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Around 1412, a little girl was born in Domremy, France. She was born to a peasant family in a remote part of Eastern France. Her small village suffered many raids and she was functionally illiterate for most of her life. This little girl would grow into the woman we all know, Joan of Arc. By the end of her short life, Joan would become a national hero and one of the most significant women in history. Joan’s peril is still felt today by modern military women. I will examine her life as well as modern day parallels between the military practices of yesterday and today.
At the time of her birth, Europe wasn’t a good place to be. England and France were completely engulfed in a war so long it was known as the Hundred Years’ War. A war that began in 1337 when the English wanted control over the Kingdom of France. The French refused and a long and bloody war commenced. By 1422, French and English soldiers were mercilessly killing each other and nobody was really sure who ruled France. Did the English deserve control over France or were the French their own people? Joan would eventually help decide that. Around this time, a ten year old Joan of Arc began having visions. These visions instructed her to live a holy and virtuous live. These visions contained scenes of St. Michael and St. Catherine telling her that she would one day save France from the English, that she would be the hero of France.
Eventually, her visions began to instruct her on how to begin on her quest to save France. First, she was instructed to one day go and meet Charles (the heir to the throne, he was too young to rule yet) and ask his permission to drive the English out of France and name Charles King of France. In 1428, Joan contacted Robert de Baudricourt, a military commander and supporter of Charles. After much doubt, he agreed to take her to Charles after seeing the enthusiasm of the public around him. In order for her to visit Charles, Joan of Arc and Robert de Baudricourt had to make a gruelling 11 day journey across enemy territory to the city of Chinon. In order to protect herself, she dressed as a man in armor for this journey. Upon arrival, Charles wasn’t sure whether or not to take this teenage girl that claimed to be the “hero of France” seriously. Legend states that his vetting/consideration process was quite thorough. He had his theologians observe her. They could only draw the conclusion that she was a perfectly normal girl that possessed the virtues she claimed. After being able to identify Charles dressed incognito within a group of commoners as well as following a private conversation in which Joan explained her visions and what they stated, Charles hesitantly granted his support to the young girl. Seventeen year old Joan was given armor and a horse and allowed to accompany the French army en route to Orleans. Orleans was a French city under English siege. Eventually after much fighting, the French took control of English forts and other bases in the area. Joan was wounded but recovered in time for the final push to secure the city. The French beat the English at Orleans and ended the national perception of the English as invincible warriors that could never be beaten. Still weary of Joan’s trustworthiness, Charles was cautious of Joan’s urges to quickly continue onto Reims to claim the French crown. Taking a more cautious approach, Charles and his army eventually did make it to Reims and take back the crown just as Joan had prophesied.
On July 18, 1429 Charles took back the crown of France with Joan at his side. The following spring, Joan was ordered to Compiègne to deal with the Burgundian assault that was occurring. In the midst of battle, Joan was thrown off her horse and left wounded outside of the town. Seeing her as a vital negotiation piece, the Burgundians quickly took her captive. They held her for months as they negotiated with the English. After months and months of negotiations, a price was settled with the English. A sum of 10,000 Swiss Francs were given to the Burgundians in exchange for possession of Joan. The English saw her as an opportunity. To the unfamiliar eye, she simply looked like an average nineteen year old girl. But to the English, they had just captured one of the most important pieces of French morale. They had gotten a symbol of France. They had taken a piece of France without ending a single life. Eventually, Charles heard of the news of Joan’s capture. He still doubted her divine abilities. He distanced himself and didn’t make any attempt to assist in freeing her. Although her actions were against the English army, she was given to Church officials so that she could be tried harsher than a military court could have. Before her trial she was held in a military prison. Joan was regularly threatened with rape and torture. She was able to protect herself by securing her armor. Angry that they couldn’t break her, the court eventually used this against her. Over 70 charges were brought against her including heresy, witchcraft, and dressing like a male. She was found guilty in a private trial and she was brought to the town square. Before an estimated 1200 people, Joan was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Joan was only 19 years old at the time of her execution. Her ashes were collected and spread in the Seine. The war waged for another 22 years after her death. Charles remained King of France. In 1456, Charles ordered an investigation of Joan’s life in order to return her innocence. In 1456 she was declared innocent of everything and was classified as a martyr. Joan was canonized on May 16, 1920. Joan remains the patron Saint of France.
Today, women face some of the same challenges that Joan faced in her day. 1948 was the first time women were legally made a permanent part of the military. In all previous wars women could only serve in support and medical positions. In 1976, the first group of women were admitted to West Point. Today, women make up about 16% of all military positions. Just as Joan, women face barriers if they’d like to enter a career in the military. Some positions are still closed off to women to this day. Women cannot serve on front lines, special forces, Navy SEALs, submarine crews, or any form of special operations. Two main reasons are cited as to why these roles are not offered to women. The first being their safety and the second being their lack of as much physical strength as their male counterparts. While these reasons have some grains of truth to them, there are logical ways around them both. In regard to women’s’ safety, more oversight and changing laws would greatly affect this. For example, a few years ago a young woman was raped. However, she waited years to report it to anybody. Because she was drunk at the time, she would have been punished more severely than her rapist. If laws were changed and those that threatened the safety of women were held accountable, that would resolve this particular issue. It is a fact that not all women are stronger than all men. So some military positions will probably never be opened up to women. But, as President-elect Trump suggested, a woman should be allowed to serve in a position if she is physically able to. Any woman that can pass the same physical tests as men should be able to serve in those same positions. Some, like former Presidential candidate Ben Carson, believe that women can never outperform men physically and should never be allowed in combat positions. Military admission should be blind. As long as a woman can pass the same physical tests as her male counterparts she should be allowed to serve her country.
Luckily, some recent laws have been passed allowing women to serve in other laws. In 1993, the Department of Defence passed a law opening many new positions to women. That was furthered in 2014 with a change to that law. As of now, 78% of army positions and 99% of Air Force positions are available to women. As of 2013, Leona Panetta (U.S. Secretary of Defence) called for an “end to all restrictions on women that prevent them from serving in combat roles”. In 2013, a new female training technique was implemented in the Army. It gives women special training in key areas. This new training would allow women to enter all Army roles by early 2016. In May 2015, nineteen women were allowed to enter into an experimental Army Ranger program that would allow them to be the first women to enter into special operations roles. Unfortunately, all nineteen of them failed the course. Eleven dropped out within the first four days and the remaining 8 failed in phase 2. Three of those that dropped in phase two were given a re-enrollment opportunity. After a second try, all three of those women graduated by October 2015. So it is possible but would be tricky to integrate.
Research shows that once women are thrown into the mix, squad cohesion drops. As stated in what I read, “The Marine Corps research found that all-male squads, teams and crews demonstrated better performance on 93 of 134 tasks evaluated (69 percent) than units with women in them. Units comprising all men also were faster than units with women while completing tactical movements in combat situations, especially in units with large “crew-served” weapons like heavy machine guns and mortars, the study found. Infantry squads comprising men only also had better accuracy than squads with women in them, with “a notable difference between genders for every individual weapons system” used by infantry rifleman units. They include the M4 carbine, the M27 infantry automatic rifle and the M203, a single-shot grenade launcher mounted to rifles.” The research also found that male Marines who have not received infantry training were still more accurate using firearms than women who have. And in removing wounded troops from the battlefield, there “were notable differences in execution times between all-male and gender-integrated groups,” with the exception being when a single person—”most often a male Marine” — carried someone away, the study found.” As that research shows, we need a better method of training women or maybe even the men around them. Military training for women and for men on how to deal with women teammates is obviously not sufficient. Being able to work in a team is very important for success on the battlefield. Until that day comes, I do not think women will be allowed in EVERY position.
Women today face similar adversary to what Joan of Arc faced when she wanted to fight for her country and eventually did. Not allowing somebody to risk their life for the greater good just because they weren’t born with the right parts is preposterous. I do agree that at the current time, just throwing women into combat roles without any change in training would probably bring down military effectiveness. We need to change training techniques to ensure unity between genders in situations of life and death. As for women not always being as physically strong, I believe that as long as a woman can pass the same physical tests are her male counterparts she should be allowed to serve alongside them. At the end of the day, military admission should be blind to gender, race, religion, or any other factor. In earlier times, gays and blacks were viewed in the military the same way women are today. As ineffective and a “efficency ruiner”. We have implemented laws that allow them to serve and nothing terrible has happened. So why not alter training a bit and let a woman serve in any position she wants as long as she can accomplish her goal. Joan of Arc didn’t care what was thought of her as a woman warrior. She wasn’t taken seriously by King Charles just as women aren’t being taken seriously today by their commanders. Women need to stand up for themselves and prove that they can do it. With this, I believe we can enjoy a military as successful and unified as ever.
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