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Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? Hardcover – May 1, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
A sometime consultant to the armed forces and defense ministries of the U.S., Canada and Sweden, among other countries, Hebrew University historian van Creveld (Technology and War, etc.) sees women as no less susceptible than men to war's excitements and no less capable of being aggressive, competitive and dominant. Yet women's direct participation in conflict has, he finds, overwhelmingly involved a spectrum of supporting roles even in the era of total war. Van Creveld is masterful in discussing the modest realities supporting such contemporary legends as Israel's female soldiers and the women pilots of Soviet Russia. Instead, he provocatively links the current rise in the numbers of Western women in uniform to the emergence of nuclear weapons: the less a state believes it will have to fight a meaningful conflict, the more women it accepts into its armed forces and the more it expands their roles. Women's systematic participation in turn makes military service correspondingly less attractive to men, van Creveld argues, because even in the modern age men accept the risks of becoming soldiers in order to assert their identities as men. And feminized militaries become less relevant, he contends, to conflicts increasingly sustained either by relatively small, male-defined combat elites like the U.S. Marines and special operations forces or by "privatized," irregular non-state agencies. And should a real threat emerge, van Creveld bluntly concludes, "the expanded role of women in the military will vanish like the chimera it is."
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Martin van Creveld is Professor of Military History at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He is an internationally acknowledged military historian whose works have been translated into nine languages.
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Top customer reviews
I saw this book as Dr Van Creveld's search for his own and personal answer to the question "Do Women Belong in the Front Line?". The book is written as an a fairly low-key academic review rather than as a document directed at convincing the reader of the author's conclusions. Additionally, the book is one of several written by the Dr Van Creveld in his effort to understand the rapidly changing ways that women participate in the world.
Van Creveld's conclusions might be considered revisionist to some. Frankly, I had the feeling in reading him, that he was looking for the best argument, and not interested arriving at some predetermined conclusion. I also felt, that he would welcome thoughtful and well considered counter-points to any of the conclusions he arrived at. Interestingly his conclusions are in line with those of World War 2 veterans that I knew.
I would recommend this book to those interested in reading the account of a well respected and well known academic who has studied and written about many aspects of military history for many decades.
This book, which opposes women in military combat, written by Martin Van Creveld, is readily compared with Brian Mitchell's similar work. Van Creveld acknowledges his debt to Mitchell.
But Mitchell's work is written with the passion of an activist and of an ex-soldier, and Van Creveld's work is written with the passion - well, of a historian.
For the high crime of being opposed to women in combat, Mitchell actually lost his job with the oil company that employed him. How Van Creveld's work stands him in academia is anyone's guess, but this doesn't read like the sort of book that would cost anyone his job.
Van Creveld IS a historian, of course, and he cannot be blamed for his academic tone, but it's fairly easy to surmise which of the two books is more readable.
This book IS informative, and gives a pretty thorough summary of the history of women in warfare.
He runs the gamut from their roles as objects of conquest and instigators (yes - as instigators, good news; contrary to feminist realpolitik, men are actually no more to BLAME for wars than are women), as commanders (largely monarchial women born into the position), to combat support personnel (administrators, nurses, suppliers, etc.), participants in uprisings or against them, and the occasional female foot soldier and/or unit.
Really, the text often reads like it was written by a supporter of women in combat since it utilizes the familiar argument that this has happened throughout history.
But Van Creveld parses neatly away from this argument by drawing distinctions between stories justified by historical evidence, on the one hand, and myths and anecdotes, on the other.
And for those stories that have a factual basis, he argues that it is precisely because the female involvement in military combat is isolated, infrequent, and often distant from the action, the historical examples serve as evidence AGAINST the idea and not for it.
He also borrows from other sources such as the Mitchell book to run through the usual physical advantages that men have over women that make them better suited to combat. These need not be repeated here.
But as one might expect from an academic, Van Creveld suffers from the same affliction that most writers making an anti-feminist statement suffer from (and that Brian Mitchell did NOT suffer from) - he is apologetic.
Apologetic anti-feminists go into battle (so to speak) with their morale tied behind their back and their objectivity damaged.
Van Creveld asserts several times, without providing any evidence, that women who have died in warfare have died as courageously as men. Maybe some of them, but the same process of human evolution which made most men bigger and stronger than most women also appears to have made men more aggressive and more willing to risk their lives.
One would not EXPECT women to display equal amounts of THAT type of courage, and for Van Creveld to suggest without evidence that they have sounds like a way of trying not to sound TOO stridently anti-feminist.
And even while enumerating in great detail the physical differences between men and women that Van Creveld says make it "criminal" (his word) to send women to the front, he concurrently and paradoxically maintains that the all-male nature of combat is based LESS on those differences than it is based on the desire of men to institute a rite of passage that excludes women. Oh, come on now!
He specifically states that if men and women were of equal size and strength, men might STILL exclude women from combat for "rights of passage" reasons.
Well, but if men and women really were similar, the species likely would not perpetuate, or if it did, the forces that sometimes drive men to distance themselves from women likely would not be nearly as prevalent, would they, Professor?
Again, I sense that this argument is Van Creveld's way of apologizing for pointing out that men really are more combat-ready. Vignettes like this show why he's less likely to lose his job than Brian Mitchell.
Interestingly enough, while Mitchell warns of imminent disaster if the women-in-combat policy continues, Van Creveld simply shrugs his shoulders and declares that per the historical record, women will always advance in the military during peacetime when they aren't needed and that when war breaks out, sanity prevails and the fighting is turned over to the men.
In my opinion, Van Creveld is making a mistake that others before him have made - assuming that human nature and common sense inevitably prevail. He doesn't take into account that the war on human nature and common sense being waged today is more ferocious than any such war waged before.
Still, written before 9/11/2001, this book is quite prophetic. As the war on terrorism progresses, women indeed have been pulled back from the front lines and Great Britain and Australia pull back from the policy of integrating women into combat forces.
Van Creveld also has interesting information for 1)reactionaries like me who blame feminism for the unfeminine ferocity demonstrated today by women in popular culture and 2) evil pro-feminist cultural mandarins who promote such imagery with the motive of warring on gender.
The information is that there is nothing new under the sun. History is replete with prior examples of warlike female imagery promoted either to titillate, to shame, or to provide inspiration or instruction. It has, says Van Creveld, little effect on how normal men and women conduct their lives.
Well, maybe. But I declare myself not really convinced.
In the end, Van Creveld's book, for all its good points, suffers from the same flaw that EVERY conservative, pro-military, and anti-feminist work (including Mitchell's) suffers.
It fails to answer two simple questions: 1) What exactly is there about Western society that is worth defending? and 2) What exactly is there about Western women that is worth protecting?
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