WILLIAM RIVERS PITT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In case you missed it, Sec. Panetta has lifted the prohibition against women serving in combat roles in the military.
Regarding this, and speaking to the issue of equality, I offer a tremendously uncomfortable truth: the fighting in and aftermath of American wars have, in many instances, been great leaps forward for civil rights in our history.
African American Union soldiers in the Civil War were widely regarded as ditch-digging serfs, until the need for combat soldiers pressed them into the fight, where they served with distinction...and once someone has worn the uniform of an American soldier and served under fire, only the basest racist had the gall to deny them equality. This was further enforced in WWII, where African American service in war further obliterated the distinction between Black and White when it comes to full citizenship for those who have worn the uniform in combat.
...and only a fool would dismiss the leap forward made by American women after Rosie the Riveter basically won the war, a fact that showed women, along with the culture at large, that they belong in the workplace right next to everyone else. Rosie was arguably the first modern American feminist; ask Betty Friedan, who knew she was made for more than housecleaning in the post-war ennui, and started a revolution.
Like I said, a tremendously uncomfortable truth: war has led to greater equality for segments of the society that had been marginalized until they served. This is not to say that war is good; far from it. It is to be hoped that these marginalized people would have, in the fullness of time, won their equality by other means...and in ten dozen ways other than war fighting, they did. But this is America, and America has been about war for a couple of centuries now, and so war has been an avenue to that hard-fought equality for many.
This is one of those moments. Like it or lump it: women will serve in combat, and no one henceforth will be able to ply that "weaker sex" bullshit anymore. Women who haved made a career of the military now have avenues to advancement open to them that had been denied, because despite getting shot at and shot up and shot down in Iraq and Afghanistan (see: Tammy Duckworth), none of those experiences were officially called "combat," and combat experience has traditionally been the key to advancement in the military.
Once again, war is the avenue for a necessary and long-lacked advance.
It is what it is.