heard a pin drop in the room whenrnCommissioner Kate O’Beirne utteredrnthese unwelcome but true words. Afterrnall, irrespectise of their own views on thernsubject, that is how all the male commissionersrnwho favored women in combatrnhad been raised, and O’Beirne wasrntacitlv asking if they considered themscK’csrnreal men or if thev expected her tornstrap on sword and buckler and mix it uprnwith the Iraqis. Assigning women torncombat is egalitarianism of a different orderrnthan opening the door for them tornbecome senators and doctors, she observed,rnand if the commission was goingrnto recommend women in combat, it hadrnbetter be prepared to recommend brainwashingrnmilhons of mothers, becausernthe’re all teaching their sons to respectrnand defend women, not to bang ’em onrnthe grape with a pugil stick. Again, thernwomen in the combat brigade—in thernaudience and on the commission—satrnlike stunned fish.rnAfter eight months, the proponentsrnof women in combat failed to make theirrnease. Thev lost on two of the three mostrnimportant votes. The commission narrowlyrnoted (8-7) to recommend codifyingrnthe ban on women flying aircraft, resoundinglyrnvoted against women inrnground combat (10-2), but incongruouslyrnand narrowly voted (8-7) to recommendrnopening combatant ships tornwomen. The last vote should have beenrnthe other vyav around, and there’s a veryrngood reason it didn’t turn out that way.rnBefore the commission took the voternconcerning ships, the opponents ofrnwomen in combat defeated a resolution,rnoffered bv Clark, to open all ships tornwomen. After that ‘ote, the chairmanrntold his colleagues that important peoplernwouldn’t take the commission’s reportrnseriously if it didn’t do something, thatrnvoting to uphold the status cjuo was arndog that just wouldn’t hunt. After thatrnadmonition, another commissioner cleverlyrnoffered a resolution amending thernfirst one to exclude women only fromrnsubs and amphibious ships (althoughrnputting women on subs was a goal ofrnthis particular commissioner). It passed.rnMore than anything, the vote to recommendrnassigning women to combatantrnvessels revealed the true nature of therncommission: political. Proponents ofrnwomen in conrbat had neither the moralrnhigh ground nor the facts on their side,rnet the” won this vote after losing thernother two. No wonder the chairman hadrnto make his short speech: if the commissionrndidn’t “do something” it wouldrnlook mighty foolish. Imagine, in this dayrnand age, voting against sending womenrnto sea for six months on an aircraft carrierrnloaded with 4,(100 men.rnUnfortunately for the chairman, hernlost on what was perceived to be thernmost important issue, whether womenrnshould fly combat aircraft, which bringsrnme to ni)’ final point. When the v’omencan-rndo-anything-better-than-men crowdrnlost that vote, its cadre in the hearingrnroom collectively and audibly drev’ inrntheir breath, and Paula Coughlin, thernnaval officer who got her tail pinchedrnat the 1992 Tailhook Convention, convenedrna press conference outside thernhearing room to say the commissionrnhad set back women’s rights 150 years.rnWhat was next? Would Congress repealrnthe 19th Amendment? Therernwas wailing and gnashing of teeth. Thernwhole point, some seemed to think,rnwasn’t to study the issue, but to ratifyrna preordained conclusion. Sure therncommission would “study” the issue, butrnit must vote to recommend womenrnfor combat in the skv, if not at sea or onrnland.rnIllustrative of the attitude was onerncommission staff member, a lady lieutenantrnin the Louisiana National Guard,rnwho marched into my office the day afterrnthe vote and said, “Those commissionersrnjust destroyed nine months ofrnwork.” How so, if the object was to studythernfacts and take a vote on it? Becausernthe object of the exercise, the AmazonrnLobby knew, wasn’t honest debate, butrnvalidation of a preconceived idea: womenrncan and should fight alongside men.rnThat’s why Pat vSchroeder and Companyrnwent ballistic yvhen the report came out.rnIf the vote had gone the other way, yourncan bet she would have nominated all 15rncommissioners for the PresidentialrnMedal of Freedom.rnAs for the commission itself and thernbehavior of all the commissioners themselves,rnI could say many negative things.rnAll of them, at one point or another, exposedrnan uglv side, which one could ha’ernexpected considering the tendentiousnessrnof the debate. However, one piecernof evidence shows how determined—rnand bitter—the proponents of women inrncombat actually were.rnEach commissioner vTote a short personalrnstatement for the final report. Thernfour most ideologically hidebound partisansrnweren’t the conservatives who opposedrnwomen in combat, but the liberalsrnvho proposed overturning 200 years ofrnsettled American law, policy, and custom.rnThey used their statements to attackrnthose who won the vote on womenrnin aircraft, alleging that they came tornthe commission with an “agenda,” thatrnsome unseen and unnamed force hadrn”stacked” the commission with “conservatives.”rn(If only that had been true.)rnOn the other hand, those who opposedrnwomen in combat used their personalrnstatements to clarify or elaborate on theirrnown positions. Not one attacked thernother side for hiding a secret agenda, althoughrnthey certainly could have fromrnwhat I saw and heard.rnThe Presidential Commission on thernAssignment of Women in the ArmedrnForces shows how lov’ public virtue andrncivility hae ebbed, how mindless andrnshallow the public policy debate has become.rnBecause we no longer live in arncountry where people discuss issues fromrna commonly shared set of values and beliefsrn—in this ease, that men don’t expectrnwomen to fight for them—tlie commissionrncould never have solved anything.rnThat is wh’ its mission was entirely political,rnwhy the votes would have beenrnthe same if the commission had studiedrnthe subject for a year, a minute, or a day.rnHow and when we reached the pointrnwhere we now debate the ludicrous suggestionrnthat women should march off tornwar while men drink beer and watch itrnon CNN—this is yhat the countryrnshould ponder.rnR. Cort Kirkwood wrote and edited thern”Alternative Views” section of therncommission’s final report.rnI’m bnmedicitf SeniccrnCHRONICLESrnif y \ .( ItrnM’WSIJBSCKIBIil^SrnJOU.MIKKNL’MUKRrn1-800-877-5459rnMARCH 1994/47rnrnrn