As published at Stream.org May 21, 2016.
This week the House Rules Committee neutralized the “Draft Our Daughters” amendment put forward by Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and passed by both Republicans and Democrats in last month’s markup of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The language requiring women to register for Selective Service (SS) was removed and new language added calling for examination of both Selective Service and the impact of forcing women to sign up. On the Senate side, the measure forcing women to register was slipped in last week by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. For the sake of America’s young women and for the sake of our military, this misguided push to add women to the draft must be stopped.
Understand, the purpose of the draft should it be reinstated is to induct combat replacements during a large-scale national emergency. It is not to collect warm bodies to work desk jobs to “free a man to fight,” or for support units. It is to replace the men who are dying by the thousands at the very front of the fight. Like the issue of integrating women into our combat units, this is about the needs of the military during wartime, not equal rights between the sexes.
Physical disparities will always render women at a stark disadvantage in offensive kill missions. As it is, active-duty women average 2-10 times the injuries compared to our brothers in arms. This is before we’re talking about women attempting to achieve men’s standards or the much more grueling demands of the infantry. Not equal, and maybe it doesn’t seem fair, but it’s reality and it has a bearing on sound military policy. It might be one thing if all physical capability, injury and risk were the same between the sexes, but they aren’t. Much higher rates of injury are a liability to the units that have to be the strongest, fastest and most ferocious. Drafting women for this would mean much higher turnover, diminished combat effectiveness and fewer of both men and women coming home alive and victorious against our enemies.
There are very few women who want to join the military and little to none who can not only achieve combat unit standards but maintain them over time. We have to break hundreds to find two who can make it past day one in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course or through Army Ranger School, and you can bet your life that women have to be a far sight better than men’s minimums to survive, let alone succeed, in direct ground combat.
It would be a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare to sift through thousands and thousands of female registrants to test and find the one or two who can do the standard twelve-mile fast hike with an 80lb pack, to name a tiny fraction of what’s typically required of men in the combat arms. We are also confronting the most savage and barbaric enemy we’ve ever faced, to whom women are higher-value targets to be raped and tortured, used for psychological warfare against their units and as propaganda to devastate the country. On these grounds Congress is justified in deciding that the little to no return on investment and the much higher risk and damage would not be worth the added administrative burden, and great expense in time, effort, personnel and defense dollars.
What about equality? Women already enjoy equal rights under the law. Wage-gap claims continue to be debunked when hours worked, degree of danger and individual choice are taken into account. Women enjoy majorities on college campuses across the country and can do whatever they want. Even so, the needs of the military have nothing to do with women’s rights, and a large-scale war mobilization is no different. Some insist equal citizenship and responsibility means women sign up, too, but that falsely assumes equal physical ability. By this logic, only those who are able to fight get rights under the law. Where adding women demonstrably degrades combat effectiveness and adds significantly more risk and liability, there is no decent reason to draft women.
The feminist claims that American women are second-class citizens if they’re not allowed into combat or the draft ring hollow when these same feminists are so markedly silent on women suffering genuine subjugation in Islamic countries and communities. If we lose against this enemy, American women won’t have any rights at all.
The Israel Example: It’s Not What You’ve Been Told
Conscription in Israel is often raised to justify America following suit, but the comparison doesn’t bare up under scrutiny. The Israeli Defense Force doesn’t deploy abroad, it exists to defend itself from the enemies surrounding it. They abandoned having women fight in frontline combat after it proved catastrophic during their 1948 war.
Less than two thousand Israeli women serve in the coed “combat” units, and those are light battalions, the Caracal and the Lions of Jordan, which serve as border patrols with countries with whom Israel has peace accords. They are not engaged in offensive kill missions to seek out, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and close combat. Israel even reversed integration of their armor divisions because, in the words words of an IDF general who’d previously spearheaded integration but changed his mind after seeing the results over ten years, women’s injuries were “dozens of percentage points higher” than those suffered by men.
Israeli women also serve two years compared to three for men and get exemption for marriage, pregnancy and religious orthodoxy. We deploy mothers and even single mothers to the combat zone. With this precedent, shall we draft them too or would exemption be sexist?
If we were surrounded by enemies and needed all hands on deck, there is no doubt American women would rally by every means necessary to defend the country, as indeed we always have. Adopting Israel’s example would mean limiting where women are utilized to the areas where they can be effective and successful without adding unnecessary risk.
Misleading on Military Policy
In justifying his maneuver, McCain told The Hill, “I support the recommendation of the Army chief of staff and the commandant of the Marine Corps that women should register for Selective Service. … It is the logical conclusion of the decision to open combat positions to women.” Hunter said something similar when he told the House Armed Services Committee, “If you vote yes on this amendment you’re voting with General Dunford and General Milley.” It needs to be noted that Gen. Dunford never said this. Marine Gen. Robert Neller and Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley did, but these were their personal opinions, not a reflection of military policy.
It’s true that, constitutionally speaking, women’s combat exemption is what stood between women and the draft because, as the Supreme Court decided in Rostker v. Goldberg in 1981, since women weren’t “similarly situated” in combat units, their exemption from the draft did not violate the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause. But women now being able to join combat units when they volunteer for military service does not render all other considerations moot. As Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness points out, “The Rostker decision did not consider other rationales for continuing women’s exemption from direct ground combat and Selective Service. A case could be made for limiting Selective Service to men, if Congress supported that policy with facts that already exist.”
The decision to repeal women’s combat exemption was made administratively and without the required congressional review and oversight. Had it been done properly, the draft question would have been openly debated, not assumed after the fact. Congress makes policy for the military and hasn’t even considered the expert research or debated the consequences of combat integration, let alone approved it.
The Marines included over fifty documents and reports justifying their request to maintain all-male infantry, yet the Pentagon has withheld over half of them. They should be made public and subject to public analysis, hearings and independent expert testimony.
It lies with Congress to make policy regarding Selective Service and the draft. This is not something that should be allowed to happen behind closed doors like McCain did in slipping in the draft language on the SASC side. Just as there should be open deliberation on combat unit integration, there should be a full and open debate on Selective Service and whether or not women should be included. These responsibilities rest with Congress because its members are accountable to us, unlike the unelected Obama appointees like Ashton Carter and Ray Mabus, who push Obama’s agenda through regardless of consequence. America owes it to her daughters, and to our brothers in arms, to demand this debate and this accountability.