Registering women for the draft may not be a done deal

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Tucked away in the massive 2021-2922 National Defense Authorization Act (along with some totally bonkers orders about UFOs) is a change to the selective service program that we’ve debated here in the past. Under these new rules, women would be forced to register for the draft upon reaching the age of 18. While the proposal has gathered some bipartisan support and may wind up making it into law, obviously not everyone is thrilled with the idea. As a report from Government Executive this week points out, the debate is creating some very unlikely bedfellows in opposition to this change. Elected officials and activist groups as diametrically opposed in ideology as Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Code Pink (!) are suddenly finding themselves on the same side in this battle. Of course, their reasons for agreeing in this fashion are very different, but they still hope to derail this effort before the NDAA is signed into law.

China hawk Sen. Josh Hawley normally has little in common with anti-war group Code Pink. But the two are on the same side when it comes to keeping women out of the draft.

Congress is expected to debate this year whether women should register with the selective service, when it considers the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. The fight is uniting advocates on opposite extremes of the political spectrum, even if their reasons for supporting or opposing the change are different.

“It’s a weird pairing,” said Kara Vuic, an expert on women in the military who teaches at Texas Christian University. “They’re united because they don’t want women going to war, whether that’s because they don’t want anybody going to war or because they think women should be in the home.

Kara Vuic takes a rather unfair shot at Hawley here, at least in my opinion. I’ve never heard Josh Hawley say that he thinks ‘a woman’s place is in the home.’ But I have heard him (correctly) say that American women should not be forced into combat against their will. Like me, Hawley has no issue with women being allowed to volunteer and enlist if they can pass the basic fitness tests. (The same caveat applies equally to men, of course.) Hawley has already introduced an amendment to reopen the debate on the Senate floor and delete the proposal from the bill.

But why is Code Pink against it? Don’t they want women to be “equal” to men in all things? A co-director of the group told the AP that they are “hosting webinars to push for abolishing the draft entirely.” Their point is that this isn’t a debate over gender equality. It’s a debate over whether anyone of either gender should be forced to enter the military and go to war if they don’t wish to.

It’s a rare day indeed when you’ll hear me saying that I agree with Code Pink about anything under the sun, but this may be the exception to the rule. I understand why the draft was originally instituted and there were arguable reasons to support it in the early days. But we’ve been operating with an all-volunteer military for quite a while now and most analysts agree that it’s worked out just fine. We occasionally run into periods when recruitment goals aren’t reached, but all of the branches of the service eventually catch up.

Going beyond the basic numbers, I would ask anyone who disagrees whether they would prefer to find themselves in a foxhole with someone who volunteered to put their life on the line for their country or someone who was forced to be there under threat of jail time. Seems like a fairly easy call to make, as far as I’m concerned. Frankly, I’m not sure why we still need to have the selective service system activated when we’re not drafting anyone. We could table it and still retain the option of activating it again if it was ever truly needed in the future.

My other objections, as we’ve discussed here in the past, are the ones that will inevitably wind up having people call me a misogynist or something similar. I have never embraced the idea of American women even being in combat roles because of the additional threats they would face if captured by the enemy above and beyond what the male soldiers would have to endure. That ship has sailed, unfortunately, but the current issue is still in play. Allowing women to volunteer is one thing. Forcing them into uniform against their will is another.

As the linked article points out, this remains an uphill battle. The House has already passed the NDAA with the female draft provision in it. And that provision was sent to the floor by the Senate Armed Forces Committee with bipartisan support. Hawley and those with similar views are going to need to make an awfully compelling case to kill this notion at this stage. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a battle worth fighting. We simply shouldn’t be doing this.