Women in the military. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

People are beginning to wonder whether or not women should continue to be excluded from the military draft policy, which historically has only required “male persons” to register.

It was a groundbreaking moment for women when the Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced Thursday that the military would be opening all combat jobs to women. The following day the White House announced that the Selective Service law was under review, according to a media report from the Associated Press.  

A closer look at this outdated piece of legislation is especially pertinent now that women are able to hold all combat jobs, including the most dangerous ones. According to the Military Times, Carter’s directive will open 220,000 new jobs, or 10 percent of the active and reserve force to women.

This has made it entirely possible that women could be subject to a military draft in the future, although there has not been one since the Vietnam war. In the case of Rostker v. Goldberg in 1981, several men challenged the constitutionality of the Selective Service Act by arguing that it violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment through gender-based discrimination. The Supreme Court upheld the exclusion of women largely because of the Defense Department’s policy which excluded women from holding combat positions. Because women could not participate in combat units, there wasn’t a feasible motive to include them in a draft.

But now that’s changed with Carter’s directive, and there is no longer a clear argument to prevent the government from drafting women. Some advocates of gender equality would argue that adding women to the selective service registration law will help create a world where men and women are truly equal. However, it isn’t exactly empowering to force women into a legally binding system that mandates their participation in wartime violence. This would be a step in the wrong direction.

We must understand that the selective service law is a piece of legislation that fails to empower anyone. While feminism makes a case that women are perceived as inferior to men throughout society, this is not an all-encompassing truth about the world we live in. Sometimes men are the ones at a disadvantage, faced with society’s harsh expectations of absolute strength and courage, and their ability to fight on a battlefield if commanded to do so.

In the history of the U.S., men have frequently been treated as disposable soldiers in times of war. Although women were marginalized to the sidelines of battles and excluded from the action, their lives were also valued to a higher extent than men. They were protected for a complexity of reasons, even if one of those reasons was a belief that they were physically weaker than men.

For many decades, the military has successfully maintained an army staffed by volunteers. With predator drones and high-tech weapons that require minimal human labor, it is no longer necessary to maintain the selective service system.

While this ideology may seem radical, it has historic roots in this country. When America waged its first post-revolution war in 1812 against Great Britain, the Madison administration attempted to pass a draft law in Congress. This elicited a passionate speech from Daniel Webster, a conservative American senator of the time. He said, “Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of Government may engage it?”

The only silver lining to the military’s draft policy appears to be that it hasn’t actually been implemented since the Vietnam War. For a long time, the military has flourished because of the sheer numbers of people who willingly volunteer their service. It’s easy for the rest of us to get complacent about the government’s powers, and assume that it will never become a problem again. The fear that it could unexpectedly resurface is captured in Webster’s speech: “Under what concealment has this power lain hidden, which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and baleful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty?”

If women were actually drafted into war, public outcry would likely be overwhelming. You can’t achieve gender equality in a broken system. Instead of finding ways to expand the selective service system, the White House should consider doing away with it altogether. It is not anti-patriotic to legally protect American citizens with the freedom of choosing whether to partake in violent wars dictated by the government or to live in peace.


Cassia Pollock is opinion editor of the UC San Diego Guardian and a contributing editor of Times of San Diego.

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