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Senate Approves Bill Requiring Women To Register For The Draft

Military Women

Setting up a potential battle with the House, the Senate has passed a defense appropriations bill that includes a provision requiring women to register with Selective Service just has men have been required to do since the 1980s:

WASHINGTON — In the latest and perhaps decisive battle over the role of women in the military, Congress is embroiled in an increasingly intense debate over whether they should have to register for the draft when they turn 18.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved an expansive military policy bill that would for the first time require young women to register for the draft. The shift, while fiercely opposed by some conservative lawmakers and interest groups, had surprisingly broad support among Republican leaders and women in both parties.

The United States has not used the draft since 1973 during the Vietnam War. But the impact of such a shift, reflecting the evolving role of women in the armed services, would likely be profound.

Under the Senate bill passed on Tuesday, women turning 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, would be forced to register for Selective Service, as men must do now. Failure to register could result in the loss of various forms of federal aid, including Pell grants, a penalty that men already face. Because the policy would not apply to women who turned 18 before 2018, it would not affect current aid arrangements.

“The fact is,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, “every single leader in this country, both men and women, members of the military leadership, believe that it’s fair since we opened up all aspects of the military to women that they would also be registering for Selective Services.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that women did not have to register for the draft, noting that they should not face the same requirements as men because they did not participate on the front lines of combat. But since Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said in December that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women, military officials have told Congress that women should also sign up for the draft.

“It’s my personal view,” Gen. Robert B. Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, that with the complete lifting of the ban on women in combat roles, “every American who’s physically qualified should register for the draft.”

While most Republican senators — including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and the women on the Armed Services Committee — agree with the move, it has come under fierce attack from some of Congress’s most conservative members.

“The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little sense at all,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas and the father of two young daughters, said on the Senate floor last week.

After voting against the bill on Tuesday, Mr. Cruz said in a prepared statement: “I could not in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat.”

The debate will now pit the Senate against the House, where the policy change has support but was not included in that chamber’s version of the bill.

In April, Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, offered a provision related to women and the draft for the House version of the defense policy bill to highlight the issue, even though he opposes the idea — then voted against his own amendment. It passed with bipartisan support but was stripped from the final bill in a procedural move.

(…)

Conservative groups, which threatened to target senators who voted for the policy bill, reacted with anger on Tuesday to the bill’s passage. “Allowing our daughters to be forced into combat if there is a draft is a clear example of Washington placing more value on liberal social engineering than military objectives and preparedness,” one such group, Heritage Action for America, said in a news release.

But supporters of the policy change say opponents are oversimplifying the issue. “What people don’t seem to understand is just because there is conscription, that does not mean that all women would serve in the infantry,” Senator Deb Fischer, Republican of Nebraska, said. “There are many ways to serve our country in the event of a national emergency.”

As I said when this issue was first being debated in February, the ideal answer to this question is that nobody should be required to register for the draft and that nobody should ever be drafted again based both on the fact that it is an inefficient way to staff the modern military and, in the end, inherently immoral in a free society.

On the first point, it has always been unclear to me why registration of any kind was required to begin with. On the major occasions in the past when the draft was implemented, such as during the Civil War, World War One, World War Two, the Korean War, and Vietnam, there was no registration of any kind until a period just before the draft itself was imposed. In each of those cases, the draft seemed to function relatively fine and the fact that there had not been a registration requirement in place for an extended period of time did not seem to unduly hamper the military. The registration requirement that is in place today, by contrast, has been law since 1980, when it was put in place by Jimmy Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At the time, it was seen as a largely symbolic move since there was little chance that the United States was going to get involved in the Afghan War directly, and even less of a chance that what was happening in that country would expand into, say,  war in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Thirty-six years later, the U.S. military has engaged in major military conflicts involving large numbers of ground forces in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Afghanistan, not to mention smaller conflicts in the Balkans, Grenada, Panama, and other locations, all with an all-volunteer military, supplemented as needed by Reserve forces and/or National Guard units. Given that, and the fact that it’s unlikely that we’ll see the kind of conflict for which a draft even needs to be contemplated at any point in the near future, what Congress really ought to be considering is legislation to end the registration requirement rather than expand it. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has proposed legislation to do just that, but it’s unlikely to go anywhere.

On the second point, the biggest problem with a military draft has always been the fact that it is, in the end, inherently immoral. If a free society stands for anything, it stands for the proposition that individuals are free to choose their own path in life and that, absent conviction for a crime, the state has no right to compel people to provide a service to the state. The great libertarian economist Milton Friedman, who became one of the chief advocates on the right for eliminating the draft in the 1970s, put it perfectly when he said that the draft was inconsistent with a free society.” At it’s base, the draft stands for the proposition that a person’s life belongs not to them but to the state, and that the state is free to send them into the line of fire for whatever reason it chooses whenever it chooses. That’s incompatible with pretty much everything the United States has ever stood for ever since the Declaration of Independence was sent out into the world. It’s been more than forty years since we drafted anyone in this country was drafted and we seem to have done just fine. Indeed, our contemporary military is arguably even more highly trained and equipped than it was at any point when the draft was in effect. It’s time we put an end to a practice that seems all too much like slavery once and for all.

All of that being said, if we aren’t going to eliminate the draft or draft registration then I see no reason why it shouldn’t be expanded to include women. Unlike the last time the draft was in effect, women now perform at nearly all levels in the military from support roles all the way up to flying combat and combat support operations. They can be found in the ranks of the enlisted, and in command roles. And, now, they are starting to prove that they can qualify for combat roles. Given all of that, there’s no rational reason why women should not be required to register for the draft just as men have been since 1980. Even if they don’t end up in combat roles in the event a draft is ever implemented, there are a whole host of other roles they could fulfill and excluding them from what advocates for a draft continually claim to be a civic obligation doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “If a free society stands for anything, it stands for the proposition that individuals are free to choose their own path in life and that, absent conviction for a crime, the state has no right to compel people to provide a service to the state….At it’s base, the draft stands for the proposition that a person’s life belongs not to them but to the state, and that the state is free to send them into the line of fire for whatever reason it chooses whenever it chooses. That’s incompatible with pretty much everything the United States has ever stood for ever since the Declaration of Independence was sent out into the world”

    Since libertarians also argue using precisely the same logic for the proposition that taxation is inherently immoral, I find this far less than convincing. Just as Holmes felt that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, so can our elected representatives require military service if the future of the country is at stake to ensure the future of that civilized society.

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  2. Liberal Capitalist says:

    IF we are going to have males register for a draft, THEN having women that come-of-age registering is fair and equitable.

    Still, we DO have a volunteer army, albeit on that is often poorer and less educated than the general population (source: http://www.boiseweekly.com/boise/poor-and-uneducated-like-we-thought/Content?oid=933196 ), which itself is unequitable.

    So: I suggest that we DO instigate the draft, but only for those families of income greater than $500K annually.

    My belief is that this would dramatically change the GOP perspective on the Bush Doctrine of Proactive War.

    (oh… and no half-assed deferments for chicken-hawks: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/file/trump-draft-deferment )

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    This is good.

    I was doing a panel at the Library of Congress last week with Dr. Jill Biden and two female officers, one army, one a naval aviator. I was aware of the fact that a random person walking in and looking at the stage would have likely assumed I was the more likely warrior – big, white male. But no, I’m the one who writes kid’s books, those two ladies are the ones who go in harm’s way.

    For anyone who resurrects the “women aren’t big enough,” line, I give you Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier in WW2, who was 5’5″ tall and weighed 110 pounds. For anyone suggesting that woman lack the necessary killer instinct, I give you Liudmyla Mykhailivna Pavlychenko, a Soviet sniper with 309 kills, including 36 enemy snipers.

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  4. James Pearce says:

    “The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls in combat to my mind makes little sense at all,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas and the father of two young daughters, said on the Senate floor last week.

    A) There’s “forcible conscription” and then there’s “registering for the Selective Service.” In 2016, they’re not the same.

    B) “Young girls?” Wanting to make it sound worse than it is, Cruz conjures up images of 12 year olds in pigtails abseiling out of helicopters. It’s young women, you dope.

    C) “in combat” To get “into combat” one must register for the Selective Service and also volunteer for military service. And even then, you may not see combat.

    That’s not to say that Cruz is wrong to oppose this, just that his arguments are bunk.

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    Goose, gander. Plus too many arguments by conservatives have used women not registering for the draft as justification to disallow access to other privileges, legal and otherwise. I realize that in their minds we’ll never be good enough to participate, but signing up for the draft at least knocks out the leg under one of their pieces of “evidence”.

    Note that women signing up for the draft is completely different from the “women can’t pass the physical fitness tests”, which is an entirely different kettle of piscine entities.

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  6. Paul Hooson says:

    Israel has long had the same thing. Requiring women to register for the draft in the event of a very serious war to fill some jobs could prove vital to the survival of the nation.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    ,,,nobody should ever be drafted again based both on the fact that it is …, in the end, inherently immoral in a free society.

    I would think just the opposite. If we, as a democracy, are to go to war, the burden should be shared evenly.

    For bureaucratic simplicity, I’d be OK with the suggestion @Liberal Capitalist: made that only the sons and daughters of the 1% register. As long as we have a government of the 1%, by the 1%, and for the 1% it seems only fair that they face some price.

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  8. Jenos Idanian says:

    As long as men have to register, then women should have to register.

    But this “make the military more representative of America” is pretty much a plan to wreck the military. Right now, we have a military made up of not just people who want to be there, but are proud to be there and worked like hell to be there. Saddling the military with a bunch of people who don’t want to be there is a great way to cripple the military.

    The draft worked for so long because people couldn’t imagine an alternative. Now, for over 40 years, we’ve lived that alternative, and it’s worked phenomenally well.

    As far as only registering the 1%, can we start with the Obama girls and Chelsea Clinton?

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  9. JKB says:

    The rhetoric on this is ignorant. There is no draft, no one is being forced into combat.

    However, there is a list with real consequences for not bowing to the state of those of age should the state, i.e., Harvard and Yale grads, decided to enslave the young for martial glory. No reason not to have a list of women as well. The matter of ordering non-volunteer women into combat can be decided later. In any case, a list of all women of the age would permit the state to draft those women who are infertile or lesbian into danger. Those of breeding capacity can be directed to carry the future of the fatherland to term after artificial insemination. Surely the state can order a woman to carry a baby to term if they order a man to his death. We should also collect and store the semen of the men going off to the trenches to use with the women so we don’t end up as Europe after WWI with a less virile stock of stud males.

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  10. al-Alameda says:

    I look forward to Michelle Bachmann, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham shipping out to Iraq and Syria to engage ISIS on the ground, at their encampments. I’d even throw in Phyllis Schlafly to eliminate the possibility of age discrimination charges. Actually, those 4 might annoy ISIS into a negotiated peace.

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  11. al-Alameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    As far as only registering the 1%, can we start with the Obama girls and Chelsea Clinton?

    I’d start with the women Trump divorced.

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  12. Dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    He was still gifted with testosterone and was not thereby likely to cause a problem in the ranks. He also thereby was gifted with a young man’s recovery time to physical stress. Something I became familar with coaching women’s basketball. The statistics haven’t really caught up with the situation now but we all tend to think the problem of excessive knee injuries which plagued them in the 90’s with Title IX and stuff has been solved. It’s a combination of knee excecises to fix the general problem of lack of ligiment strength most little boys get through their little boy style games growing up and increasing the recovery time. This problem of recovery time was addressed by a woman officer in the USMC in a piece she wrote a few years back. I won’t go into that deeply, but will approach this from a different angle.

    The whole draft registration system is an achronism. We no longer need to find people, everybody has an SSN and local draft boards aren’t needed at all. Yes, women along with everybody else should be required to serve as part of being a US citizen when need be, and to accomplish that a law could easily be passed which did not require a bunch of useless paperwork.

    Second point is that there is almost no likelihood of needed massive armies of cannon fodder in the nuclear age. When the military needs special skills they need to be able to get them in war time and women should be subject to being called along with everybody else. They should not be drafted into infantry just to satisfy some civilian’s bitterness over things being “not fair” though. I think it was Chesty Puller who was reputed to have addressed a cadet at a military academy who was whining about unfairness thusly: “Have we so grossly failed you that you still think there is such a thing as fairness and you are entitled to it?” Probably apocryphal, and maybe it was Lejeune who did or did not say it…but the point remains.

    The military is the wrong, wrong, wrong place to project our imagined ideal society into. It’s about killing people.

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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    You’re making the assumption that this is about some PC liberal fairness project. The Lt. Commander I was with the other day has been busy killing people – IIRC it was something like 60 missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s not a project, she’s not political correctness, she’s a jet jock, a Top Gun graduate, serving her country. She lands fighter jets on aircraft carriers, so we know she’s every bit as brave and capable as a man because anyone less than capable ends up smeared the length of a pitching runway.

    There is no reason to automatically exclude any human being by category. If an individual applicant can’t do the job, don’t enlist them, or put them in an MOS they can perform well. It may well be that women will be some percentage less than 50 in combat units, but simply assuming that all women are not capable is as stupid as assuming that all men are. Let’s fairly and honestly evaluate recruits for their skills and potential. We have computers nowadays, we can treat people as individuals, we don’t need to look at their genitals to categorize them.

    Since at least 1948 we’ve heard that black troops would harm unit cohesion, and then we heard that gay troops would hurt unit cohesion, and now it’s women. And yet we are constantly told – accurately, I believe – that we have the best-trained, most capable military force on planet earth. There is no evidence that cohesion has broken down due to diversity.

    And given that the people we’ll evidently be killing – barring some new fun in Korea – will be Muslims, and given the extreme reluctance of Muslims to let their women be searched by male troops, I believe we’ve found some combat roles where women are actually more useful than men.

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  14. Pch101 says:

    (T)he biggest problem with a military draft has always been the fact that it is, in the end, inherently immoral.


    The Congress shall have Power To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions

    The Congress shall have Power To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    The obligation to defend the country is a fundamental constitutional requirement. Madison’s idea of including conscientious objection as a constitutional right in the 2nd Amendment was rejected by the 1st Congress, which feared that shirkers would discover Jesus when it was convenient to avoid service.

    Furthermore, the militia (National Guard) was supposed to ensure that a standing army did not become a mercenary force that was so powerful that it would be able to defeat the militia.

    The militia system was not particularly efficient or effective, but it’s as American as it gets. The draft and the National Guard are today’s equivalent of the Militia Act and militia service.

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  15. Dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My assumption happens to be that this is a reactionary pout from those who do think the recent expansion of the roles of women in the military is PC BS. The Pentagon certainly didn’t request this and neither did any women’s rights groups.

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  16. stonetools says:

    @Pch101:

    Interesting that Doug, a libertarian who is big on Second Amendment rights, doesn’t seem to realize that the purpose of the Amendment was to give states the power to raise a militia by requiring men to submit themselves into military discipline and serve in military formations organized by each state. What exactly does Doug think a “well regulated militia” is?

    As to gVOR08’s argument about the need for shared sacrifice in defense of the country, well, Doug is a libertarian. Libertarians don’t do shared sacrifice for the common good.

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  17. Pch101 says:

    @stonetools:

    To put a fine point on it, the Second Amendment was intended to clarify how the militias could be used.

    This was what was originally submitted to Congress:

    The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

    Compare that to the final:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    The Southern states in particular were concerned that the federalization of the militias that was undertaken by the Constitution would strip them of their powers to order the militias into service when they needed them (read: when there were slave rebellions.) Militias were used to keep civil order, not just to defend the country from outsiders.

    The Second Amendment clarified that even though the organization of the militias was federal, the states could decide how to deploy them. Which is to say that an abolitionist federal government would not be able to prevent a slave state from using its militia to contain an uprising, even though the Congress was responsible for organizing the militias and the president was their commander in chief.

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  18. Gavrilo says:

    All of that being said, if we aren’t going to eliminate the draft or draft registration then I see no reason why it shouldn’t be expanded to include women.

    Yes. The federal government absolutely should engage in a pointless, expensive, and burdensome exercise for millions of young women because EQUALITY!!

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  19. bookdragon says:

    You know, I told my 15 yr old daughter about this and her reaction was surprise that women didn’t already have the same requirement as men. After all, she can hold her own against most of the guys in her age group in track and fencing, and she’s had enough karate to feel she could fight as well as most of them – esp., the out-of-shape dudes she wound up carrying the water and tents for on a class field trip.

    Of course, she got my Viking-Irish genes so she may be the exception. 😉

    Otoh, the draft is anymore just a list for use in direst emergency. I look at it like the ‘old man’s draft’ during WWII. My gr-grandfather had to register for that despite being in his late 60s and suffering a spinal injury from a work-related accident.

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  20. Dusty Ayres says:

    @James Pearce: The truth is, he just doesn’t want his daughters to have to register with the SS, just because if there is a conflict that needs a draft (say, an alien invasion similar to this one, or this one) and the law says that everyone, rich or poor, must enlist and fight, his daughters would get called up and likely not be able to survive basic training, running home to Daddy (and I expect that of most of the kids of the upper classes, including those of GOP senators like Cruz.)

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