A correspondent, whose name I have withheld pending permission to use it, has asked me to consider whether or not women’s exemption from registration for Selective Service contributes to the glass ceiling in this country, and whether or not I think women should have to register for Selective Service.
In good, ambiguous fashion, my answer is yes and no.
Bottom line up front: military conscription is a legitimate policy tool, and I believe that when in the future a draft becomes necessary, men and women should both register and be drafted. Also, the combat exclusion laws that govern servicewomen’s assignment policies jeopardize military efficiency and lessens militarily-useful (not social) cohesion between servicemembers of both sexes, and the Obama Administration should seek their elimination.
Yes, exclusion from Selective Service (and the combat arms and units ) is an issue in the glass ceiling but fixing this issue is not simply a matter of having women register for the draft. I oppose registering women for the draft because at this point in time, I oppose registering men for the draft, and I would still be opposed to registering men for the draft even if the serious underlying issues governing women’s military service were resolved.
I say this as a woman who was sent a draft registration card back in 1984, in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The status of women in the United States twenty years ago was not what it was now, and the status of servicewomen was also very different as well. There were a lot of men of all ranks who dealt fairly with servicewomen and they were probably in the majority. But the military’s institutional attitude towards servicewomen was so confused, counter-productive, often stupid and sometimes deliberately cruel, that in its dealings with servicewomen, it resembled an institution for the criminally insane—run by the inmates. Nevertheless, I thought that women had a stake in the survival of our society and that any Soviet invasion of Western Europe was going to go nuclear pretty quickly. And I thought the best way to avert that was not to try to levitate the Pentagon, but in some way help present my society as too obviously dangerous to be safely provoked. I also understood that when the state issues people arms and provides the training to use them in a disciplined and effective manner, it is that much harder to withstand their legitimate demands for political and social freedom and equality. So I filled out my draft card and sent it in.
Fast forward 24 years and a very different geo-political situation. Draft registration drives a serious wedge between young men and young women, especially in a society where young women quite reasonably expect equality at home, raising children, every much as at work. If the serious practical consequences of not registering fall entirely on young men, the potent political consequence of exclusion of bearing arms in the common defense is a very real, second-class citizen status for women. The simple fact of the matter is that those without arms can be dismissed in a way that those with arms cannot be. And they can be dismissed in public and in private because the status of the citizen as legitimate bearer of arms is very powerful and real.
But we rectify this by returning to a first principle of American citizenship, that of the universal militia. Section 311, Chapter 13 of Title X of the United States Code defines the universal militia as all able-bodied citizen males and alien males who have declared their intention to become citizens, ages 17 to 45 who are not members of the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and Naval militias of the several states, needs to be changed. Females, who are now limited to membership in the organized militia, are excluded by law from the universal militia: the Obama Administration should seek to modify the United States Code to include women in the Universal Militia and revise the age of both sexes upward to 60. Membership in the universal militia means that you are responsible for providing for the common defense, not only as a member of the community to be defended, but as a citizen of the polity. As someone who has the right to participate in the life of that polity through the political rights we can only exercise collectively: voting, jury service, militia duty. And just as the Founders distinguished between the organized militia, whose descendant is the National Guard, and the universal, unorganized, militia, “well-regulated” is an 18th century term that the Founders knew to mean “proficient in marksmanship”, not “state supervised” or “state controlled”.
To draft women, or even require women to register for the draft, before they are members of the universal militia is to make them fully subject to the rigors of the state before they are fully members of their polity. And that is simply wrong: it is morally and politically grotesque.
Later, after that is done, we can talk about registering women for the draft, or even drafting them, for the only thing citizens should ever be drafted for: to provide combat replacements for a grave military threat to the survival of the Republic. Not to engage in social engineering, or fight wars of choice, or to provide a huge pool of cheap labor that will devastate the low end of the economy. Because the Obama Administration should stop requiring young men to register for the draft.
At this point in the Republic’s history, we need neither a draft nor draft registration. We have just had, for the second time within my memory, both parties, with the collusion of huge swathes of the American public across the political spectrum, hideously and irresponsibly mismanage a war of choice. Drafting people does not make war less likely, it makes war more likely because you have a replacement stream adequate to replace mass casualties. And the last thing America needs is to give these fools bodies to play with, female or male.
So, no, I do not think women should register for the draft because I do not think men should register for the draft and this point in time, just as I also think that when a draft again becomes necessary (as it eventually will), women should be drafted with men. The intrinsic value of human life does not vary from one sex to the other, in war or in peace.
The still common and deeply reflexive belief that waging war, with all its attendant casualties being borne most heavily by combatants if the powers adhere to civilized rules, is something men should do is outmoded, but it is also a dim reflection of an outmoded truth. Until about 1940 or so, when American women ceased to die in such huge, horrible numbers that maternal mortality was nothing less than a sustained slaughter of women during what should have been the best years of their youth, combat service was a duty men owed the women in their lives. No man who was a man could expect a woman to bear the twin risks of childbirth and combat. And it is from this slaughter of women in childbed that we get the idea that man is a natural-born killer and woman not. Not because men do not give life during reproductive sex, and then, if the woman survives childbirth, after, in the rearing of the child, but because so often men were the deaths of the women they loved and the children they hoped to have with those women. When you understand both the tragedy of female reproductive biology and the political, social and emotional consequences of that tragedy, America’s post-World War Two exclusion of women from combat service as conscripts looks like a sustained cultural attempt to repay a blood debt with blood. But that was then, this is post-then.
We now live in an era of such low maternal mortality rates (which are in fact high compared to the rest of the developed world) that the meaning of sex, and of the male and female bodies themselves, have all been fundamentally changed. Our policies about who is a member of the unorganized militia and who not, who may bear arms and be trained as a combat soldier, who is eligible for the draft and not, and who must register or not, need to change to reflect the changed biological reality.
But you start with first principles, and you do not give people access to more bodies, who have wrecked this nation’s defenses. No, no, no, no. It will not make them more responsible. You restrict their access to bodies.