the ACLU. The suit has raised significant publicity surrounding the issue of women in combat and the DoD would have had a difficult time defending claims that the policy is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Third, growing evidence of women’s contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including in ground combat, have become impossible to ignore. It is widely acknowledged that there are no ‘front’ lines in insurgency warfare. Moreover, women have contributed to offensive missions in recent wars, died in hostile fire, contributed in all-female teams during insurgency missions, and even been awarded for their valor in combat. The contradictions associated with having a combat exclusion in a military that provides combat pay for some women and honors their contributions to combat have just become to extreme.
The film “Zero Dark Thirty” has touched quite a cord in this country, such as with Peter Henne’s post below that responds to my own post further below. To his credit, he opens up another strand of the wider debate this film has touched off. My own reflection delves into the torture controversy writ large, as well as the the purpose and role of art in film making form. Peter uses the latter to widen our view into what this film has to say about civil-military relations in American society.
Peter, I wonder if I could draw you out further on several facets of your observation. First it would be useful if you could go into more detail about specifically how Karthryn Bigelow and Mark Boal could have depicted the military personnel in their film more accurately. I take your point that “The Hurt Locker” was riddled with problems in this regard, and not surprisingly complained about widely by military observers. But while the film spends much more time focused on CIA operatives and analysts, it appears that Zero Dark does a much better job of depicting military personnel and how they do what they do. After all, the journalist Boal spent legions of hours with Seal Team 6 and military commanders from CENTCOM.
This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he is a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
I appreciated Jeffrey Stacey’s recent post on the debate over “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s useful to point out what is being obscured by the criticism of the movie’s depiction of torture. But I think his piece missed a broader aspect of the movie, as well as director Katherine Bigelow’s other war, “The Hurt Locker” (which focuses on an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq): what it reveals about the civilian-military divide in the United States.
Many critics have praised Bigelow’s work for its artistic value, and its significance for understanding the post-9/11 era. Much of this has to do with her filmmaking skills. But a good amount of praise focused on her ability to faithfully tell the story of contemporary military activities. In The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday exclaims that Bigelow demonstrates early in the film that “she will not turn away from the most unsavory aspects of the history she’s chronicling.” The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis discusses the movie as “a seamless weave of truth and drama.” Similarly, many praised “The Hurt Locker” for its “authenticity.”
At the same time, many critiques of these movies focus on their lack of authenticity. By now, we are all familiar with the attacks on “Zero Dark Thirty” for misrepresenting the role torture played in the hunt for bin Ladin. But similar attacks arose after “The Hurt Locker” came out. The film was full of inaccuracies in its depiction of EOD teams, resulting in the head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calling it “disrespectful.”
Now, I realize the obvious response is: “it’s a movie.” That’s correct, but if the biggest selling point of a movie—or two—is their faithfulness to reality, and they get that wrong, then we’re all missing something, right? No one worries about inaccuracies in “Apocalypse Now” because of, well, Marlon Brando. But we should worry about inaccuracies in Bigelow’s war movies.