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Jim Webb’s 1979 Thoughts on Violence, Women and Sexuality

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Sen. Jim Webb says he’s changed his mind about his feelings on women in combat. The Virginia Democrat and 2016 presidential candidate spelled out his objections in a 1979 Washingtonian piece that is bracing in its argument that women in combat roles would have dire effects on the military’s viability.  

On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Webb said he was “proud” of the first two females who recently graduated the Army’s Ranger School, was “totally comfortable now with the military being able to make these decisions in a way that goes to performance” and noted their matriculation from West Point.  

Webb’s team even put up on his 2016 campaign web site a story touting the CNN appearance. It’s a big turnaround from his Nov. 1, 1979 Washingtonian article (“Jim Webb: Women Can’t Fight”). Its language about human nature, gender roles and the place of women in the service academies, is stark.  

Among its more memorable passages:

  • “Man is more naturally violent than woman. Four times as many men are involved in homicides as women. You might not pick this up in K Street law offices or in the halls of Congress, but once you enter the areas of this country where more typical Americans dwell, the areas that provide the men who make up our combat units, it becomes obvious. Inside the truck stops and in the honky-tonks, down on the street and in the coal towns, American men are tough and violent. When they are lured or drafted from their homes and put through the dehumanization of boot camp, then thrown into an operating combat unit, they don’t get any nicer, either. And I have never met a woman, including the dozens of female midshipmen I encountered during my recent semester as a professor at the Naval Academy, whom I would trust to provide those men with combat leadership.”
  • “What are the advantages to us, as a society, of having women in combat units? I don’t know of any.”
  • “Externally looking in, the system has been objectified and neutered to the point it can no longer develop or measure leadership.”
  • “They are emerging into womanhood almost alone, in an isolation that resembles a tour of duty on a desert island. They study a man’s profession, learn the deeds of men, accept men as role models. They seem spirited but confused, tolerated but never accepted. They are for the most part delightful women, trusting and ambitious and capable in many ways, and I admire them, more for who they are than for what they are doing. As for what they are doing, it would be unfair not to mention that no other group of women in this country has ever undergone such a prolonged regimen, however watered down. But I cannot escape a feeling that even the women are losing, that someday they will come to believe they lost more than they gained inside those walls.”
  • “Many women appear to be having problems with their sexuality. Part of it comes from male scrutiny: What kind of a woman would seek out the Academy routine? Another part comes from the daily environment, which cannot help but create self-doubts and uncertainties. Part of it comes from what is left of the plebe system, which is designed to unsettle a person’s self-image, and has the potential of cutting deeper into women, who are traditionally not verbally abused by males in our society.”

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