Melissa Harris-Perry | January 26, 2013
>>> morning, i'm melissa harris-perry. this week marked the second of two seismic shifts in the united states military in just over two years. the first was december of 2010 when president obama signed the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law and ending a policy that mandated shame and secrecy as requirements for service. the second happened on thursday when defense secretary leon panetta joined the joint chiefs of staff chairman martin dempsey and made this announcement.
>> we must open up service opportunities for women as fully as possible. and therefore today, general dempsey and i are pleased to announce that we are eliminating the direct ground combat exclusion rule for women . and we are moving forward with a plan to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.
>> just like that, 200,000 military combat jobs that were once off limits for women are potentially open to any woman who meets the qualifications. more importantly, the official policy for women in the u.s. military has now caught up with what has long been the reality for women in the u.s. military . women already make up 15% of the overall force and 17% of the officers in the military, but the pentagon's latest decision update updates a 1994 policy change that prohibited women from serving in ground combat units. only, excluding women from combat units never excluded them from the consequences of conflict. women have been working alongside combat units in support roles that put them right in the middle of conflicts where the new front line is wherever the next ied or mortar attack or suicide bomb happens to b and while the u.s. military 's old policy discriminated against the women as the casualties can attest, the attackers did not. 283,000 women have been deployed to iraq and afghanistan since 2001 , and since then, more than 800 women have been wounded and more than 130 killed in those conflicts. so the pentagon's announcement was not only welcomed, but long overdue, and more importantly, it also shatters what has been a nearly impenetrable brass ceiling. the military is most likely to be populated be by officers with combat experience and that meant before now, they were most likely populated by men, and now the contributions of women in combat will be both recognize and rewarded with equal access to the leadership opportunities in the armed forces , but even as we recognize the historic weight of this moment for the women in the military , we also cannot ignore the resonance for our larger democracy. because whatever your opinion of the u.s. military , there is no denying that offering up one's life in service to the country has always been the very embodiment of american citizenship . and in particular for the country's most marginalized people, military service has historically been the basis for the strongest claim to their full u.s. citizenship rights. take for example the civil war when men fled behind so-called enemy lines to the north, they inserted their humanity with the demand they be allowed to join the union army and fight against the confederacy. and black soldiers in world war i came home to find themselves the targets of lynchings and beatings. why? because they were wearing their uniforms in public. but it was the very fact of their service that w.e.b. du bois believed bound them to the citizenship. but with those citizens at home, w.e.b. du bois wrote, this is the country to which we soldiers of democracy return and this is the fatherland for which we fought, but it is our fatherland. it was right for us to fight. the faults of our country are our faults. make way for democracy, and we saved it in france, and by the great jehovah, we will save nit the united states of america or know the reason why. but it wasn't until world war ii that du bois 's imperative would become fully realized, because afric african-american like the tuskegee airmen and the first african-american nurses who join joined the black nurses corps served with distinction in the war and the sense that their mi military sacrifice could not coexist with the second-class citizenship is the spark that helped ignite the civil rights movement . and history provides again and again examples of people who found citizenship through military service . european immigrants who became american through their inclusion in the american armed services . young people who went to vietnam and came home to earn the right to the vote for those ages 18-2 1 18-21. and members of the lgbt community reminding nause the right to love and live openly cannot be divorced from the right to fight and die in the same way. today, america's women who've won the right to serve equally as they wage war abroad and fight for equality at home. at the table with me is colonel jack jacobs , and also, a former marine officer who is now the executive director and co-founder of servicewomen action network, and katrina, who is the editor and publisher of the magazine, and chloe angyal and sorry, but they had you originally in there as bob herbert . and you are clearly not bob herbert . colonel, i believe that when we look back at this first term, i believe that the legacy will be that he has made huge cultural shifts in the military. how are they being received at this moment?
>> surprisingly well. indeed, you could be excused for thinking that the lifting of the ban was just a gratuitous decision on the part of the administration before panetta left, and so he wanted to leave some legacy, but that is not -- you would be wrong. this decision actually came from the chiefs of staffs of all of the services who, themselves, have spent plenty of time in combat and presided over nation at war for more than a decade and came to this decision completely and independently by themselves. that's why panetta was sitting there with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff , because the initiative to lift this ban e deca decades' old came from the chief.
>> and when we look at the gallup polling of women in combat , there is overwhelming support, and in a country where we are divided on so many issues, there was overwhelming support with 74% of adults, and 73% of men and 76% of women , and look at that, even democrats and republicans. 83% for democrats and 70% republican. will this alter who the women are in the armed forces or is this true that this is who they are and now this is recognition for it?
>> this decision was absolutely, excu excuse me, absolutely made as a result of the sacrifices made for hundreds of thousands of women in iraq and afghanistan over the last ten years, and the pentagon didn't have to do studies like it did considering the "don't ask, don't tell," because the proof was left on the battlefield in afghanistan . i agree with colonel jacobs, because it is extraordinary for the secretary taking it to the joint chiefs saying that we don't need more proof. it was as a result of the lawsuit that nudged the d.o.d. this this direction. the d.o.d. learned from court cases to overturn "don't ask, don't tell" and it didn't want to pay out millions of dollars in legal fees and have the courts decide this. the d.o.d. likes to determine these sort of national historic types of decisions on its own.
>> with its own policy.
>> and that image is so stunning with panetta and the head of the joint chiefs , because you think of the history and just in 1974 , the equal rights amendment was basically closed down, shut down for several reason, but one was the spector of women serving in combat. so nothing happens without demands in the country, and your lawsuit and other protests, but this shows that all of that talk about how the military can't survive in a cohesive way if gays join, if african-americans join, and now women . you don't hear many voices. you saw that poll, and even the voices that you would predict, so dangerous, because the military does become a proxy for how gender is sexuality is viewed in the country. now would i like to see different ways of defining our citizenship? yes. because i think that you say this is a triumphf for common sense and equality, and women 's voices need to be heard at the highest levels of every institution in our society, but you can still say, i wish that the military and militarism didn't dominate the society in the ways it does.
>> right. and in is the challenge for the progressives on the one hand who have done nothing be but calling for drawing down of troops in general, but on the other wanting to talk about how critical this institution has been. so i wanted to ask you about this, chloe, because we were going back to look at the statements made and newt gingrich in 1995 said that females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days , because they get infections. but in 2013 of this year, marco rubio said that women are already in combat and we should put the best soldiers forward regardless of their gender. just that juxtaposition of women getting infections in the ditch, and here we go the republican party .
>> i take all of my advice from newt gingrich .
>> and all of the bodily functions.
>> and marital, too.
>> look, i'm thrilled that servicewomen will have equal career opportunities to advance in the armed force , because the military is just that it is another employer, and we should never ever condone employment discrimination in america by any way, but by the same tone my excitement is tempered by the ab abhorrent violence against women in the military. and we are talking about a high chance of being assaulted by one of your own than being killed by the enemy.
>> that is where we are going to go after the break, this question of how there is a different combat for military women , and the fight against sexual assault when we return.