Summary: Today Martin van Creveld looks at the revolution in military affairs (the real one) — the integration of women into western armed forces. The Israel Defense Forces has the most experience with this, and their experience can help us understand our future. These are scraps of data, useful only because we have so little. What have been the roles of women in guerrilla forces? What are the comparative injury and disability rates of women and men in front-line units and jobs? Their comparative costs? Eventually we will get answers.
By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 7 April 2016
Posted with his generous permission
The recent celebration of “international women’s day” gave the Israel Defense Force (IDF) an opportunity to publish some figures as to the number of women serving in its ranks and the Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) in which they do so. What makes the question important is the fact that the IDF is the only army in the world to conscript women. Consequently it has more of them, proportionally speaking, than any other. From 1949 to about 1970 it was also the only one which gave them weapons training, albeit one that was purely symbolic. Foreigners attending the annual Independence Day parades, or happening to meet the women as they went on route marches, marveled to see the combination of cleavage and Uzi submachine guns. One which, for reasons Freud might explain, few could resist.
As Western armed forces, with the American one at their heads, started expanding the role of women beyond administration (secretaries) and medical services (mainly nurses), from 1970 on, the IDF was left behind. Only in the late 1970s, owing to the vast expansion occasioned by the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, did an acute shortage of manpower lead to a reassessment. The next push was given by American-style feminism which reached Israel in the mid-1980s, not long after peace with Egypt was signed. Since then Israeli feminists have been loudly demanding women’s right to serve in any capacity, combat included. Now that the figures have been published we can answer the question, how successful have they been?
First, the background. The IDF active force, including both regulars and conscripts, numbers 176,000 troops. Of those about 30% (58,000) are female. The mobilized force, reservists included, numbers 600,000 (on paper). However, since women in spite of recent changes in the law rarely serve in the reserves, their percentage in it is much lower. According to the figures, the total number of female “fighters” in the regular force is said to be 1,593. All are volunteers; unlike men, who are assigned, women only serve in “combat” if and when they want to. In other words, under 3% of female soldiers serve in “combat” units.