The news that women are now eligible for combat service means that that there likely remains no legitimate legal basis for exempting women from either Selective Service or a military draft. While, on the whole, women lack the physical capabilities of men, many young men have been drafted and have successfully served even though they lack the physical capabilities that many young women possess.
It is disappointing to read some who look upon the likely prospect that women will be drafted as "women's just desserts" for backing a progressive agenda. One writer to Time wrote: "I hope that this means that now all women on their 18th birthday will now be required to register with Selective Service. I wonder if all the women who vote for Obama because he told them that the Republicans had a so called 'war on women' like it better that they can now actually go to a real war with a real enemy. Obama will now not only give them free birth control but also free bullets for their M16." http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/25/viewpoint-the-department-of-defense-took-too-long-on-women-in-combat/
Sigh. I scratch my head over comments like that. This issue is too serious for nasty gender "get-evenism." Nor should we do the very thing we often complain about when it is done to men: reduce women to caricature -- in this case, by suggesting that women, as a class, will not support drafting young women because they want only rights and not responsibilities. The fact is, if women have been kept from shouldering their share of our nation's burdens, we can thank chivalrous men, not the dreaded NOW. Over the weekend, I was surprised to hear a progressive male commentator on CNN express concerns about drafting women -- chivalry seems to be etched into the DNA of masculinity, even where least expected.
Exempting women from the draft does not comport with modern notions of equality. Our ideas about equality and justice evolve over time. Changing circumstances make old ideas seem antiquated and, often, wrong. When modern people watch old television shows, or new shows set in the past (e.g., "Mad Men"), through the lens of their 21st Century sensibilities, they often find the gendered roles of days-gone-by to be jarring in ways the people living through those times could not.
If modern people could step back in time to the Civil War, they would be shocked. The unspeakable carnage of the war would be shocking, of course, but also shocking would be that the horrors of the war fell exclusively on men, especially young men, as opposed to women. The mind-numbing percentage of young men in their teens and 20s who were killed or maimed in that terrible war, which President Lincoln said was given by God "as the woe due to those by whom the offense [of slavery] came," would horrify most modern people. Women were exempted from service because of notions that people today are far less accepting of. But to the people of the 1860s, that was the way things were -- men and boys were the ones who fought, and died, in wars. There were no serious voices calling for women to be drafted.
And that's the way it has been in every war we've fought until recently. Military service, with its attendant horrors, has always been the single most onerous obligation imposed on our citizens, by multiple orders of magnitude. But only young males have been forced to shoulder this burden, in most cases, against their wills.
There are legitimate questions as to women's proper role in the military, and we do not presume to tell the military how to do its business. But as a matter of public policy, the legal exemption of all young women from registering with Selective Service, and from being drafted, is wholly inconsistent with notions of gender equality and cannot be reconciled with the cavalcade of laws in recent decades insuring that women have at least the same rights and privileges as men. Women will never be viewed as truly equal if they are exempted from the burdens of going to war.
Let's make clear that it isn't just the draft that is unfair. The fact that only young men are required to sign up for Selective Service is also unfair, albeit to a far lesser extent. Signing up is a de minimis hardship, but the System does raise concerns about gender equality that are often too readily dismissed.
First, if a draft is needed on very short notice -- and after all, the principal purpose of the Selective Service System is preparedness in the event a draft is needed on short notice -- only young men would be called.
Second, the more immediate concern is what happens to a young man if he fails to register. A man who fails to register may, if prosecuted and convicted, faces a fine of up to $250,000 and/or a prison term of up to five years. Even if not tried, a man who fails to register with Selective Service before turning age 26 may find that some doors are permanently closed. What doors? Many -- see Note* below.
Every year, even without a draft, the present law is penalizing a massive number of men, and only men, by making them possible felons and permanently stripping them of valuable rights and privileges that their same-age female peers take for granted -- merely because they engage in precisely the same conduct as their female peers. The number of men affected is staggering. According to the Annual Report to Congress of the Selective Service System for fiscal year 2012: "[I]f a man fails to register, or fails to provide evidence that he is exempt from the registration requirement . . ., his name is referred to the Department of Justice . . . for possible investigation and prosecution for his failure to register, as required by the Military Selective Service Act. During FY 2012, 101,355 names and addresses of suspected violators were provided to the DoJ."
Let that number sink in: 101,355. And they all have penises.The Selective Service's Web site is replete with assertions of its own fairness -- ironic, given that more than half the population of eligible Americans are exempt from registering and are not subject to any of the attendant penalties for failing to do so: the site says that the Selective Service System ensures that "any future draft will be fair and equitable . . .." And: "If a draft is ever needed, the public must see that it is fair and equitable. For that to happen, the maximum number of eligible men must be registered." Those last two sentences are, of course, self-contradictory. How can we talk about "fairness" and "equity" if we are only talking about registering men?
It is reasonable to assume that the vast majority of the men who fail to register, and are possible felons, are lacking in education and social standing, and most likely just don't fully understand -- despite the Selective Service System's explicit warnings -- what failing to register could mean to them. The penalties to be imposed on these men for this infraction will only add to their oppression. Surely this isn't what the Selective Service System means by "fairness"?
But the prospect that selective service will be extended to women should not be an occasion to celebrate. War is a terrible thing. No sane and rational person wants to see anyone forced to go to war, our sons or our daughters, except as a last resort. Our evolving notions of civility underscore the brutality of forcing someone, against his will, to take up arms and kill or be killed. The feminists have successfully argued "my body, my choice" when it comes to abortion, but the voices of young men who didn't want to be shipped overseas have been silenced with jail sentences.
Unfortunately, however, it is painfully obvious that if there must be a draft, there is no reason for exempting women. Women will never be truly equal unless a draft includes them.
*NOTE: Among the doors permanently closed to men who fail to register are the following:
STUDENT FINANCIAL AID: Men, born after December 31, 1959, who aren't registered with Selective Service won't qualify for Federal student loans or grant programs. This includes Pell Grants, College Work Study, Guaranteed Student/Plus Loans, and National Direct Student Loans.
CITIZENSHIP: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) makes registration with Selective Service a condition for U.S. citizenship if the man first arrived in the U.S. before his 26th birthday.
FEDERAL JOB TRAINING: The Workforce Investment Act (formerly called the Job Training Partnership Act - JTPA) offers programs that can train young men for jobs in auto mechanics and other skills. This program is only open to those men who register with Selective Service. Only men born after December 31, 1959, are required to show proof of registration.
FEDERAL JOBS: A man must be registered to be eligible for jobs in the Executive Branch of the Federal government and the U.S. Postal Service. Proof of registration is required only for men born after December 31, 1959.
The states have their own penalties for men who fail to register.