Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Military's gender quotas misguided

By Mac William Bishop 楊謙信

In 1948, the US civil rights movement received support from an unlikely quarter. Then president Harry Truman issued Executive Order No. 9981, which abolished racial segregation in the US military, thereby putting all Americans, regardless of race, on a level playing field within the defense establishment. For the first time in US history, members of a segment of society, through official policy, were to be treated equally.

Why did this sudden shift of policy come about?

It was not because of an enlightened and socially progressive policy of egalitarianism developed by Truman. To the contrary, it was merely the result of careful analysis and practical common sense. As the Cold War shifted into high gear and the US examined the lessons it had learned from World War II, it became clear that major changes in the defense establishment were necessary to ensure that the US military maintained its technological and organizational edge.

The US government studied the various lessons it had learned from World War II and thereby created the National Security Act of 1947, which completely rearranged the structure of the US defense establishment. One later component of the military transformation was Executive Order No. 9981, ordering immediate desegregation of the US military.

Much to the discredit of the US, military desegregation was met with howls of dismay by many white servicemen. Many white officers took it for granted that blacks, Latinos and Asians simply could not fight. The arguments were numerous, and all of them were grounded in what seemed to be common sense. Racially mixed units would mutiny, some said, or be consumed by inter-racial bickering. Non-whites were temperamentally unsuited for the stresses of combat, others said. The common wisdom ran that no white man would ever take orders from a black, or an Asian, or a Latino.

Fortunately, the US gained a wealth of experience during World War II which proved all of these protests to be mere smoke and mirrors, occluding the truth -- regardless of race, any soldier could fight as well as the next given the proper training. The US Navy had even begun limited integration of ships' crews prior to the end of the war.

The truth was not that white servicemen were afraid of diluting the effectiveness of the military, but rather that they feared a long-held and cherished myth would vanish like the mist on a morning battlefield.

They were afraid that their notions of racial superiority would be proven once and for all to be completely fictitious.

The debate over the number of slots allocated to women in Taiwan's military colleges has been marked by an astounding degree of similar irrationality.

The issue received a great deal of publicity after three outstanding high school graduates applied for the two slots available to women at the National Defense Management College. Eventually, one candidate, Lei Chia-chia (雷家佳), gave up her place so that Chang Ying-hua (張穎華) could attend the school.

In response to the natural outcry over this state of affairs, defense officials attempted to rationalize the quota system by offering a number of figures and statistics to support the Ministry of National Defense's policy. Most women just get pregnant after they start their tours of duty, they said. It's a fact, others added, that women always have to ask for help to get anything done.

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