When solely considering women in the U.S. military, there can be little doubt that this move is a win. Indeed, the blurring between outright combat and non-combative roles meant that women had already been serving in unofficial combat roles for quite sometime. The lift on the ban will allow women to have the same career opportunities as men through promotion of fields that have been cut off to women due to their unofficial combat status.
However, to truly consider this move to be a “feminist” win, one would have to only take into consideration American women. Internationally, United States military power has negative effects on countless civilians—civilians who are, more often than not, women. There are the increasing number of widows in Iraq who must raise families alone in a war torn state, Afghan women who do not find themselves any safer after the U.S. occupation made to “liberate” them, or the untold number of families in Yemen, Northwest Pakistan, Somalia, and other regions who are the victims of unmanned drones strikes. The idea that the ending of the combat ban is a victory for women, then, only holds when considering women protected under the umbrella of American nationality.
War further has a role in destructing families those of us fortunate enough to not have loved ones in the military, or live somewhere that is undergoing a military occupation, cannot even fathom. In Fallujah and Basra in Iraq, birth defects in children rose by 60 percent after the war. It is said that these birth defects could have stemmed from the lead and mercury used in US weapons during the war. Although more research needs to be done on exactly what is causing these defects, imagine the totality of trauma inflicted upon the people of Fallujah and Basra—after surviving a war, they must now fight for their child’s health while rebuilding their life and family.
Although pundits may be proud of America for letting a new subset of the population more fully into its ranks, I am wary of solely celebrating the U.S. military without criticism. Indeed, this is not the first time in recent history that our discourse has focused around a celebration of the military’s trend towards progressiveness. In 2011 there was the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), and just last week saw the Air Force Global Strike Command posted that Martin Luther King Jr. would “be proud to see our global strike team . . . composed of Airmen, civilians, and contractors from every race, creed, background, and religion.” The latter is an especially egregious attempt to use the legacy of MLK, a staunch critic of the American military, to paint a positive picture of the army.
There is a danger in viewing such actions as allowing women into combat and the repeal of DADT as indicating that the military is transforming into a more progressive institution. Despite these more “progressive” changes in demographics, the military continues to be highly problematic in the ways that it operates around the globe. By solely focusing on the “positive” side of the military, we allow ourselves to be blinded to the many flaws it still contains. We must continue to be diligent in maintaining a critical eye towards the military, no matter what victories the national discourse attempts to limit our focus on.
Focusing exclusively on incremental steps in progress distracts from the continuing necessity of being critical of an institution that remains largely detrimental on a global scale. It’s too easy to get swept up in celebrating the U.S. military’s move towards progressiveness and forget the ways that military negatively impacts people’s lives, whether those of women or otherwise, around the globe. Much more work needs to be done in reforming the military than simply letting women into combat—we must thoroughly examine the effects it has on lives both at home and abroad.