WASHINGTON -- Several of the nation's armed services chiefs have voiced fierce resistance to placing women in combat positions and say that they regard male bonding as critical to the "warrior spirit."
Ten months after the Navy's Tailhook Association meeting drew high-level attention to the problem of sexual harassment in the military, the nation's senior officers told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday they have "zero tolerance" for such behavior toward servicewomen.
But they rejected the suggestion -- made by Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the committee -- that policies excluding women from combat roles may have made them "second-class citizens" who are "fair game" for mistreatment.
"I believe the combat exclusion law is discrimination against women. And second, that it works to their disadvantage in a career context," said Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, Air Force chief of staff.
"And I still think it is not a good idea for me to have to order women into combat. Combat is about killing people."
Gen. Carl Mundy, Jr., commandant of the Marine Corps, lauded combat aviators for their "derring-do," and defended current policies that would keep females out of the cockpits of Marine Corps jets.
The culture of combat aviators, General Mundy said, "typifies the derring-do, the 'drink tonight, gentlemen, because we launch at 0500 again tomorrow morning and all of us aren't going to come back.' "
"It's a warrior spirit," General Mundy added. "It is a male bonding . . . It's not a male bonding against anybody. It is a male bonding together."
General McPeak, General Mundy and Chief of Naval Operations Frank B. Kelso agreed that successful military combat pilots may have what General McPeak called "devil-may-care" qualities that naturally lead to incidents like Tailhook unless these officers are closely supervised.
"What happened at Tailhook was something that you might expect of a bunch of lieutenants who get together and have too much to drink, and the tragedy of it was that there wasn't a VTC lieutenant colonel there to put his foot down," General McPeak said.
High-level opposition to assigning women to combat positions is not new. General McPeak and Admiral Kelso outlined their objections in a June 1991 appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But yesterday's testimony marked the first time the chiefs have spoken out on the subject since the Tailhook scandal heightened pressure to open new military career opportunities to servicewomen.
General McPeak said last year that in spite of his personal objections, he could not intellectually justify barring women from combat service. But yesterday, he reiterated only his personal objections and did not express any support for women in combat positions.
"Even though logic tells us that women can [conduct combat operations] as well as men, I have a very traditional attitude about wives and mothers and daughters being ordered to kill people," he said.