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Instead of Drafting Women, Dump the Draft

Instead of Drafting Women, Dump the Draft: © Chad Hunt/Corbis

© Chad Hunt/Corbis

Though it may or may not become law, the House Armed Services Committee just narrowly passed an amendment that would require women as well as men to sign up for the Selective Service. This amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act was sponsored by Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). He objects to women being allowed in any combat role in the military. But his attempt at starting a debate on women in the military has turned into surprising acceptance of the idea of a fair and equal draft–especially on the Democrat side.

For the moment, every male still has to register for the Selective Service at age 18, and they are eligible to be drafted until age 26. Women do not register and cannot be drafted. That is unfair, and it is sexist. But the solution to the decrepit notion that the young of the country are communal property is not to remove the sexism, it’s to remove the draft.

The president would still have to sign the NDAA with this amendment, and he may or may not take issue with it. Yet, this is a big deal. It would be the biggest change to the draft, since, well, the U.S. stopped it in 1973. Selective Service registration was even paused for five years until it was re-upped by a nervous President Jimmy Carter in 1980, who was eyeing the Soviet Union’s inroads into Afghanistan. However, our myriad wars since Vietnam have all been fought without conscription.

The draft was actually challenged on grounds of sexism soon after Carter brought back registration. Carter wanted to mandate registration from women as well. However, in Rostker v. Goldberg (1981), the Supreme Court ruled that a male-only draft was not sexist because combat roles were not fully open to women. Given that all roles were opened up last year, and that some important Defense Department fellas support drafting women, that precedent is a hell of a good one to build upon, if you wanted to get this amendment into law.

So, should we? It is equality, isn’t it? Sure. But equality isn’t everything. Military service should be based on choice and ability. And compulsory service should be removed entirely. Today’s military is technologically complex, and dragging unwilling conscripts into it will not do anyone any favors. If there was ever a true war of necessity, people would fight. Maybe they don’t join now because these wars are unnecessary. Hell, most military leaders swear the draft is done for good, so why do we still have a Selective Service at all?

Some have argued that since conscription affects more people than today’s wars fought by a small number of Americans, bringing it back might paradoxically make the U.S. more cautious about engaging in conflicts. When taking this stance, people will point to Vietnam. And yep, anger with the draft did help end the war…after 60,000 Americans and two million Vietnamese died. You don’t stop the runaway truck of U.S. foreign policy by throwing a man in front of it, and you definitely don’t stop it by throwing a man and a woman, just to make things equal.


Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com. Twitter: @lucystag.

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