Beth Bailey


On her book America's Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force

Cover Interview of March 18, 2010

A close-up

If someone began thumbing randomly through this book, I’d hope that it would fall open to page 168–not because that’s where I make a particularly powerful point or lay out my argument, but because it was so much fun to write.  It comes near the end of a chapter titled “If you like Ms., You’ll Love Pvt.” (taken from a late 1970s recruiting ad).  In this chapter, I argue that the labor-market model essentially created a structural imperative to increase the number of women in the Army, most particularly in “nontraditional” military occupational specialties (MOSs). Courtesy of US Army

But commanders and policy makers, in their attempts to attract women volunteers, relied heavily on lessons learned during World War II, when women servicemembers were frequently portrayed as sexually promiscuous floozies or Amazons with “unnatural” interests.  Well into the 1970s, recruiting attempts stressed old-fashioned notions of respectability, femininity, and excellent prospects for marriage.  This presented a bit of a problem: If you want to attract women who want to fix trucks, emphasizing femininity is probably not the best strategy.  Pushed by personnel needs, those with authority to do so made a serious attempt to recast the portrayal of women in the army, turning to a language of women’s liberation in all its 1970s inconsistencies and complexities.

Through most of the 1970s, women’s expanding roles were supported by Congress.  The Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment with a vote of 84 to 8 in 1972, in 1975 Congress voted to open all military academies to women, and by the end of the decade—with the first women scheduled to graduate from the nation’s military academies in 1980—the House Armed Services Committee was holding hearings on the use of women in combat.

By the late 1970s, members of Congress were feeling pressure—or finding support—from a growing conservative movement that opposed government-mandated equality and argued that Americans should hold to timeless truths and traditional values that defined the differences between men and women.  These hearings reflect that change.  I describe the testimony of Mrs. Tottie Ellis of the Eagle Forum, who argued that women were not suited for combat because combat is “violent and dehumanizing. . . in fact, men I have known who were in combat do not even enjoy war movies.”  Jeremiah Denton, co-founder of the Coalition for Decency, linked women in the military to “godless Sodom and Gomorrah poison” and psychiatrist Harold Voth testified that women’s “search for an identity and role which permits them to live out a pseudo-male identity” which had led to “social pathology” and national decline.

And if the book happened to fall open one more time, I’d root for page 236.  It’s a description of the Army of One recruiting campaign and reactions to it.  While criticism of the new campaign came hard and fast (“Has anyone considered,” asked one noted military sociologist, “that ‘An Army of One’ isn’t likely to scare potential enemies?”) and the slogan proved short-lived, no one seems to have understood the logic behind it.  The images of Corporal Lovett running through the desert in the commercial that premiered in January 2001, along with the entire “An Army of One” campaign, were parts of an attempt at rebranding.  This army wasn’t about benefits and opportunity, not about money for college or the chance to learn computer skills.  This was an army of warriors in training. The army’s current emphasis on the “warrior ethos” began well before the attacks of 9/11, and it had very different origins.