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Two columnists debate whether including women in the draft makes it more equal, or brings us further away from equality.

Opinion | Toward a Not-so-Selective Service

The motto of Suffragette Susan B. Anthony’s newspaper, “The Revolution,” was, “Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” The goal of the Women’s Suffrage and Equal Rights movements has always been the achievement of a more egalitarian society for men and women. The first domino to fall was the achievement of women’s voting rights on August 18, 1920, which led to nearly a century of consistent improvement in the opportunities for women.

In 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women fighting in combat, which spurred the Department of Defense in 2017 to officially argue in favor of making the Selective Service System gender-neutral. According to Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper from the Department of Defense, The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is currently evaluating the DOD’s proposal and will release a report detailing their findings soon. If the government moves forward with expanding the Selective Service to include women, then one of the final examples of institutional sexism will finally be toppled.

All that said, the Selective Service System in its current form isn’t practical. The United States has had an exclusively volunteer-composed army since the end of the last draft in 1973, and the system currently keeps up to date records on all U.S. 18-to 25-year-old males for recruitment purposes. Although the Selective Service has been dormant for 46 years, Congress and the President could reinstate a national draft lottery at any point in time, meaning ,that at any moment, young men face the possibility of being forced to drop their lives and fight for their country.

Men are required by law to register for the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday or face the possibility of legal consequences. Besides juridical ramifications, many government services and benefits such as FAFSA, Pell Grants, and federal government employment require Selective Service registration, according to USA.gov. Under the current system, women will never be forced under threat of jail time to give up their lives, which seems like the antithesis of the equality the women’s movement is fighting for.

One of the common arguments used against these proposed changes is that women aren’t strong enough to fight on the front lines. Although this view may sound like an antiquated and patronizing quote from an episode of “Mad Men,” this is the belief of many who oppose an egalitarian draft. A recent study from the Journal of Applied Physiology found, on average, men may be more biologically capable of carrying more weight and handling greater physical strain, but these are simply averages that don’t tell the full story. According to NPR, most recent studies about military readiness show that most young Americans aren’t fit for active duty. The truth is that, regardless of biological differences, most men will struggle to meet the incredibly strict active duty standards, but this fact hasn’t stopped the government from enlisting these physically challenged male citizens. Even if women were to be drafted, it's important to remember that not every recruit ends up on the front lines. Many roles in areas such as medicine, transportation, logistics and infrastructure construction don’t require the use of weapons.

Another argument against females in the draft centers on the rise of sexual assaults in the already coed volunteer army. In 2013, Medscape reported that 25% of women in the military had been sexually assaulted, while 80% had been sexually harassed. These are morally reprehensible statistics that warrant serious oversight and reform; however, they don’t mean women shouldn’t be allowed to serve. NPR reported that nearly 38% of women have reported being sexually harassed at their workplace, yet most don’t argue that women shouldn’t be allowed to have a job. The solution to rampant sexual assault isn’t to renege on the advancements of women’s equality; it’s to confront the problem and punish those creating such a toxic atmosphere.

As evidenced by the international women’s marches and the record number of women elected to Congress recently, women are becoming more involved in the political process, which is a wonderful thing for American democracy. Women are using the rights gained through a century of sacrifice and hard work by the women before them to continue fighting for more rights and a greater voice in public discourse. In a country that consistently has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the free world, we should applaud the number of women who perform their civic duty. 

All that said, equal rights are an all or nothing situation. One can’t choose which rights and responsibilities are desirable and which aren’t because that creates a fundamentally unjust society where certain citizens are required to give up more for the same rights as others. The Selective Service may be outdated and unnecessary, but it teaches us that citizens’ rights and freedoms are incredibly valuable commodities that aren’t free. If we aren’t prepared to die for those rights, then how much do we really value them?

Charlie Jones is a freshman public policy & administration major. Contact Charlie at jones7cr@dukes.jmu.edu.

 

Opinion | Drafting women is just a really bad idea

The draft, when instituted, has never left a good mark on a generation. Pulling thousands of young men out of society, sending them to their imminent deaths, using most as nothing more than cannon fodder and sending those that survive their tour back home with PTSD and debilitating physical deformities is absolutely terrible for the entire nation. Some people believe it would be less terrible if the reach of this selection process was broader and young women were involuntarily thrown into the clutches of war alongside young men, but increasing the scope of an evil by making it more egalitarian doesn’t make it less morally repugnant. 

Drafting women would compound the problem of sexual assault in the military, lead to more brutal battles with higher casualties and ,,harm the potential population growth of the United States, which would multiply any pre-existing labor shortages and stagnate or slow future economic growth. Equality, while a noble goal, shouldn’t be the sole measure by which the goodness or badness of a policy is evaluated. 

With regard to sexual assault in the military, it’s a problem even among women who are physically trained to DoD standards and willingly enlisted; about one in 16 servicewomen were sexually assaulted in the most recent reporting year, according to a DoD Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. The report is only indicative of women assaulted within a year of the reporting period — in this case, the 2018 fiscal year — and thus doesn’t measure the total percentage of servicewomen assaulted within any time frame. 

In the Marines, the military branch with the highest rate of sexual assault, an estimated one in nine servicewomen were sexually assaulted that year. If even well-trained and experienced servicewomen who willingly fight for their country face a significant threat of sexual assault from their male comrades, young women with less physical preparation and training — such as those drafted into the armed forces against their will — would likely face a much larger threat. 

There are also cultural factors that must be taken into account regarding the adversary in war. While women are certainly just as capable of shooting a gun as men, and some women are even lethal in close combat, the odds are stacked against them. This isn’t just due to the fact that the average man is larger and stronger than the average woman, but it’s also due to the fact that enemy soldiers from highly patriarchal and hypermasculine cultures may fight harder against female soldiers. Male adversaries from more misogynistic cultural backgrounds are generally unwilling to surrender to battalions containing women, meaning that such adversaries will more readily fight to the death against coed or predominantly female groups of soldiers, resulting in more brutal battles. This may be one reason why England’s Tri-Service Review found that combat groups containing women experienced higher casualties than those containing only men. Thus, young women drafted into the armed forces would have a lower survival rate than young men through no fault of their own. 

Hypothetically, even if the casualties sustained by young men and women were equal, the female casualties would have a more severe toll on the health of the U.S. population. Modern western society is deeply removed from nature, but cultures with a practical understanding of nature have valued female and male lives differently in the past. 

In many indigenous tribes on the great plains of North America, both men and women were skilled in horsemanship, bow and arrow hunting and other useful skills. Yet, typically, only men went out on buffalo hunts because of how lethal buffalo are. If a party of 10 men went out and seven came back, the village would be largely unaffected. Yet, if a party of ten women had gone out and only seven returned, their deaths would be more acutely felt. 

This may seem unfair or even sexist toward men, but when men die, they don’t reduce the ability of the group to produce more children. A group with 10 men and 20 women can produce as many offspring as a group with 20 men and 20 women, and this is true of every mammalian species. The number of healthy young women in a population is a major indicator of that population’s potential for growth, so drafting women aged 18 to 25 into the armed forces and likely exposing them to a higher risk of mortality than their male counterparts would affect the U.S. population more severely than drafting only men.

If the U.S. were ever desperate enough to reinstate the draft, it would mean one of two things; either the cause of war is so foolish and unjust that the nation can’t gather enough willing soldiers, or the war in question is a war for survival requiring as many soldiers as possible to prevent the destruction of the nation. If the cause of the war is unjust and foolish, then we shouldn’t be fighting it. If the war is of existential importance, then drafting women would be counterproductive and would actually hasten our annihilation. I can imagine no situation where drafting women would ultimately yield a better result for the nation than drafting only men. 

Sophia Cabana is a senior history and independent scholars double major. You can contact Sophia at cabanasl@dukes.jmu.edu.