The phrase “be careful what you wish for” is germane in today’s society of fast-moving and “progressive” change. Gender equality is a goal most people would say they aspire to, but even the noblest hopes and dreams can end in tragedy. Unforeseen consequences can lend a sour tang to once-righteous aspirations, and feminists may one day regret some of their wishes on a monkey’s paw.
Gender has been a hot topic in the U.S. military recently, and a Texas District Court judge has ruled that it is unconstitutional for women to be exempted from the draft, after the National Coalition for Men (NCFM) complained that men are unfairly targeted for compulsory military service. While conscription was discontinued in 1973 after the Vietnam War, male residents in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 currently need to be registered with the Selective Service System, a government agency that stores information to be used if the draft is reintroduced. Penalties for failure to register include a fine of $250,000 or five years in jail, as well as exclusion from various government assistance programs and federal jobs – harsh punishment considering compulsory service is not actively being implemented.
NCFM brought the case against the Selective Service System, claiming that male-only conscription is an example of “socially institutionalized male disposability.”
Discrimination Against Men?
The NCFM is an organization “committed to ending harmful discrimination and stereotypes against boys, men, their families and the women who love them.” It lists a range of issues for which it campaigns, including military conscription, domestic violence, anti-male media bias, forced labor, reproductive rights, and others. The organization argues on its website that women have contributed to military action in the past by supporting the declaration of war and exerting social pressure on individuals to participate:
“No gender oppression is comparable in magnitude to the deaths of males in war, which includes forced conscription .… Women leaders supported and declared wars, and women in the general population have supported wars at almost the same rate men have .… In his report, “War and Gender,” University of Massachusetts political scientist Joshua Goldstein documents how women have actively encouraged military adventurism, both in modern and indigenous societies, and that in the face of imminent conflict, women goad their men into combat.”
The NCFM argued that male-only conscription is an example of the law being applied unequally and violates the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Judge Gray H. Miller, a Bush appointee, found in favor of the NCFM, although the ruling is only declaratory and does not require any action to comply with the decision – so a change in the draft is not exactly imminent. It could prove a weathervane for the winds of change, however.
Military Service for Women
In 1981, the Supreme Court decided in the case of Rostker v. Goldberg that male-only conscription was “fully justified” because combat roles were open only to men. In 2015, however, all restrictions on female military participation were lifted, with women now permitted into all areas, including combat roles – it makes sense that female conscription would not be far behind such a move.
Judge Miller noted that, while historical warfare practices “may have justified past discrimination,” in today’s technological age that is not necessarily the case. He reasoned:
“The average woman could conceivably be better suited physically for some of today’s combat positions than the average man, depending on which skills the position required. Combat roles no longer uniformly require sheer size or muscle.”
Marc Angelucci, attorney for NCFM, said, “Women are now allowed in combat, so this decision is long overdue.”
Congress expects a 2020 report by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, which will include a comprehensive review of the selective service process, among other aspects of the military. An interim report released in January revealed that the commission is considering the question of female conscription, though little clue was given as to the expected recommendations. Interestingly, the commission also is looking at the possibility of universal national service, with either civilian or military options.
The report is set to be non-binding so that Congress will have the final say on any changes, but 2016 already saw a bipartisan push to draft women. That effort was sidelined on procedural technicalities because its unanticipated success caused alarm among some lawmakers; allegedly the bill was proposed in order to prove there would be little interest in female conscription, but the plan quickly backfired.
Equality Without Liberty
Is the ruling a victory for gender equality, or a sad day for liberty? As Angelucci commented, “Either they need to get rid of the draft registration, or they need to require women to do the same thing that men do.” A government rarely gives up power it has managed to obtain over its citizens – the current existence of selective service is itself a sign of that — so it seems one of those two suggestions is more likely to transpire than the other.
Neither sex has had it easy during wartime, and now it is possible that double the number of young people may be forced into active military roles against their will. During the 20th century, women were recruited into support roles building munitions, working in factories, nursing soldiers, or caring for families at home on their own. In today’s world of increasingly mechanized warfare – with technology like drones representing only the tip of the iceberg for mechanized combat in the 21st century – combat is less “personal” and an individual’s physical strength no longer has the importance it once did. It is hard to argue, therefore, that women won’t be able to participate at higher rates in military roles. Nevertheless, it seems contradictory that one goal of feminists – equality in employment – will surely get women killed in potentially unprecedented numbers, not to mention the consequences to the people of both sexes left to survive without an almost entire generation of able-bodied and childbearing young people.
If women become eligible for conscription, the big winners will be neither women nor men, but the military-industrial complex, which will have access to millions more young people who can be turned into pieces for use in its next engineered conflict.