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Women in the Draft

Nov. 11, 2016
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In May and June of this year, both the United States House of Representatives and Senate debated measures which would require women turning 18 after 2018 to register for the draft. This idea has seen support not only from Republican lawmakers, but also from women in both parties. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled that women weren’t required to register for the Selective Service because they didn’t occupy combat roles at the time. Drafting women is only fair now that women can occupy combat roles, supporters of the measures argue. After all, if women want equality, they need to accept the negatives with the positives. Otherwise, all women are really asking for is special treatment. 

It’s interesting how many people — particularly politicians — seemingly only care about gender equality when it comes to ensuring women are equally as likely as men to suffer harm. However, the idea that these measures were initiated out of concern for the equal treatment of women is deceptive, to say the least. Republican Representative Duncan Hunter, who introduced the amendment that would require women’s conscription to the House’s defense authorization bill, has openly opposed allowing women to serve in combat roles. In fact, Representative Hunter, who proposed the amendment in an attempt to prove that there is little support for drafting women, actually voted against his own amendment

That’s not to say that all those who oppose the idea have the best reasoning either. Republican Senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz, for example, strongly opposes the idea because he “cannot in good conscious vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat”. It seems a good portion of the opposition comes from a place of misogyny: simply a reiteration of the idea that women are too fragile to be in combat and that women need to be protected from the horrors of war because they cannot be expected to handle them as men do. 

Now, it’s absolutely true that requiring men and not women to sign up for the Selective Service is discriminatory. But forcing women to register is a step in the wrong direction. The answer to the inequality created by the draft as we now know it is not to require women to register, but to remove the requirement that men do so.

When it comes down to it, the draft is an unnecessary, outdated tool that should be abandoned altogether. Though still requiring men over 18 to register, the United States has not actually used a military draft since 1973, during the Vietnam War. That’s 43 years! In that time, the United States has been engaged in multiple major wars and has managed to make do with an all-volunteer military force. Furthermore, while support for women registering for the draft may be fairly evenly split, public support for the draft as a whole is quite low. Even during the height of the war in Iraq, 80% of Americans did not think that the U.S. should return to using the draft

Many supporters of the draft voice concern over the possibility of the United States being engaged in a war while too few Americans volunteer to enlist. But, frankly, if a country’s war is so unpopular that it has to force its citizens to participate under threat of fine or imprisonment, maybe that’s not a conflict in which that country should be involved in the first place.

Moreover, while the draft may be spectacularly effective in amassing a great number of bodies for the force, it seems an all-volunteer military is ultimately more useful. After all, when fighting a war, isn’t it preferable to have a professional military composed of members who actually opted to be there; members who have committed to serve for a long enough period of time that it is viewed as an investment to train them well, rather than a waste of money? Is it merely a coincidence that 74 percent of Americans surveyed in 2015 expressed either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the U.S. military, up from only 58 percent in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam war? A good portion of those who support the draft have served or have loved ones who have served. But shouldn’t they —  the people who are perhaps most aware of the sacrifices that come with military service — prefer our current system, in which military members are offered substantial medical, housing, educational, and retirement benefits for making those sacrifices? 

The idea that requiring women to sign up for the draft is progress is misguided. Rooted in notions of misogyny and cosmetic equality, forcing women to register might appear to be a foot in the right direction, but is really a resounding step back. The truly progressive approach is to admit what we already know— that the draft is an antiquated relic of a past we would rather not relive, and do away with conscription entirely. 


Cover Image via ShutterStock