This Article explores the deep connections between the crises facing the military and affirmative action. The military struggles with a sexual assault epidemic and a related failure to achieve gender and racial equality, both of which undermine its ability to effectively carry out its mission. Affirmative action faces growing skepticism from the American public and from the courts, which have been gradually eliminating the ground on which gender- and race-conscious measures can be constitutionally justified.

In this time of crisis for both, the military and affirmative action need each other like never before. Affirmative action needs the military to tell the American public and the courts, once again, the story of how race- and gender-conscious measures permitted it to endure earlier crises and emerge as a stronger, highly respected institution. And the military needs affirmative action because it cannot hope to eliminate the damaging gender hostility within its ranks unless it uses gender-conscious measures to rapidly integrate its leadership—especially by assigning women to the combat positions from which they were unfairly excluded.

If the military can once more lead by example, it may persuade a conservative Court to accept that there is still a place for affirmative action in American life. But the military must be willing to act and to use all of the available constitutional arguments in defense of its own policies, as well as those in civilian institutions. If affirmative action cannot survive in the military, it probably cannot survive anywhere in public life. Its fate and that of the military are inextricably intertwined.

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