As the federal government tells us, the Selective Service or some form of military conscription serving the same function has been around since the Revolutionary War. Throughout the history of America’s need for conscripting for the military, only men have been eligible – that is until now. As Laura Valkovic reported in Liberty Nation back in 2019, with a Texas District Court ruling that it is unconstitutional for a draft to single out men, the subject of drafting women gained political prominence and a place in the nation’s discourse.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on July 21 passed the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with a lopsided, bipartisan 23-3 vote that included an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act requiring young women to register for the draft.
This year’s NDAA is not the first time Congress has considered including women in the Selective Service System process. Masooma Haq, writing for The Epoch Times, points out that “Congress first considered making draft registration for women a requirement in 2016, even though all military combat jobs were open to women on a volunteer basis.” A provision to extend the draft to women was dropped before the NDAA came up for a floor vote in the House.
Whether implemented just in times of crisis, as was the case in World War I, or a fixture of the American national security landscape, the draft has been a principal part of keeping the U.S. secure. Between 1948 and 1973, during periods of peace and conflict, the draft was in place to fill shortfalls in needed skills that volunteers did not fill. In 1973 the involuntary induction authority expired, and Congress did not renew it.
However, the draft mechanism of the Selective Service System remains in place to augment the all-volunteer force in the event of a national emergency. To upgrade its potential response speed, the Selective Service in 1980 resumed the mandate that males must register for the draft within 30 days of reaching 18 years of age. The reality of drafting women, represented by the passing of the recent NDAA, is a new wrinkle.
Voices For and Against
While Republicans on the SASC are commonly unanimous in their support for a defense funding authorization bill, this time, there were two Republican dissenters. Roll Call’s reporting explained that Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) voted against the authorization act because it included the provision for drafting women. The only other “no” vote was Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who doesn’t like Pentagon funding bills generally. Explaining his objection to Congress mandating women register for the draft, Hawley said in a tweet:
“I voted against forcing women to enter the draft, and here’s why. American women have heroically served in and alongside our fighting forces since our nation’s founding. It’s one thing to allow American women to choose this service, but it’s quite another to force it upon our daughters, sisters, and wives. Missourians feel strongly that compelling women to fight our wars is wrong, and so do I.”
The argument in favor of having females register with the Selective Service is that in the past, combat specialties in the military excluded them, but now that all military jobs are open to women, putting just men at risk is unfair. In the Times, Haq points out that the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service in its report made this case, saying, “This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified nation in a time of national emergency.” When the commission presented its findings to the SASC back in March, the chairman of the committee, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), said:
“[W]hen the Department of Defense opened all military positions to service by women in 2016, the question was raised whether women should register for the selective service and if there were constitutional concerns if women were not required to register. As I stated then, I believe that women should be included in military selective service.”
An interesting alternative point of view from a source not always known for conservative gender policies is the commentary by Torild Skard entitled “No To Female Conscription,” published by the International Alliance of Women. Skard is a psychologist and former member of parliament in Norway. The commentary, though uniquely Norwegian, picks up on a historically conventional theme as Skard explains:
“The arguments are put forward that women and men must be treated equally, that women will help maintain the legitimacy of conscription and that they will contribute to better defense … Gender equality implies first and foremost that women and men should have the same human rights and fundamental freedoms. Women should be valued and allocated power and resources on equal terms with men. But women and men do not have to be alike or do the same things to be equal”
Whether the senate version of the FY2022 NDAA with its amendment mandating conscription for women makes it through the House of Representatives remains to be seen. Curiously, with the current rules, when it comes to the transgender category, men who identify as women must register, while women who identify as men do not. Apparently, the Selective Service still believes that biology rules.
There is a nuance that is missing from most of the reporting and commentary. In the past, when men were drafted, though they may have been given some options as to choice of military job or Service, if the need were for frontline infantry, that’s where they went. They are, after all, non-volunteers. To that very point, the message the SASC has sent is clear, women hold no special place in our culture and should be put in the frontlines of combat with the same dispassion as are men.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.