Editorial: Women in combat creates case to abolish the draft
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 21:01
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in the case of Rostker v Goldberg (1981) that the Selective Service System – the government agency responsible for military draft registration – was not acting outside the bounds of the Constitution’s due process clause by excluding women from the draft. At the time of the case’s filing, President Jimmy Carter had proposed to register women along with men, but an act of Congress reauthorized the agency responsible for conscription without implementing the President’s recommendation. Falling back on the military’s policy of excluding women from combat roles, the Court held Congress’ action to be within its Constitutional powers regarding the maintenance of the nation’s armed forces and concluded that introducing women into the conscripted ranks would cause enough cultural and administrative problems in the military to warrant maintaining the status quo.
The status quo has now changed in a dramatic way. Last week, military officials announced that enlisted female soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces would be permitted to take combat assignments and thereby become more frequently eligible for promotions. It seems that every advance in terms of civil rights occurs first in the military: perhaps it is in service to their country that the distinction between black and white, gay and straight, male and female seems most irrelevant and reveals to us the promise of equality in all institutions and occupations in American life.
But while this news has been rightly exalted as further evidence of the slow, steady push toward equality for women in American society, we must now consider that women may now be compelled against their will – as well as with it – to serve and fight in the armed forces should the draft be instituted again in response to some future military conflict. Given the recent frequency of and future prospects for foreign embroilments, the possibility that America’s standing army may be insufficient to meet its needs is a real one, and the extra burden ought to be shared equally – or not at all. That is why, since fairness now demands that men and women both register for the draft if they are to carry out equal military roles, now is an opportune time to reconsider the necessity of having a draft at all. If the military can be made appealing enough as a career option for people of all identities and backgrounds, the draft would not be necessary. Much remains to be done – sexual harassment, suicide and mental health remain serious stumbling blocks for the military – but we can be encouraged that the work of making the military more inviting and appealing is moving well ahead.