NDIA PERSPECTIVE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
The Case for Women Entering a Draft
Photo: Defense Dept.
Selective Service law requires male U.S. citizens and male immigrants — documented and undocumented — to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday.
Failure to register disqualifies men from receiving federal student aid, federal job training or a federal job. The government can also prosecute men who don’t register with a potential fine of $250,000 and up to five years in prison.
As the Pentagon integrates women into every job in the military, the necessary next step is to amend the law to require women to also register with Selective Service, ensuring any future draft will fairly affect all eligible U.S. citizens, regardless of sex. The arc of American history and the democratic experiment is to get ever closer to the ideal that “we the people” are all “created equal” enjoying the rights and responsibilities of being American. The defense of the nation is one such responsibility all should share.
Selective Service plays an important role in national security; it provides the Defense Department with a “running start” obtaining the personnel necessary to fight during a major theater war. Some argue the draft is an anachronism, saying the nation will fight any future battles with a better trained, highly-committed all-volunteer force. However, the current active and reserve Army — approximately 2 million soldiers — is 25 percent of the 8.2 million soldiers serving at the end of World War II. Notably, of all the servicemen who participated in World War II, 38.8 percent, or 6.3 million, volunteered and 61.2 percent, 11.5 million, were drafted.
Almost certainly in a major theater war, after mobilizing the Guard and Reserve, the Pentagon would ask Congress to reinstitute the draft. When that happens, the department will depend on Selective Service to rapidly mobilize personnel. According to Selective Service officials, the current system would begin supplying inductees within 193 days of activation. If the U.S. deactivates Selective Service, it would take 920 days to begin augmenting the services. Ultimately, the nation maintains the Selective Service for the same reason people buy life insurance: they buy it hoping they will never need it. When they do need it, they have missed the opportunity to buy it.
Current law prohibits American women from registering with Selective Service because they are not subject to the draft. Historically, women were not subject to the draft, first, because they were prohibited from serving in the military, and subsequently because they were prevented from serving in combat.
When rescinding the prohibition on women in combat in January 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “The department’s goal in rescinding the rule is to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender.”
This should be the department’s goal under all circumstances, but especially in an existential conflict. In a large-scale war — the type of conflict most likely to require reinstitution of a draft — America will need its best, brightest, strongest, fastest, most capable citizens to serve in positions throughout the military, from cyber warriors to fighter pilots to infantry to finance. Excluding half of the population from mandatory service downplays women’s current and potential contributions and retains women in a status fundamentally unequal to their male counterparts.
Those who argue for exclusion appear to specifically oppose conscripting women into ground combat positions. One potential compromise: require women to register with the explicit understanding the government will not draft them into these incredibly difficult, dirty, dangerous jobs. Physically fewer women meet the standards for ground combat than men and, honestly, many Americans may balk at forcing women into ground combat.
Once drafted, women could volunteer for ground combat units if they meet physical standards. But opposition to drafting women into ground combat units should not prevent the nation from drafting women to fill a wide-array of military positions in everything from network operations to logistics — positions women currently fill with dedication and distinction.
Perhaps some opponents, consciously or unconsciously, oppose women’s registrations because it is a tangible sign of equal citizenship, of women assuming the same burden to protect and defend the Constitution as their male counterparts have done since America’s founding. But women have served effectively both secretly and openly in every conflict America has fought. With women now allowed to serve in every military position, no logical basis exists to exempt them from the draft. Women should be exposed to the same responsibilities of service as their fellow male citizens.
There’s a fundamental dissonance between pursuing equal opportunity and being unable to bear equal responsibility. Throughout the past 100 years, women have worked hard to expand their rights and opportunities in American society. Exposing female American citizens to the draft ensures an equal sharing of citizenship’s burdens.
When explaining their motivation to volunteer, servicemembers like to remind each other freedom isn’t free; defending our way of life has demanded sacrifice from each generation of Americans. Women fought hard through the 20th century and into the current century to gain equal rights, to equally benefit from the freedom and opportunity America offers. Women cannot attain full equality until we fully share the burdens of defending America’s freedom and opportunity.
Rachel McCaffrey is executive director of NDIA affiliate, Women In Defense.
Topics: Defense Department