Cause for Concern?
Is the lack of women authors a reasonable cause for concern?
Today, women make up about 15 percent of all U.S. military personnel. There are some 36,000 women officers in the military, and all combat jobs and career fields are now open to women. Women serve on combat ships, fly military aircraft, and make up two percent of all pilots in the U.S. military. In the Air Force, women comprise almost 20 percent of the force, and are now eligible for every job in the service. They have attended the service academies for almost four decades, women are regularly promoted to flag officer rank, and several have now reached the 4-star rank. More importantly, women now command air wings, ships, and brigades—the first even being appointed one of the regional combatant commanders—which are the operational-level units of the American way of war. They have responsibilities to make command and leadership decisions that could decide the course of major military operations for the nation.
Women officers clearly serve in the ‘profession of arms,’ and are integral to the success of the U.S. military’s missions. Yet, on the whole, they do not contribute any where near proportionally or significantly to the professional dialogue, development, and discourse of their chosen ‘profession of arms.’ There is also reason to think they are also not reading about their chosen profession as a group. This author thinks there is legitimate reason for concern.
A Path Similar To the Medical Profession
The scarcity of contributions by women authors to the military’s professional dialogue is remarkably similar to findings of research done on the contributions of women to the professional discourse of the more traditional and classical profession of medicine. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2006 found that despite increases in the number of women doctors in the U.S. over the past 40 years, they are still under-represented as first or senior authors on papers published in leading [medical] journals.
Reasons for the dearth of women authors in the medical field were not fully clear to the researchers or explained; however, they believed that “both institutional barriers to success and sex differences in career and life goals are important.” In particular, they wrote, “Each author … has experienced the challenges of raising children while working full-time in careers in medicine and science. Spending more time on scholarly activities necessarily means less time with family; women may be less likely then men to accept this trade-off.”
The similarities in the military to this documented research on the medical profession suggest women in the military are subject to, and maybe as accepting as their civilian counterparts are of, gender differences in career development. The nature of the profession of arms should not be as tolerant of such accommodation.
Another View—The Importance of Professional ‘Reading’ & ‘Writing’
One plausible explanation for the great moments of American military leadership, particularly since the Second World War, is that those who achieved greatness did so through an intense, lifelong, self-study of their profession. The profession of arms demands vigilant focus, study, and time allocated for it. In that regard, it is no different than the classical professions of law and medicine. The knowledge and insights required for successful leadership and command of brigades, air forces, and fleets in worldwide coalition operations must be acquired via personal supplement, long after any undergraduate and formal military education are complete.
Author Roger Nye, who wrote and taught extensively on military leadership and officer development, documented how key U.S. military leaders in World War II were great ‘readers’ and ‘writers’ of military literature:
In his memoir, At Ease, General Eisenhower wrote of his reading about the military profession with Brigadier General Fox Connor in the 1920s. Omar Bradley wrote that he and other junior officers “studied everything we could get our hands on.” Douglas MacArthur read constantly, as did J. Lawton Collins, Maxwell D. Taylor, and Matthew B. Ridgway.”
Probably the best biographical example of this personal dedication to professional development is that of General George S. Patton, Jr. While often caricatured by Americans as a “highly energized and profane man of action—a doer rather than a thinker,” Patton endowed us with the most complete record of exhaustive professional study of any World War II general—or any general in American history, for that matter.
Patton acquired and drew on his military library for almost daily study of his profession. He used his system to develop his thinking about leadership, strategy, tactics, and military organization. Development of his military mind was revealed in his own continuous stream of staff papers, lectures, diary entries, journal articles, even poetry, and finally in his classic book, War As I Knew It.
There is a Lesson
In the contemporary war movie, We Were Soldiers, actor Mel Gibson starred as the young Vietnam-era troop commander, Hal Moore, who was tasked with pioneering work on air-mobile warfare involving helicopter-borne infantry and then put to a severe test in the Ia Drang Valley of South Vietnam.
In the movie’s opening sequences, Gibson portrays Moore as being a student and avid reader of the literature that detailed the disastrous French military experience in Indochina culminating in their defeat at Dien Bien Phu where he extracts the correct lessons from those mistakes. Moore’s study would pay-off in November 1965 when Moore and 450 men of his 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, were dropped into a small clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. Unknown to Moore and his commanders, their landing zone was adjacent to several thousand North Vietnamese soldiers, who quickly surrounded his small command. Encircled by the enemy, with no clear landing zone for an escape, Moore managed to persevere despite overwhelming odds that led to a fellow battalion just over two miles away being massacred. (Not surprisingly, General Moore co-authored the book, We Were Soldiers: Once … and Young, and is also the co-author of at least two other books.)
In addition to recognizing the perseverance and courage of his entire command during the Ia Drang battle in subsequent interviews, General Moore also credited a maxim he lived by during his Army career—“There is always one more thing you can do to increase your odds of success.”
The scarcity of contributions by women officers to the dialogue and discourse of our military profession, along with evidence—albeit anecdotal—that they are also not reading about their profession is a legitimate concern for the officer corps of the U.S. military. Whatever the reasons and whatever explains it can be debated, but there is a lesson here. It is “one more thing” for all of us.
During his Air Force career, Colonel Krisinger flew C-130s and accumulated some 3,300 flying hours. He served in policy advisory positions at the Pentagon and twice as a senior military advisor at the Department of State. He was also a National Defense Fellow at Harvard University. Colonel Krisinger has written extensively for a wide of array of military publications, was a featured columnist for Air Force Times, and has been the editor of a professional journal. He resides in Burke, VA. His e-mail address is: email@example.com.
Quote repeated from: Roger H. Nye, The Patton Mind: The Professional Development of an Extraordinary Leader (New York: Avery Publishing Group, Inc., 1993), 63.
“Thinking Forward: An Analysis of the Special Operations Commander’s Reading List,” by Scott Faith (Havok Journal Editor). Article accessed via: https://havokjournal.com/culture/thinking-forward-analysis-special-operations-commanders-reading-list/. The second article is: “20 Great Books: A Reading List for Future Warrior-Scholars,” by Chris Otero. Article accessed via: https://havokjournal.com/culture/a-reading-list-for-future-warrior-scholars/.
Air Force News Service (AFNS) story, dated 9 December 2008, announcing the release of the 2009 CSAF Reading List. Article accessed via: http://aimpoints.hq.af.mil/display.cfm?id=30592&printer=yes[editor’s note: link inaccessible as of 27 August 2019]
Kirsten Holmstedt, Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq. On the popular Amazon.com website, a search for Band of Sisters then suggested another book in the category entitled “frequently bought together” that is, Love My Rifle More Than You: Young & Female in the U.S. Army, by Kayla Williams. A Publishers’ Weekly review says that Love My Rifle “tries very hard to be a fresh and wised-up post-feminist take: Private Benjamin by way of G.I. Jane.” The ‘genre’ is characterized by books describing the experiences of women in the military and while deployed, but are not analytical or methodical examinations of the issues of war, conflict, geopolitics, or national security.
Fall-season 2008 editions of the U.S. war colleges’ professional journals surveyed include: Naval War College Review, Autumn 2008 edition; Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2008 edition; Parameters, Fall 2008 edition.
Pauline Kusiak, PhD, “Sociocultural Expertise and the Military: Beyond the Controversy,” Military Review, no. 6 (2008): 65.
The cumulative Parameters index can be found at: http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/a-index.htm. [editor’s note: link inaccessible as of 27 August 2019]
Internet searches for recommended books on the subjects of the Iraq War and the War on Terrorism yielded lists of 10-12 books from the sites, About.com and olive-drab.com. None of the books listed were written by women authors.
G. Murphy Donavan, Lt Col, USAF, “Strategic Literacy,” Airpower Journal, Winter 1988. Article accessed via: http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj88/win8 [editor’s note: link inaccessible as of 27 August 2019]
 Andrew Tilghman, Military Times, “All combat jobs open to women in the military,” available from: http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2015/12/03/carter-telling-military-open-all-combat-jobs-women/76720656/ .
David R. Mets, “True Confessions of an Ex-Chauvinist: Fodder for Your Professional Reading on Women and the Military,” Air & Space Power Journal, no. 3 (2007): 89.
Army General Ann E. Dunwoody became the first woman in U.S. history to be promoted to the rank of 4-star general on 14 November 2008. At the time of her promotion, there were roughly 57 active-duty women serving as generals or admirals, five of whom are lieutenant generals or vice admirals (Navy’s three-star rank). By 2013, 69 of the 976 generals and admirals—7.1%—were women. There were 28 female generals in the Air Force, 19 in the Army, one in the Marine Corps, and 21 female admirals in the Navy. (Source: CNN, “By the Numbers: Women in the Military,” Jan 2013)
New England Journal of Medicine (2006; 355: 281-7)
Neil Osterweil, “Women Narrow Gender Gap in Medical Research,” Medpage Today, available from: http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/PreventiveCare/3771.
Nye, The Patton Mind, p. x