Debate Forum 2/16/16

Do you feel a draft?

As women enter military combat roles, should the draft be rewritten?

By Sarah Sidlow

On Dec. 3, 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the Department of Defense would lift all gender-based restrictions in military services. Translation: women are now eligible to serve in combat roles. The announcement was a big win for women arguing that equality on the battlefield was another step toward overall gender equality.

And now, last year’s milestone in gender politics has become one of this year’s election talking points. The natural extension: if women can now serve in all combat roles, should they also be required to join men in the mandatory draft? Further, as our awareness of gender and identity continues to expand, is it passé to think of the military draft in dichotomous gender options? Should there be more boxes than just “male” and, possibly, “female”?

As it’s currently written, the Selective Service law says specifically “male persons” must register for the military draft. The exclusion of women from this verbiage was upheld in the Supreme Court decision Rostker v. Goldberg, which determined that registering only men did not violate the due process clause of the Constitution.

While the wider gender-draft discussion hasn’t quite yet hit the mainstream, the notion of drafting daughters saw light at a recent Republican presidential primary debate.

Those in favor of requiring women to register for the draft include former Florida Governor and republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, as well as New Jersey Governor Chris Christy and Senator Marco Rubio, who all claim including women in the registry mechanism is a matter of fairness, equal access and opportunity for women. If women are now eligible to serve in combat roles, they argue, then, naturally, the responsibility should extend to the draft in the event it’s ever called upon.

By extension, it may be reasonable to speculate that were the language to change to include women, it may also be re-worded to include any number of gender identities.

But there are those who say, not so fast.

The first reason is this: the draft has always been a controversial subject in America, and it isn’t hard to see how people opposed to the idea of the draft would be opposed to expanding its reach.

Others are quick to point out that, like it or not, men and women are not the same—physical, emotional and psychological differences exist between the sexes, and thus men and women have different roles and obligations to play in times of war, they say. Protecting the home front, they continue, is just as important a job for women as protecting the country from abroad is for men.

Senator Ted Cruz didn’t weigh in during the recent debate, but took a stance the next day at a campaign rally, invoking his two daughters and claiming the idea of drafting women is both “immoral” and “nuts.”

Meanwhile, Senator Mike Lee of Utah has recently announced a new bill that would definitively bar women from registering for the selective service, in the hopes of preempting a scenario in which the Supremes rewrite the Selective Service law. Lee hopes his bill would reinforce and clarify the fact that only Congress has the authority to amend the statutory requirements of who must enroll in the draft.

Interestingly, there are two other reps who are opposing the idea of drafting women by proposing a bill that would mandate that very thing—hello, politics.

Reps. Duncan Hunter and Ryan Zinke, two veterans, introduced the bill to Congress in hopes of forcing the governing body to consider the ramifications of the Pentagon’s recent decision, a move Hunter vocally opposed.

He says it’s wrong to make changes to the way America fights its wars without allowing the American people weigh in on the process, and his bill would force that conversation to take place. He also said recently that if the bill were to come to a vote, he probably wouldn’t vote for it.

The United States has essentially relied on an all-volunteer military for more than 40 years, having last instituted a draft in the run-up to the Vietnam War. While the likelihood of turning to the draft for eligible troops is unlikely, the next logical question is about who’s on that list should the time come.

Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at

Combat is gender neutral

By Don Hurst

Gender no longer automatically prohibits women from military combat occupations. The ban had ignored the realities of modern warfare. While traditional combat arms specialties, like infantry, still see the most action, they aren’t the only ones exchanging gunfire. For fifteen years women have operated in environments where enemies don’t wear uniforms and rear safe areas do not exist. In an unpredictable 360-degree battle space, everyone is a combatant.

Now that the Department of Defense has finally recognized the contributions of female military personnel on the battlefield it is time to require them to register for Selective Service. To not do so degrades women. Keeping women from the draft tells them that they are allowed to play GI Jane when it doesn’t really matter. When America has its back to the wall and needs all available troops then the women have to stay behind and take care of the babies while the men do the fighting.

But women should stay at home, right? They’re not as strong as men and just can’t handle the emotional and physical stresses of combat. I know a few female drill sergeants who would literally throat punch you for saying something like that within earshot. An individual woman’s level of physical strength should not disbar all women from Selective Service. The mechanisms already in place to weed out men who can’t do pushups, run fast, carry a rucksack or exercise good judgment with firearms would work just as well with females. Just because a woman signs up for Selective Service does not mean the military will draft her into combat. Selective Service would just require the person to be evaluated for combat fitness.

Forbidding women from Selective Service is not only sexist, it’s unconstitutional.

In 1981 the case Rostker v. Goldberg challenged the constitutionality of the Selective Service Act in the Supreme Court. President Carter had reactivated the law a year prior to have a draft in place in case the U.S. decided to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Congress agreed as long as the act expressly excluded women. The plaintiffs argued that the legislation discriminated against them as men and did not provide equal protection. The court upheld the act on the grounds that the law provided for the conscription of only combat troops. Regulations prohibited women from combat roles so the law could not reasonably apply to them.

A lot has changed since 1980. By the Supreme Court’s reasoning opening combat roles to women subjects them to the demands of the Selective Service Act and the possibility of the draft. Not to do so negates the constitutionality of the law. The government is required to violate everyone’s civil liberties equally.

In our post-gender military if the draft is legal for males then it should also be legal for females. The vice versa is true as well. If lawmakers don’t want the draft to apply to women then it can’t apply to men.

Conscription has no place in a free society. Our right to choose which causes are worthy of killing is one of our greatest freedoms. Citizens of dictatorships are told when to kill and when to lay down their lives in sacrifice. Free men and women decide for themselves.

The individual freedom to reject war is the last check on government abuse. Free will forces our leaders to make its case to the American people. They have to convince us that it is in our best interests to leave our spouses and children, to potentially sacrifice our lives and to kill in the name of our way of life.

The Selective Service Act allows the government to force us into wars that we do not want. Politicians have not used the draft since Vietnam, but with the law in place the threat always looms. The sole purpose of the program is to facilitate conscription. Failing to register is a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. That does not sound like freedom. If you have to compel a person to go to war under the threat of imprisonment then your war does not have the consent of the people. Since authority and legitimacy swell from the people any law that relies on coercion is unlawful.

The debate over women registering for Selective Service gives our nation an opportunity to reexamine the law. The idea that government can force men and women to fight unnecessary wars runs counter to personal freedom. It also discredits the courage of our citizens. When our country is threatened our people don’t need the government to threaten us with prison to take up arms to protect our homes. We gladly fight.

Don’t believe me? Then ask any military recruiter how busy they were on September 12, 2001.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

Get a grip on reality

By Mike Snead

The highly politically-charged topic of female–male equality under the law has been brought to the forefront by President Obama’s decision to open all military combat positions to females. (The term “female” is used instead of women because the current military draft law speaks to “males,” not men. This is also being done to separate this discussion from the entirely different topic of “gender” identity.) In doing so, President Obama indicates his view that females and males are to be treated equally to the point of being compelled—perhaps against their will if drafted—to face sacrificing their lives in frontline combat in defense of the United States. To accommodate President Obama’s decision, a bill has been introduced in Congress to include females in the Selective Service System to prepare for this possibility.

Having been eligible to be drafted during the Vietnam War, I do not take this discussion as a point of mere political rhetorical debate. World War I was to be the last great land war requiring a draft so that the Command in Chief could undertake the defense of the country as he saw fit. World War II, where my father served in combat, required a draft only a generation later. The Korean War and, then, the Vietnam War both required a draft within the next generation. Anyone who presumes that the United States has fought its last slug-it-out land war, requiring substantial numbers of drafted soldiers to be engaged in direct physical combat, is being foolish. This possibility, despite all of the talk of the volunteer military, is why the United States still has registration for the Selective Service System with legal consequences for those who do not comply.

As a male, I feel that this particular question is not one that males should decide. If females are drafted for combat, we males don’t want to have female fingers pointed at us saying that we cowardly put females in harm’s way by passing this law with male votes. We males also do not want to have this “opportunity” for equality denied to females based on male votes. If I were in Congress, when the vote is taken, I would urge all of my male colleagues to vote “present” and let the female members of Congress make the decision. The movement for sex equality under the law politically originated with females and, now, should be settled by females. If I were a female in Congress, I would demand that only female members of Congress vote.

The acceptance of the obligation to risk one’s life in defense of America is the ultimate obligation of American male citizenship. Nightly, on the evening news throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Americans watched as young American soldiers and Marines died in combat fighting a real grueling ground war in the jungles of Vietnam. So, when an actual real draft is underway and you are waiting your fate as the draft lottery numbers are being drawn, the seriousness of this ultimate obligation is very real. Some males facing this obligation fled to Canada when they received their involuntary draft notice during the Vietnam War. Most, however, faced their obligations—as our society expects “men” to honorably do—with many drafted males giving the ultimate sacrifice.

Now, with the issue of drafting females before us, the real question is whether females really wish to be treated under the law as males—to be really one of the guys—and carry the full legal, draft-eligibility moral obligation this entails. Females have engaged in direct combat throughout history. Recent archeological findings show that females engaged in mortal combat in prehistoric Britain during clan on clan warfare—their remains showing clear evidence of being directly involved. Modern nations, such as Israel, conscript females. There is no physical reason as to why females, in general, should not be drafted to serve as soldiers engaged in direct front line land combat.

In determining whether they wish to become eligible for the draft, females should carefully consider the consequences of this change. Should this be adopted, the entire notion of femininity and sex equality in our American society will be examined from the perspective of how females, now to be legally treated with the same expectations as for males, should behave and expect to be treated. The notion of females being the “fairer sex,” with the clear implication of being protected by males or being due special unwritten privileges, will likely fade away. How, for example, will a female be able to claim inequality in treatment by a male when it will be just one guy interacting with another guy? Taller males generally have an advantage over shorter males in the workplace. Older males generally have an advantage over younger males in the workplace. These are just two of the inequalities of life among male guys. Hence, becoming one of the guys—making this truly a unisex term—is what females will really be signing up for if they want to become part of the Selective Service System.

Feminists have argued for sex equality for decades. Now, due to President Obama opening all combat positions to females, females have it within their political power to achieve this goal by having to register for the draft as just another guy. Do females really want this or is all this sex equality talk just feminist political rhetoric? It’s a question that should be thoroughly examined before females decide whether the draft is right for them.

Mike Snead is a professional aerospace engineer focused on advanced human spaceflight and energy systems. You can reach him at

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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