Must a 'Different Drummer' be a Man? : Court ruling against women in military school defies logic

You could not ask for a better old boy than U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser, except maybe Robert Patterson, an attorney for Virginia Military Institute.

On a day when Congress was considering letting the Pentagon send women into combat at the controls of fighter planes, the judge drew the line at sending them to VMI.

The substance of the judge's ruling was not a great deal different from the objections to women in combat--especially infantry combat--that the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps raised with Congress last week. But the tone of his ruling and of the VMI argument--flippant to the point of snickering--dragged the debate over women's rights to new lows of insensitivity and indignity.

Virginia Military Institute is the school where such illustrious warriors as Stonewall Jackson of Civil War fame and Gen. George Marshall, who led U.S. forces in World War II, learned that soldiering "marches to the beat of a different drummer." In a leap that defies logic and law, the judge decided "different drummer" countenances sex discrimination.

Judge Kiser's ruling is only slightly less bizarre than VMI attorney Patterson's frivolous observation that VMI is entitled to protection from women just as endangered species such as the "spotted owl and six-legged salamander" have a right to be spared from extinction.

West Point, of course, accepts women. But based on testimony about changes in physical fitness programs at West Point since women were accepted as cadets, the judge also seemed to insinuate that the academy doesn't turn out the hard-hitting Army officers it once did.

Yet in revisiting the role of more than 35,000 military women in the Gulf War, Congress found that some of the women saw more combat than some of the men.

Air Force Gen. Merrill A. Peak was the one service chief who told Congress that he thought sound policy would let women compete with men for combat jobs, although he added he had personal reservations.

Both the judge and the chiefs miss two obvious and crucial points. One is that nobody talks of forcing all women into combat jobs. The other is that denying women access to tough training in schools such as VMI denies women who choose military careers access to the best jobs. Neither of these points can be laughed away by the old boys.

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