Every November 11 in the U.S., we honor America’s veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. As we take this day to salute our current and former troops, we at Under the Microscope want to acknowledge the work of those women, both in the military and as civilians, who are involved in military science. But what exactly is military science?
For me, the term conjures up images of grenadiers, the founding of military academies, and other innovations of the late 17th and 18th centuries. The Wikipedia definition (the process of translating national defense policy to produce military capability by employing various scientists and engineers), suggests a relatively narrow focus on weapons technology. This definition differs significantly from that of other dictionaries. For instance, Merriam-Webster defines the term to include anything and everything war-related ( “The principles of military conflict”). Google searches for “military science" turn up a myriad of academic departments administering their school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and this association supports the all-encompassing definition. In short, military science encompasses all aspects of warfare, including but not limited to technological innovations.
At first, I was confused by the use of the word “science” in this context, but then I recalled the simple steps of the scientific method I was taught in grade school:
Step 1: Ask a question. (How can we win this war?)
Step 2: Construct a hypothesis. (We can win by employing tactics X, Y, and Z.)
Step 3: Test this hypothesis by doing an experiment. (Engage in battle.)
Step 4: Analyze the data and draw a conclusion. (Did we win the war using this approach?)
Where do women fit into this logic of military science? The struggles and triumphs of women in the military are numerous, as are the number of books about them. A short history of U.S. women’s entrance into military science is available here from the University of Cincinnati. Last year, The New York Times featured a 6-part series on women in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They describe the challenges of motherhood, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sexual abuse by comrades as well as women’s successful integration into ground combat units.
Women have also made great strides toward equality in the more technology-oriented aspects of military science. During World War II, the women working on the Manhattan Project and other defense work were practically invisible. As described in The Madame Curie Complex, women were rarely hired except for monotonous tasks like monitoring gauges.Contrast that with the pro-diversity statements on the websites of virtually every national laboratory and initiatives like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Young Women in Science Program.
While women are still outnumbered by men in most of these institutions, that’s changing. Valerie Toth, an aerospace engineer employed by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin, says she’s been, “pleasantly surprised with how many women there are. The company is very blatant about its diversity objectives. Overall it’s really nice.”
Women have made and are continuing to make huge strides toward equality in all aspects of military science. Thank you to all who have made this progress possible.
If you’re interested in learning more about women in the United States Military, see the following sites:
Air Force Women Officers Associated
Women in the US Army
Women and the US Coast Guard
Women in the Marine Corps
Women in the US Navy
Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Military Women of America, Inc
Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN)
Are you a woman involved in some aspect of military science? Share your stories in the comments section below or in Your Stories (login required).
Image of General Ann Dunwoody. In 2008, she became the first woman in U.S. history to achieve the rank of 4-star general .