Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Recommend Webb issue sincere apology for "Women Can't Fight"

Jim Webb, the independently minded author, former Democratic senator from Virginia and Secretary of the Navy during the Republican Reagan Administration, is running for President of the United States.

He is a decorated combat veteran and a fellow alumni from the US Naval Academy (Class of 1968) who has a natural attraction for many members of the military.

Unfortunately, Webb also has a number of current and former service people who still remember the article that he published in the Washingtonian Magazine in November 1979 titled Women Can't Fight.

That article did not limit itself to discussing reasons why women might have difficulties in the kind of ground combat that Webb experienced in the swamps and jungles of Vietnam. It also focused on the opening of the service academies to women and Webb's belief that the change was ill-conceived because, in his 1979 opinion, the only reason the service academies exist is to prepare men to serve as combat leaders.

I was in the class of 1981, the second class at the Naval Academy that included women. My daughter was in the class of 2005 and I served two shore tours at the Academy during my career. From 1991-1993, I was a company officer and from 1999-2001 I taught Weapons Systems Engineering. During the second year of that tour, I served as the Associate Chairman of the Weapons and Systems Engineering Department.

There is no doubt that Webb's 1979 article is still well remembered by my classmates; we were second class midshipmen when it was published and James Webb was appointed to be Secretary of the Navy during our first class year. I can also testify that the Brigade of Midshipmen was well aware of the article when I was there in the early 1990s, still aware of it in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and still influenced by it as late as 2010, the last year during which my wife and I sponsored midshipmen while living in Annapolis.

Several of my classmates remain so angry about the article that they told me that they would not even consider a vote for Webb unless he issues a formal apology.

They made those comments even after they viewed the below video, which is a clip from an October 15, 2015 interview at the Council on Foreign Relations.

I cannot put myself fully into the shoes of the women who were affected by Webb's article, but after rereading it, I can say that I would not have been able to graduate in 1968.

In fact, there is a good chance that if I had been subjected to the kind of plebe hazing that Webb experienced and describes in the article, I might have landed in the brig for assaulting an upperclassman.

Unlike Webb, who grew up in a military family with an authoritarian father, I entered the Academy with a rather casual outlook on authority figures. My plebe summer nickname was Hollywood because of my hometown, my dark tan, and the transitions glasses I wore while waiting for my Navy glasses to be issued.

I had a somewhat rebellious sense of my own value and importance. (My classmates might not have used the "somewhat" modifier in that sentence.)

I think I just might have been tempted to punch someone who hazed me in the manner that Webb endured.

The Naval Academy is a better leadership training ground now than it was in the 1960s. The leaders it has been producing since the 1980s are more balanced and more able to make good decisions throughout their career. They are not even tempted to treat their subordinates as if they were enemy soldiers - at least I hope that is true for all of them.

I'm glad that Jim Webb is running for President. His kind of thinking and his experiences, if nothing else, will expand the discussion and force the other candidates to address Commander in Chief issues that they might otherwise ignore.

However, it would help his candidacy if he would forthrightly recognize that he was wrong in 1979 to write a damaging article in the early stages of a transition that has been beneficial to the Academy and to the Nation. He would most likely gain tens of thousands of passionate, talented new supporters if he made a sincere apology and disowned his own work.

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