Time for all good people to come to the aid of their country?

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THE KINDER, GENTLER MILITARY: CAN AMERICA'S GENDER-NEUTRAL FIGHTING FORCE STILL WIN WARS? By Stephanie Gutmann Scribner 300 pp., $25

Critics of gender integration in the military are usually old soldiers disgusted by the female invasion of their private preserve. Stephanie Gutmann breaks the mold. She's an ambitious, dynamic, modern, professional woman - just the sort the new military wants in its ranks. Because of her peculiarity, she has attracted considerable attention. While old soldiers fade away, Gutmann proves difficult to ignore.

"The Kinder, Gentler Military" attempts to expose the dangers of the "feminization" of the armed forces. Gutmann claims that the American military has become "so politically correct, so exquisitely sensitive, so hostile to their own warrior culture, that they may be unable to defend our interests in future conflicts." The warning is clear: Recruit women and lose a future war.

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But beware crusading journalists, especially those for whom public attention is bread and butter. This book isn't a balanced investigation; it's a neoconservative diatribe. Gutmann doesn't remotely understand the military and its relationship to society. She takes exception to President Clinton's desire to create "a force that looks like America," warning that this will mean replicating society's dysfunctions. But throughout history, militaries have had to respond to social change or risk becoming dangerously marginalized. Good people won't join an army that seems out of touch.

Gutmann suggests that social justice has taken precedence over martial prowess. Stringent quotas, she claims, are designed to achieve gender equality. But the military recruits women not for reasons of justice; it does it because it needs them. Recent enlistment problems have revealed just how difficult it has been to find recruits of either gender. The average female recruit is generally of higher intelligence, proves easier to train, and poses fewer disciplinary problems than her male counterpart.

Most career officers accept that changes in the character of the military are a small price to pay for the contribution women make. Gutmann might find a gender-integrated force wimpish, but women will not join a military in which they have to endure persistent harassment, unwelcome advances or, possibly, rape.

Some of the author's criticisms are fair. Gender-specific physical-fitness standards have proved iniquitous. But some relaxation of standards was necessary or else the military would not get the women it desperately needed. And some of the standards were frankly ridiculous: A radar operator does not need to do 30 pull-ups.

As regards another thorny issue, Gutmann is correct in arguing that pregnancy among soldiers and sailors has disrupted operations. That problem demands a courageous solution. But it is well to remember that in the last two world wars, casualties resulting from venereal disease outnumbered those from bullets and bombs. Sex, in other words, has always caused problems.

Gutmann supposedly wants "to get [the] facts - and the hard questions they raise - out on the table." That is a noble pursuit, but those wanting facts should look elsewhere. Her treatment of the 1997 rape trial involving personnel at the Aberdeen Proving Ground is a case in point. She alleges that the Army adopted a new doctrine of "constructive force" in order to manufacture charges against Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, eventually found guilty of 18 counts of rape. In fact, that doctrine has long been part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and is simply a reflection of civilian law principles that a woman doesn't have to actually resist her assailant if to do so would result in death or grievous bodily harm. The trial proved that Simpson did physically threaten his victims. Gutmann also revives the argument that Simpson suffered racial prejudice since all his victims were white and he is black. Respectable journalists jettisoned that line long ago, when they discovered that Simpson was an equal-opportunity sexual predator.

Behind the defense of Simpson lies the implication that he represents the macho warrior culture Gutmann so reveres. Apparently, she thinks the good soldier is violent, abusive, and sadistic. If that is the case, we should welcome the influx of women and the kinder, gentler military they have inspired.

*Gerard J. DeGroot teaches modern history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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