The United States hasn’t actually held a draft lottery for military service since December of 1969, but the idea has never truly died out. Young men still have to register for the selective service and you can face penalties if you don’t do so. Democrats in particular, from Bernie Sanders to Charley Rangel, seem to be big on the idea of bringing back the draft, though they mostly just enjoy talking about it as a way of highlighting income inequality or racial disparity. It’s a bad idea and one which is opposed by most veterans, but it remains a political football every election cycle.
So let’s say we were to bring it back. One question in the era of the Social Justice Warrior should immediately come to mind: why are we only making men register? Isn’t this the era of gender equality? Glenn Reynolds took some time out from the usual political pablum last week to opine that what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.
I’m against a draft in general, despite ongoing efforts by people like congressman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., to bring it back. As Robert Heinlein once said, a nation that can’t defend itself without conscription doesn’t deserve to survive. But that said, if we’re going to have a draft, I don’t see why it shouldn’t apply to women, too. And I’m happy to see that President Obama agrees with me.
In the old days, of course, patriarchy paid. Despite tales of fierce female Amazon warriors, sexual division of labor — in which women focused on childbearing and child-rearing while men engaged in war — tended to make societies much more formidable. A nation could lose a large chunk of its fighting-age men and still bounce back, so long as its fertile women remained.
Nowadays, when war isn’t a matter of hacking at people with sharp objects, that matters less. Women’s primary activity is no longer childbearing, and many women will never have kids at all. And even those who do have kids often delay childbearing until their late 20s or even 30s, long after any draft-induced military service would end.
Glenn is a smart guy and he raises some interesting points about both the shortcomings of the draft and shifting social conventions. But at the same time I think he tends to oversimplify the reason why only men were drafted in the first place. Granted, if we approach the question from a rather caveman era perspective you might make the argument that the “womenfolk” need to be back home taking care of the babies so they aren’t available to lug a rocket launcher around the streets of Kandahar. But if we’re to be honest, it was always about more than that.
I’ve made the cultural dinosaur argument against women in combat here for ages, while understanding that not everyone agrees. But the fact is that we’ve had a very difficult time finding women who are combat ready and who can keep up with the men. This gender disparity was brought into even sharper relief when the military sought to get some females through Ranger training. Finding ladies up to the challenge of combat training is difficult enough, but even the ones who do make it are more prone to injuries and don’t hold up as well under the wear and tear. Not to be too cruel about it, but if you put a weak link into the combat chain you increase the likelihood of it breaking.
And are we really that hard up for soldiers at this point that we can’t fill the combat billets with men? The Army is on track to meet their recruiting goals again this year, though barely. The Navy, Marines and Air Force met all their goals and have actually been able to step up their requirements to the point where they’re turning more applicants away.
Even if you’re not philosophically opposed to forcing women into combat roles or military service they didn’t ask for, where is the need for this? Our own troops don’t want people on the battlefield who didn’t volunteer to fight for their nation, so why add more complications to the mix? Forcing women to sign up for the draft would be a political ploy to prove how “evolved” we are which accomplishes nothing and potentially weakens the force. This is an idea whose time should never come.