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Can a Woman Be a Good Commander in Chief

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


War and women

In 2016 when Hillary Clinton made her bid for president there were many who opined that in case she wins she would be the commander-in chief. In one of my social meetings at that time with a retired Colonel of the US Army a startling view point was projected. As per him, Hillary as a Commander in Chief is the most undesirable thing as far as the US is concerned. He pointed out that there is no record in the history of a woman having commanded any army and taken momentous military decisions.

One is apt to quote the example of Indira Gandhi and say " look she was a woman and yet led in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh". But in reality, she took only political decisions and despite her exhortations the then army Chief Sam Maneckshaw made it clear that he would launch the invasion only at a time he decided and hence the invasion was delayed by a few months. He also made it clear that he would run the military campaign and she would not have a say in it.

In the US such a scenario does not exist, as all executive power over the armed forces is the president. I must also grudgingly agree with my friend that there is no record of a woman taking military decisions in any time in world military history. Another friend, however, interjected and asked what about Razia Sultana and Joan of Arc of Orleans( France) ? My answer is Razia ruled in the company of her lover and all military decisions were taken by him, while Joan of Arc was a subordinate commander as the King of France was the de-facto ruler. In any case in a history of 4000 years, these are like flashes in the pan and overall women as commanders have not existed.

Camp followers

Before writing anything further, I must bring out the fact that women have always been along with the armed forces, maybe not as soldiers but as camp followers. Now, what are camp followers? They were women who accompanied the army. The British army in India and even during the American Civil War camp followers were there and they served a definite purpose. In the modern age, you cannot have camp followers and it is a moot point that the induction of women in the Armed Forces have got the concept of the camp followers behind. Another point is that throughout history, right to the Second World War women were treated more as a commodity and as the spoils of war. So it's a little incongruous to think that spoils of war can be commanders.


A woman commander in the US?

In 2016, when Hillary stood for election against Trump is about the closest to a woman becoming a commander-in-chief in the USA. She lost and the controversy died down. But what if she had won?

Assuming that Hillary had won she as president would also be the Commander in Chief of the US armed forces. What sort of commander she would have been is a question that many want to answer. One must understand that a C in C of the US armed forces is unlike any other commander as he or she also controls the nuclear button and the commander has to take momentous decisions on security matters and deployment of troops.

Luckily this question was never answered as she lost. Such a probability could however take place at a later date.

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Last word

War is now more complex and there is the added danger of a nuclear conflagration. This is the real danger as the sole authority to authorize a nuclear strike is the US president and one wonders how competent a woman will be to handle the nuclear button. In all likelihood, she will need an advisor, maybe a lover or husband. How would a woman have handled the Afghan retreat? This involves question of strategy and a woman president may have just become bewildered. China, Russia? There is a possibility that a woman can give a direction that is better than a man but one can't have the jury out on it, yet.

Being a woman has an effect. Women are associated with something soft and beautiful and one cannot associate them with the harsh decisions of deciding the policy of war or leading armies and Navies. One of my friends gave the example of Cleopatra leading the Egyptian fleet but she was in the company of her lover Marc Antony who took all the decisions. They lost is another matter..

How good a commander a woman can be is a question that in my view will never be answered. I do not visualize such a situation happening in the foreseeable future. Though women all over the world are becoming part of the mainstream forces yet nagging doubts remain. No woman has reached as commander of a large formation or group and I do not see it happening. In the USA , India and even countries like China, Russia and Iran many women have been inducted but frankly its just show piece politics and window dressing, as the mass of soldiers will not accept a woman commander.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 16, 2021:

Tom, they are individual warriors never led big armies and historically I have not heard of any woman general leading a massive army.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 16, 2021:

Thanks Tom, my point is a little different and I am talking at the conceptual level; a woman commanding a number of armies. That is where they fail.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 15, 2021:

Thanks, David, for commenting.

David Isaac on September 15, 2021:

Interesting article stating some facts which may not be palatable to some people.

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