In the current draft of the National Defense Authorization Act, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) and his political allies proposed a “sweeping rewrite” of the military draft laws. The amended language of the Military Selective Service Act—which was approved in a closed-door committee on July 21—now includes “All Americans” between the ages of 18 and 25 and requires women to register with Selective Service. This demographic would include young women just starting their adult lives—perhaps completing college, beginning a new career, or growing a family. The language of inclusivity may scratch the popular itch of equality for all, but it is a bad idea for American families.
In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Service Act to prepare the U.S. to enter World War I. By the end of the war, 2.8 million men had been drafted out of a pool of approximately 24 million. Then, in 1940, a peacetime draft was instituted requiring all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register. By the end of the World War II, 50 million men had registered for the draft and 10 million had been inducted into the military. During the Vietnam War era, the U.S. government drafted 2.2 million men to serve and the draft remained in place until 1973. Since that time, American men have continued to register for the draft on their 18th birthdays, but the U.S. government has relied only on the all-volunteer force to fight the nation’s wars.
It is obvious that the roles of women have changed dramatically since the drafting of the first Selective Service legislation. Indeed, I have written about how the U.S. Army should escape its 1950s paradigm and reconsider the role of military spouses, acknowledging that wives work (or may want to work) and may not be able to devote 100% of their time to volunteering for the Army, which used to be the expectation—and still is in some circles. Additionally, no one is oblivious to the fact that women serve in all sorts of incredible roles in the military and excel as leaders in the active duty, reserve, and National Guard. However, because women do succeed in the armed forces does not mean they must join the armed forces.
Women may pursue all sorts of paths that were unavailable to them even a few years ago. This week we saw the first woman graduate Navy special warfare training to become a SEAL. As of last April, the Army already matriculated over 50 women from the rigorous Ranger School. However, these inclusionary policies have in fact become a clarion call for many critics of women’s exclusion from the draft. “If you can serve in the combat arms, then you sure can be eligible for the draft!” goes the gripe.
I realize that my feelings on this topic will be unpopular amongst many modern women. I know that all of us strive for equality and desire to be “treated the same” when school and job applications roll around. In the case of the Selective Service, however, the U.S. government should continue to treat women differently.
Whether Americans like it or not, women are still the primary caregivers to young children and elderly or disabled relatives. Women, in general, nurture and raise kids, schedule doctor’s appointments, pack lunches, and help with homework. Sometimes this is critically called the “second shift” or unpaid emotional labor. Men are more frequently called upon to take on more of this burden, and I believe moms do deserve support from their spouses for the invisible work of running a household.
What some people conveniently forget is that some women enjoy raising their children. It’s a privilege to do so. They do not want to be taken away from their family unit by the draft, and they do not want to abdicate the responsibility of mothering to another person, to include the father (in a scenario where the mother is drafted first). In a hypothetical scenario of “total war,” where the draft would go into effect, wouldn’t it make sense to leave the young mothers, or the women with potential to become mothers, at home?
The kneejerk “we should all be treated the same” from Senate leaders like Jack Reed is misguided. Striking the word “male” from the legislation and replacing it with “All Americans” may sound lovely, but the language pretends that women do not perform special jobs (mothering) in this society. We can push gendered language aside as much as we want, but moms still nurse babies and perform significant, unique, and exceptional roles in children’s lives.
Why are Senate Democrats and surely others in the government trying to erase the important roles women play in the family? Why is it so hard to admit that women fulfil vital—but different—roles in the family unit and should not be subjected to the draft? It is likely that war will come again and the draft with it. We should plan for that reality and stand against Senator Reed’s plan.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the views and opinions of Tufts University or the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
Ms. Burke is a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School, Tufts University and was recently named The George P. Shultz Post-Doctoral Fellow at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. She was formerly a Department of Defense civil servant and a Navy Reserve officer; she is married to an Army officer in his 26th year of service and has four children.