“I’m a trained killer,” Army Captain Mimi Finch announced during a hearing of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. A thirty-something graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Captain Finch was the youngest member of the commission. Its job was to “assess the laws and policies governing the assignment of women in the armed forces,” a fancy way of saying it would ponder the utility of girding Kathy Ireland’s loins for combat, and as you can see. Captain Mimi figured her loins were girded. The Long Gray Line has done wonders for feminine self-esteem.

Amusingly, the captain was great with child when she unbosomed herself of this pronunciamento in response to a proposal from another commissioner. Brigadier General Sam Cockerham. General Cockerham, who fought in Korea and was a senior commander in Vietnam, wanted the commission to vote on the question of whether we, meaning the American people, should turn women into “trained killers.” When Captain Finch told the general that he was still living down the street from Donna Reed, that women already were “trained killers” because they got to play Patton at West Point and Nimitz at Annapolis, one of the many unmarried men and childless women who attended the hearings with annoying regularity barked, “Yes!”

Whatever Captain Finch’s skills with a bayonet while her child gestates in utero. General Cockerham had asked the right question. As a practical matter, everyone knows women can kill. The question is: As a matter of principle, propriety, and policy, should they do so in organized combat units? That’s what General Cockerham wanted to debate. Problem was, the commission didn’t want to debate that question because it would risk the ire of the man-hating harridans and their eunuchs in Washington, who have turned the Armed Services into a daycare center for single mothers and a finishing school for women who want to be men.

That’s why the “trained killer” remark was one of several poignant moments during my tenure on the commission. It illuminated the problem with this commission in particular and all commissions in general: they don’t answer questions or solve problems. It illustrated how silly the debate over American public policy has become, how banal those who participate in it truly are.

The Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces found its genesis in the Persian Gulf War. During and after our smashing victory over Saddam Hussein’s cowering legions in the Gulf, the news media treated the American people to tales of herculean women treading the hot desert sands where Lawrence of Arabia had made his name. Nearly 40,000 women served in Operations Desert Shield and Storm, and the reports emanating from both the Pentagon and the press were glowing, very much like the derring-do we heard about women who slung lead at Manuel Noriega’s maneating-dog compound during Operation Just Cause. In fact, no one said anything critical about women in the Gulf War. To the contrary, the Pentagon told the public (and later, the commission) that women were critical to the war effort, which in some sense is probably true because they held so many nontraditional positions. The Pentagon made it sound as if women had participated as organized combatants.

They hadn’t, but this relentless blizzard of artfully sliced baloney prompted progressive thinkers everywhere to wonder whether we should expand the role of women in the Armed Forces. Not an institution to sit behind the eight ball for long, Congress created this presidential commission in the 1992 Defense Bill, which also repealed the legal ban on women flying fighter aircraft. Fifteen commissioners, appointed by President Bush, were to make recommendations to the President on all sorts of issues relating to women in the military, the three most important being whether they should fly combat aircraft, “man” combat ships, and suffer the rigors of ground combat. Congress gave the commission one year to study the issue. After hearing from nearly 300 witnesses in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas and making trips to 32 military installations as well as one trip overseas, commissioners completed their task on time. By now everyone interested in the subject knows the results; no to women in fighter aircraft, no to women in ground combat, yes to women on combatant vessels. As we go to press. Defense Secretary Les Aspin is doing everything possible to remove even these few remaining barriers to women in combat.

I began working for the commission when Maggie Whelan, its director of communications and congressional affairs, hired me as media liaison, and I worked with a capable staff of talented, fairly conservative individuals who reflected Whelan’s political stripe. Most of the commission’s other employees worked for the research department. Its personnel were a polyglot collection of moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats who as a group favored what was euphemistically termed “expanding the role of women in the Armed Forces.” Uh-huh.

Happily, I was not a member of this occasionally fractious department. Mv job was politically neutral and uncomplicated: attend the hearings; write the press releases; keep the news media, which was and is overwhelmingly in favor of women in combat, informed about the commission’s activities. I had no role in deciding what to research, how to research it, or what information the commissioners needed to make their decisions. In fact, one commissioner even opined that my press releases were biased in favor of women in combat. Thus, even though I was a known quantity—a reactionary member of what Captain Finch called the “dark side”—no one could accuse me of prejudicing the commission’s work.

Although the research department did outstanding work, gathering a solid body of information about women and the military, none of their efforts really mattered in the end. None of the commissioners came to their jobs tabula rasa, and from the beginning it was evident who stood where and how they would vote. Chairman Robert Herres, a retired four-star Air Force general and former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Navy Admiral James Hogg, Marine General Thomas Draude, retired Army General Mary Clark, and of course the peripatetic and pregnant Captain Finch, all favored women in some form of combat, as did three others. Commissioners Kate O’Beirne of the Heritage Foundation, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, retired Marine Colonel Ron Ray, Air Force Master Sergeant Sarah White, and General Cockerham took the opposite view.

Considering this disparate group of individuals, who ranged from the hard right to the hard feminist left, it’s no surprise that the debate during hearings bordered on the pointless, especially as the commissioners began defining 17 issues on which they would vote. When Commissioner White introduced a motion to debate whether assigning women to combat would lead to rescinding the ban on homosexuals in the military, it fell to resounding defeat. According to General Draude, “it would defeat what we’re attempting to do.” Which begged the question: Just what were we attempting to do? Everyone, after all, was supposed to have joined the commission with an open mind. Another commissioner who privately favored women in combat said he would vote against his own position if someone could prove that opening combat assignments to women would pave the way for homosexuals. Yet he too spoke against discussing homosexuals because the subject was beyond the commission’s purview. Commissioner White’s proposal deserved debate, but the commission wasn’t going to open that can of HIV-positive worms.

More evidence that the commission would never conduct real debate surfaced in the form of Colonel Ray’s effort to persuade those who want women in combat to make an affirmative case for their position, a case that did not rely on civilian notions of equal opportunity. Make your case based on the needs of the military, Ray urged. “Is assigning women to combat militarily necessary?” he asked.

Of course not, and not one commissioner argued otherwise. Not one commissioner argued that the Air Force or Navy needed women to fly combat aircraft or command ships, or that the Army or Marines needed women to join the infantry. Not one officer, enlisted man, or civilian witness who testified before the commission said, “We can’t do the job without women.” Instead, the most frequently heard arguments for assigning women to combat were “I want to do it” or “Women have the right to do it” or “They can do it” or “It’s a matter of equal opportunity” or “It’s my choice.” In short, “Why not?” Thus had Colonel Ray confirmed what everyone knew from the beginning: the commission’s job was to ratify sexual egalitarianism.

Naturally enough, the commissioners who favored women in combat weren’t worried about the cultural ramifications of such a radical proposal, and the witnesses to whom they deferred on this subject were feminist crackpots like Navy Commander Rosemary Mariner, a spiteful aviatrix who sees a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal under every rack. She argued that nothing short of assigning women to combat will stop sexual harassment at Tailhook conventions. In short, expose women to violence to stop violence against women.

It was this line of reasoning that inspired the six most important words said during the hearings: “Real men respect and defend women.” You could have heard a pin drop in the room when Commissioner Kate O’Beirne uttered these unwelcome but true words. After all, irrespective of their own views on the subject, that is how all the male commissioners who favored women in combat had been raised, and O’Beirne was tacitly asking if they considered themselves real men or if they expected her to strap on sword and buckler and mix it up with the Iraqis. Assigning women to combat is egalitarianism of a different order than opening the door for them to become senators and doctors, she observed, and if the commission was going to recommend women in combat, it had better be prepared to recommend brainwashing millions of mothers, because they’re all teaching their sons to respect and defend women, not to bang ’em on the grape with a pugil stick. Again, the women in the combat brigade—in the audience and on the commission—sat like stunned fish.

After eight months, the proponents of women in combat failed to make their ease. They lost on two of the three most important votes. The commission narrowly voted (8-7) to recommend codifying the ban on women flying aircraft, resoundingly voted against women in ground combat (10-2), but incongruously and narrowly voted (8-7) to recommend opening combatant ships to women. The last vote should have been the other way around, and there’s a very good reason it didn’t turn out that way.

Before the commission took the vote concerning ships, the opponents of women in combat defeated a resolution, offered by Clark, to open all ships to women. After that vote, the chairman told his colleagues that important people wouldn’t take the commission’s report seriously if it didn’t do something, that voting to uphold the status quo was a dog that just wouldn’t hunt. After that admonition, another commissioner cleverly offered a resolution amending the first one to exclude women only from subs and amphibious ships (although putting women on subs was a goal of this particular commissioner). It passed.

More than anything, the vote to recommend assigning women to combatant vessels revealed the true nature of the commission: political. Proponents of women in combat had neither the moral high ground nor the facts on their side, yet they won this vote after losing the other two. No wonder the chairman had to make his short speech: if the commission didn’t “do something” it would look mighty foolish. Imagine, in this day and age, voting against sending women to sea for six months on an aircraft carrier loaded with 4,000 men.

Unfortunately for the chairman, he lost on what was perceived to be the most important issue, whether women should fly combat aircraft, which brings me to my final point. When the women-can-do-anything-better-than-men crowd lost that vote, its cadre in the hearing room collectively and audibly drew in their breath, and Paula Coughlin, the naval officer who got her tail pinched at the 1992 Tailhook Convention, convened a press conference outside the hearing room to say the commission had set back women’s rights 150 years. What was next? Would Congress repeal the 19th Amendment? There was wailing and gnashing of teeth. The whole point, some seemed to think, wasn’t to study the issue, but to ratify a preordained conclusion. Sure the commission would “study” the issue, but it must vote to recommend women for combat in the sky, if not at sea or on land.

Illustrative of the attitude was one commission staff member, a lady lieutenant in the Louisiana National Guard, who marched into my office the day after the vote and said, “Those commissioners just destroyed nine months of work.” How so, if the object was to study the facts and take a vote on it? Because the object of the exercise, the Amazon Lobby knew, wasn’t honest debate, but validation of a preconceived idea: women can and should fight alongside men. That’s why Pat vSchroeder and Company went ballistic when the report came out. If the vote had gone the other way, you can bet she would have nominated all 15 commissioners for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As for the commission itself and the behavior of all the commissioners themselves, I could say many negative things. All of them, at one point or another, exposed an ugly side, which one could have expected considering the tendentiousness of the debate. However, one piece of evidence shows how determined—and bitter—the proponents of women in combat actually were. Each commissioner wrote a short personal statement for the final report. The four most ideologically hidebound partisans weren’t the conservatives who opposed women in combat, but the liberals who proposed overturning 200 years of settled American law, policy, and custom. They used their statements to attack those who won the vote on women in aircraft, alleging that they came to the commission with an “agenda,” that some unseen and unnamed force had “stacked” the commission with “conservatives.” (If only that had been true.) On the other hand, those who opposed women in combat used their personal statements to clarify or elaborate on their own positions. Not one attacked the other side for hiding a secret agenda, although they certainly could have from what I saw and heard.

The Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces shows how low public virtue and civility have ebbed, how mindless and shallow the public policy debate has become. Because we no longer live in a country where people discuss issues from a commonly shared set of values and beliefs—in this ease, that men don’t expect women to fight for them—the commission could never have solved anything. That is why its mission was entirely political, why the votes would have been the same if the commission had studied the subject for a year, a minute, or a day. How and when we reached the point where we now debate the ludicrous suggestion that women should march off to war while men drink beer and watch it on CNN—this is what the country should ponder.