But he didn't say that recently. That's a quote from a fascinating February 28, 1988 article that I found in the NYT archive. (You'll need TimesSelect for access.) Webb was Secretary of the Navy at the time.
I was looking for some more detail about what he'd said about women in the military and found it:
But Webb shattered his welcome at Annapolis in 1979 with a scathing article for Washingtonian magazine. Entitled ''Women Can't Fight,'' it was a traditionalist's diatribe against the admission three years earlier of women into the academy. The piece took a tone that could only offend women; he called Bancroft Hall, the school's single, mammoth dormitory, housing 300 women and 4,000 men, ''a horny woman's dream.''But perhaps more significant than that is his thinking about the use of military force:
''There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat,'' he wrote. ''And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation.''
Webb's second novel, ''A Sense of Honor,'' set at Annapolis, stirred up more turmoil. It decried the Naval Academy's emasculation and defended the old style of masculine indoctrination and hazing that Webb and his classmates had known....
Webb's views on women came up in his confirmation hearings for the reserve affairs position, and, during his tenure as secretary, the Navy has been harshly criticized by Pentagon review boards for pervasive patterns of sexual harassment and discrimination.
["Fields of Fire"] is so intensely personal that one can't help but turn to it for an exegesis of its author. What emerges is a portrait of a man who views all military missions through the prism of Vietnam.The danger is that we commit our forces in an operational environment, and then become paralyzed by the political debate that follows.
Without question, this is the case when Webb considers the Persian Gulf. For him, the frigates and destroyers in the Gulf sometimes resemble the tanks and foot soldiers that slogged into ambush in rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam. ''It is something that I think about all the time in the Persian Gulf,'' he said recently, ''where we are dangled around like a target before the next step.''...
The problem he recalled from Vietnam was that American forces were not given free rein to fight a war. ''The military was forced to pay a human cost for the country's caution,'' said Webb, ''and then paid again with its prestige when some labeled the inevitable results of such limited activity 'military incompetence.' '' Once again, in the Gulf, more than geopolitical interest was at stake. It was the prestige of the military. It was also youthful lives and limbs.
''I have really been struggling with this,'' Webb said one evening last fall. He was nursing a beer in a darkened Virginia restaurant near the Pentagon. ''The danger,'' he said, ''is that we commit our forces in an operational environment, and then become paralyzed by the political debate that follows.'' When the first oil tanker under escort hit a mine in July, Webb escalated his activities. In a set of memorandums to then Defense Secretary Weinberger, Webb called into question some of the fundamental premises of the Reagan Administration's Gulf policy....
Vietnam was not the only historical analogy he saw. He was also troubled by the parallels to Beirut - where he had worked as a journalist in October 1983, winning an Emmy award for ''The MacNeil/Lehrer Report'' on his coverage of the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks there.
''In Vietnam, the problem was not setting clear enough goals, so that we could shape our policy in the early years, and know where we were going,'' said Webb. ''In Beirut, it was injecting a military force and then paralyzing it. You just couldn't change anything because the debate was so strong at the top.''
Webb is clearly a very smart guy with a lot of nerve and many years of experience thinking about the right questions.