Book Review: Women in the Line of Fire: What You should Know About Women in the Military


by Erin Solaro

Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006. 411. Append, notes, biblio, index. 15.95. ISBN:158005174X

One of the most difficult an divisive issues to face the American military in modern times has been the proper role of women in the nation's defense.  The issue of women in combat has been argued and reargued many times, and it would seem unlikely, at this point, that anyone could find anything new to say about the subject.  But Erin Solaro might.  A former Army reserve officer who has also spent time as an embedded journalist with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan , Ms Solaro has written Women in the Line of Fire, which documents the history of women in American military, and lays out her case for the full integration of women into    America 's combat arms.

Solaro describes herself at times as a radical feminist, a description that might cause many people to dismiss her and her arguments out of hand.  They would be making a mistake.  Solaro is neither anti-military nor a pacifist, does not blame America for the world's ills, and is clear headed about the threat to America posed by terrorism and radical Islam.  Far too many feminists have, in the past, argued for the integration of women into the armed forces in the obvious hope that women would make the military somehow less military, and less warlike.  Solaro has little patience with that sort of nonsense. 

At times, Ms Solaro's descriptions of some of her feminist sisters and their attitudes toward the military can be startling.  At one point she refers to "those feminists who missed the last helicopter out of the 1970's."  She also memorably describes how some feminists approached the debate about easing or repealing the combat exclusion in the 1990's.  "There is a philosophy of war known as 'maneuverism'... it held that the way to defeat the enemy was to out think him.  You did it by getting 'inside his decision cycle'... The feminista, arrogantly anti-military and vindictive, spent the 1990's rollicking around inside the Army's decision cycle.  The Army (and the other services), responded with bewilderment and panic, hoping that sensitivity training, micromanagement of behavior, occasional witch hunts, and sporadic poster girl campaigns would deflect the assault."

Solaro provides an accurate history of how the military got to where it is on the issue of women, beginning with the long rebuilding effort after the Vietnam War.  She points out, rightly, that the military never really considered what the consequences would be if an army that included large numbers of women, even if only in non-combat positions, was forced to fight a major war, especially one in which the rear areas and support units were subject to widespread attack.  But the need to maintain a large peacetime military without conscription forced military leaders to put more women in positions that could put them in harm's way.  Today, the military is, as Solaro puts it, "wondering how to get away with locating women wherever they are needed, including in small infantry units, where, as always, there is the greatest need for soldiers."  Solaro argues that " ... the most easily foreseeable end of the combat exclusion is that it will come from the sheer need for combat troops, coupled with the increasingly obvious stake American women have in the survival of the Republic."

This last statement seems dubious, given that the military nowadays has a harder time recruiting non-combat troops than it does infantry.  The War on Terror has given America 's combat soldiers a sense of mission and purpose that has helped them with recruiting and re-enlistment.  (The repeated, grueling, combat tours have also also exposed an increasing percentage of them to PTSD, so perhaps Solaro should not be dismissed out of hand here.)  Meanwhile, back on the home front, a combination of deranged antiwar protests, media bias, and lawfare might leave one wondering exactly how many Americans actually do realize that they have a stake in the survival of the Republic.
Reviewer: Burke G Sheppard   

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