Women Likely to be Included in Draft

A long-overdue change appears to be happening.

Roll Call (“Congress moves toward requiring women to register for the draft“):

For over 100 years, young men have registered for the draft. Now, Congress is poised to make a historic change for gender equality by requiring women, for the first time in American history, to do the same.

It’s not quite true that draft registration has been a thing since World War I. It was sporadic, associated only with wars, until 1940, when it became a permanent feature of our society until being discontinued in 1973. The modern registration system has only been in place since 1980 (signed into law, ironically, by President Jimmy Carter, who pardoned all of the Vietnam-era draft dodgers).

But while support for the change is bipartisan, Congress is leaving the details for later.

That’s the easy thing to do, considering the military hasn’t drafted anyone since the Vietnam War and it’s possible it never will need to again. But if a crisis of monumental proportions were to emerge, the logistics of incorporating women into a much larger military could prove complicated.

Would drafted women be expected to serve in combat roles? And if not, what would their roles be? Would they be housed with men? It appears that neither Congress nor the Pentagon has thought that through.

I don’t know how women could be legally excluded from combat roles under the draft. The problem, though, is that a very small percentage of women have the physical strength to make it through infantry training.

Then again, I don’t understand, given a string of Supreme Court decisions that have stretched the 14th Amendment and federal anti-discrimination laws far beyond their intent, how women are still excluded from registration. Aside from the sheer logistics of a massive expansion of the force, though, they’re not likely to cohabitate with men in the barracks.

Still, included in the House version of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which that chamber passed last month, was an amendment by Pennsylvania Democrat Chrissy Houlahan and Florida Republican Michael Waltz that would require women to sign up with the Selective Service, a government agency that keeps records of Americans eligible for a potential draft.

And the Senate Armed Services Committee also included language that would require women to register when it marked up its version of the NDAA in July, although the full Senate has not yet taken it up.

Proponents of the change see the move as a victory for women’s rights.

Indeed. And, again, I’m not sure exclusion would survive judicial scrutiny anyway.

The country would “need everybody … man, woman, gay, straight, any religion, Black, white, brown,” he said recently on the House floor.

According to Houlahan, she and Waltz paired up on the amendment out of a shared belief that Congress should change the current “outdated way of thinking about things.”

The thing is, even aside from libertarian arguments about a draft, it’s simply untrue that we would “need everybody.” Even in a World War III scenario, I don’t foresee us needing the 10 million man Army of World War II; that’s just not the nature of modern combat. And, of course, even a 10 million man force would require a small fraction of a 330 million population.

Regardless, the idea of drafting other people is one of the things that Congress can agree on in a bipartisan fashion:

Democrats seem united on making the change. Republicans are split, but a critical mass seems to now favor it. Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Jack Bergman of Michigan and Pat Fallon of Texas all voted in favor of the amendment when it came up at the Armed Services markup last month.

And I’m not sure this makes much sense, either:

According to Houlahan, including women in the Selective Service is just part of a larger overhaul that the system needs. The Selective Service should not just be about combat roles but also be about calling upon Americans to fill other military positions, including cybersecurity and engineering roles, Houlahan said.

Even if one’s knowledge of military history is confined to what they’ve gleaned from watching M*A*S*H reruns, they’d know that we used the draft to conscript specialists like medical doctors in past wars. It’s not just for forcing people into infantry duty.

The problem with incorporating cyber specialists and the like isn’t figuring out to draft them so much as the larger military personnel system. For historical and cultural reasons, the services all insist on enlisting only fit individuals who can pass criminal background checks, lack tattoos visible in a t-shirt, and aren’t habitual users of marijuana. That’s increasingly difficult. Moreover, it has been decades since we’ve taken people outside of the medical field in at other than a starting rank. We probably need to reconsider some of these decisions in light of modern circumstances.

Currently, women make up 16 percent of the military’s total force, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institution.

But Houlahan demurred when asked about the logistical challenges of integrating women into the military in greater numbers, and she acknowledged that there would be “some complications” and that no work had yet been done to that end.

Again, aside from the infantry and a handful of other specialties that require a lot of upper body strength, most jobs in the modern military can be done by a reasonably fit woman. (A handful of women have succeeded in the infantry, including passing Ranger school and the Marine Infantry Officer Course, but thus far they’ve been high caliber athletes.) The challenges of going from a force that’s 16 percent women to one that’s closer to 50 percent women in short order are mostly logistical and cultural.

For some Republicans, the inclusion of women in the Selective Service is a moral issue — one that may come up when the House and Senate conference the defense policy bill later this year.

At the Senate Armed Services markup over the summer, five Republicans voted against the amendment by the panel’s chairman, Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, requiring women to register.

Ranking member James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma was among the five, along with Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

Cotton tweeted at the time that he would “work to remove it before the defense bill passes.”

I don’t know that this is a “moral issue” so much as a cultural and aesthetic one. Regardless, unless there are 40 willing to filibuster the Defense appropriations bill over this issue, it’s likely a minor obstacle.

In 2016, both the House and Senate Armed Services panels approved the change, but it did not make it into the final fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill.

In the House that year, the Republican majority effectively stripped the provision out of the NDAA on the floor without a vote when the Rules Committee adopted a so-called self-executing rule that turned the required registration into a mandate for a study of the issue.

But with Congress now entirely in Democratic hands, the likelihood that women will have to register has increased.

Well, yes. But it’s not just a partisan matter. Five years of women fully integrated into combat roles has simply changed the environment. It hasn’t been nearly as big a challenge as opponents feared.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Gender Issues, Military Affairs, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I’ve thought about this since I had to register for the draft myself in 1980. There are many, many jobs in the military that women can perform. Probably most of them. To exclude them from the draft simply because they are women is literally defining them as second class citizens. If they don’t assume the full responsibilities of citizenship, why should they get the full benefits.

    Citizens of the country should be ready to assume responsibilities for the safety and security of the country. Exemptions for any particular task should come because of individual capabilities, not exclusions based on gender or race or class.

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  2. JohnMcC says:

    Unsurprisingly, this was a topic of conversation in barracks, bars and freshman dorms back in the ’68–’73 era. Of those persons who were of the female persuasion who I knew at the time, the consensus was that if women were drafted in large numbers there would be a huge and rapid population increase. At the time, of course, pregnancy and motherhood were cause for exemptions.

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  3. Andy says:

    The selective service should just be ended – it’s an anachronism.

    That women can now be denied federal employment and other benefits, and potentially face criminal penalties (even if not currently enforced) for failing to register is the wrong kind of progress. And my concern is that a lot of women and parents won’t know about this new requirement, won’t register, and then find themselves denied benefits down the road.

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  4. Kathy says:

    @Andy:

    But eliminating it now would be unfair for all those people who did register, and doubly so for those who didn’t register and lost out on benefits and employment.

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  5. Andy says:

    @Kathy:

    Two wrongs don’t make a right.

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Change is hard, until you take that first step.

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    The selective service should just be ended – it’s an anachronism

    You state this as a fact, but I’m curious why. Just because we haven’t used, say, fire fighting equipment in a long time doesn’t mean they are anachronistic.

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  8. Kathy says:

    @Andy:

    Of course they do. That’s the justification for inaction on student debt, immigration, DACA, etc. it would be unfair for those who suffered before if we don’t make others suffer forever.

    If it’s not a matter of making a right, then it would just be cruel and pointless.

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  9. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It was created at a time when the federal government had no real information on the US population outside of the decennial census. So if the government needed to draft people quickly, it wouldn’t know where people are or even how many fighting-age men were in the country generally.

    That is simply not the case today. At the very least, there is no practical need to specifically require people to proactively “register” considering just about everyone born today gets an SSN shortly after birth. The SSA today, which also runs Selective Service, knows who is turning 18, knows how many people are of each age and knows where most of those people live (thanks to W-2 tax data). Individuals proactively registering isn’t necessary for any kind of modern draft and the purpose for which it was originally created simply doesn’t exist anymore.

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  10. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    You state this as a fact, but I’m curious why. Just because we haven’t used, say, fire fighting equipment in a long time doesn’t mean they are anachronistic.

    Bad analogy — fires happen all the time. If we’re going to have a universal draft, the people pushing it ought to be required to point out specific scenarios where we would need either (a) a million bodies to use as cannon fodder on relatively short notice or (b) a substantial number of people with special skills (eg, Dr. Joyner’s example of doctors). If the (b) scenario is why they need the draft, then the current arrangements are woefully inadequate — everyone needs to do at least an annual update of their skills and certifications from age 18 on.

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  11. Andy says:

    @Kathy:

    If it’s not a matter of making a right, then it would just be cruel and pointless.

    I don’t agree with that view. Continuing a cruel and pointless policy because it would supposedly be unfair to not allow new generations to personally experience the cruelness and pointlessness of of those policies doesn’t make any sense to me. My view is that cruel and pointless policies should be ended.

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  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    I don’t know how women could be legally excluded from combat roles under the draft. The problem, though, is that a very small percentage of women have the physical strength to make it through infantry training.

    And some women do and can make it through Ranger school, even.

    I think it’s a much different thing to assign jobs/roles based on functional, physical characteristics than by gender. I’m pretty sure there are some men that can’t do all the necessary things because they are very small. How does the Army deal with them?

    Additionally, it might be that some of the strength requirements are a bit arbitrary and could be reworked. For instance, a Navy guy I knew was an electrician. He said they had a big heavy toolbox and some of the women had difficulty carrying it. Consider: it seems possible to alter the toolbox a bit, cut its weight by 10 percent by getting rid of the least used stuff in it, and figure out the operational impact. There are people in the Pentagon that do exactly this, aren’t there?

    So figure it out. Adapt. I’ve done martial arts with women for a couple of decades. I assure you, they can muster a fighting spirit. The rest is details.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @Andy:

    Individuals proactively registering isn’t necessary for any kind of modern draft and the purpose for which it was originally created simply doesn’t exist anymore.

    I agree completely. That we should abolish the draft, rather than expanding it to women, was the point I intended to make when I saw the headline but the article took me in a different direction.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    Yes, this is stupid, as @Andy: points out, we have a bit of data on American citizens. We could draft people according to their favorite bands, or their credit card balance, or by the food they’re most likely to order from Door Dash. Fair but entirely unnecessary.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I offer the case of a soldier who was quite slight – 5’5″ – and at draft age looked rather effeminate. The Marines turned him down. The Navy turned him down. The Army finally took him, but his officers tried hard to keep him out of combat because, again, he was a little dude. But he wasn’t having it, and he got into the action.

    His name was Audie Murphy, the war was WW2, and his medals include Purple Heart with two bronze oak leaves, Bronze Star with a V, Legion of Merit, Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. Also: French Legion of Honor, French Croix de Guerre, Belgian Croix de Guerre, and basically every badge an infantryman can earn.

    Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy began his career in the Army in June of 1942 as a private after falsifying his age to enlist and fight in World War II. During the war, Murphy received a battlefield commission, was wounded several times, and fought in nine campaigns across Europe. He earned his Medal of Honor fighting in the Colmar Pocket in January of 1945 for climbing aboard a burning tank destroyer and using its machine gun. With it, he held off dozens of German soldiers and their accompanying tanks. Beyond the Medal of Honor, Murphy earned every valor medal that the United States awards and several from other nations.

    Then he became a movie star, but that’s a different story. When I wrote FRONT LINES (an alt history of WW2 with women drafted along with men) Murphy was one of my inspirations.

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  16. sam says:

    Funny draft story. I enlisted when I was 16 (actually arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on my 17th birthday). I did not register for the draft. Six months after I finished my four years, I get a notice from my draft board to come down and register. What the hell?? So I go down and register and am told my draft classification is 5Y. I asked the nice lady who registered me what did the 5Y mean? “It means,” she said, “that retired presidents go before you do.”

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  17. Scott says:

    One, I don’t think the draft will be ever activated again. However, if it does get activated, it will be for a national mobilization that most issues we are arguing about will seem insignificant.

    Two, as they say, 90% of warfare is logistics. Women can handle those tasks as well as anyone. Heck, right now, we just hire contractors to do a lot of that work.

    What I find more interesting are the arguments against registering women in the selective service. Which are not many. A lot of it is just wailing by culture warriors. My own Rep, Chip Roy, regularly angrily tweets that he won’t allow his daughter to be drafted. Why? He never says. Just cultural knee jerking.

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  18. SC_Birdflyte says:

    While you note, correctly, that Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam-era draft offenders, you probably don’t know that he is the only President since Eisenhower who has had a son actually serve in a theater of war. LBJ’s two sons-in-law also served there. David Eisenhower is a Navy veteran, but served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. W, of course, was a National Guard pilot, but served in Texas and Alabama. Carter’s oldest son, Jack, served on a Navy salvage vessel based in Vietnam.

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  19. sam says:

    Beau Biden served in Iraq.

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  20. MarkedMan says:

    IMHO, the primary purpose of draft registration is to make young people absolutely aware that citizenship comes with responsibilities, and sometimes those are compulsory

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  21. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    IMHO, the primary purpose of draft registration is to make young people absolutely aware that citizenship comes with responsibilities, and sometimes those are compulsory

    But only for an unlucky small fraction of the population.

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    On the broader subject of women in combat, I’d note that ‘During World War II, the average height of Japanese soldiers was 5 ft. 3-1/2 inches and 120 pounds, while the average height of an American soldier in WWII was 5 ft. 7 inches and 140-150 lbs.’* The Vietnamese were likewise not large, beefy people. The average American woman is bigger than the average Japanese man in WW2, and larger than the average Vietnamese man today.

    *From Reddit, so I can’t vouch for the stats.

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  23. a country lawyer says:

    In July 1968, my ninth month in Viet Nam I received notice from my local draft board to appear. My C.O. wasn’t very understanding when I told him I need to return to the States. Fortunately Jimmy Carter pardoned me so I don’t have to worry about the marshals appearing at my door with cuffs.

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  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: my father in law was a WWII vet in the “Diaper Brigade” and saw plenty of action all over Europe. He was, quite literally, a foot soldier and marched hundreds of miles carrying his gear, which we once calculated was 117 pounds including rifle, ammo for the rifle, and the machine gun ammo box or one of the pieces of the machine gun. He weighed 125 pounds.

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  25. Boyd says:

    We haven’t even gotten close to drafting anyone in almost 50 years. Even if you’re not an avid supporter of the All Volunteer Force, that should be a pretty strong signal that draft registration is unneeded and should be eliminated.

    We’ve long moved beyond the point of throwing barely-trained bodies at the enemy. Rather than expanding draft registration to include women, we need to dismantle the whole thing.

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  26. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @sam: Yes, I stand corrected.

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  27. JohnSF says:

    It’s a really odd half-way house that looks like plain political inertia to me.
    European countries either have conscription or they don’t, but AFAIK none require signing up for a hypothetical conscription that doesn’t take place.
    And the US draft/conscription was rather odd anyway: most European conscription was universal in principle, not just some sort of a lottery. Except Sweden lately, I think.

    Of those that do have conscription, only Sweden applies it to women; and IIRC they have move to a “partial” model as they only really need the extra numbers to top up the reserves total and avoid the budget hit of increasing military pay.

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  28. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:

    There may still be some minor usefulness in having a Selective Service. Some sort of initial screening process which gets the patently unfit IDed and classified as such prior to a time of great national urgency, wherein such sorting would be a great hindrance.

    The only other usefulness I can think of is in the acknowledgement of individuals they are subject to calls for duty. That’s about it though. The reasons to have local draft boards have past and everybody has a government ID, as you say.

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  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Boyd:
    Congress still thinks we’re going to call up an army of nine million and arm them all with M1’s. I don’t think they grasp the ratio of relatively inexpensive soldier to very, very expensive gear.

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  30. Kathy says:

    Historically, large standing armies are wasteful and expensive. The tendency, then, is to have no standing army at all, or a small core of well-drilled officers and soldiers, and call up conscripts and/or reserves when needed.

    This is harder to do when war becomes necessary on a regular basis, or when a large army is required to deter or stop attacks on the borders.

    America kind of tried to copy the Roman Republic. Pretty much citizens would equip themselves (see the second amendment) as far as was possible, and would be called up or enticed to volunteer if/when war broke out. Conscription was resorted to when this proved insufficient.

    Until WWII, the US had a relatively small army, augmented in time of war. This changed with the need to contain/deter the USSR post-1945. I’m not sure why a draft was necessary for both Korea and Vietnam, unless it was that the need to deter the USSR prevented the deployment of sufficient troops for these wars in Asia.

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  31. Michael Cain says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Some sort of initial screening process which gets the patently unfit IDed and classified as such prior to a time of great national urgency, wherein such sorting would be a great hindrance.

    You know what information Selective Service collects? Name, address, Social Security number, and an e-mail address. They are not interested in whether you qualify for service because, as others have noted, no one’s been called up for 50 years. If they decide to start the draft again, it will work like it did before — the local draft boards won’t reject anyone, they leave it up to the Army at pre-induction.

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  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Some sort of initial screening process which gets the patently unfit IDed and classified as such prior to a time of great national urgency, wherein such sorting would be a great hindrance.

    Color me skeptical about whether a draft board or system would do that. Back in the day when it came time for me to register, I followed the instructions of my draft board and sent a note from my doctor indicating why I would be a unlikely candidate for service–which in my case was chronic asthma and rhinitis barely managed with medication taken 4 times a day–and the information that I had been accepted into college. The letter that I got back from my draft board told me that my acceptance into university qualified me for a 2-S exemption and that they would process the request for 4-F status after my 2-S classification ended. So much for IDing ahead of time.

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  33. Michael Cain says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I was in the last group to go through pre-induction during the Vietnam era. We knew it didn’t matter, but they had already sent out the paperwork and it was easier for them to go through the motions than to try and cancel things. I finished the 60-minute intelligence test in 25 minutes, perfect score, and the sergeant administering it made me sit by his table for a casual discussion after he had scored it. “Just so you know,” he said, “if this still mattered, and you had managed to crawl into the room and had this score, you would have been drafted. Doesn’t matter about your vision, or your allergies, or your PT scores — all waived. The Army runs on its enlisted clerks, and you’ve got master sergeant clerk written all over you.”

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  34. JD says:

    Women make up only 16% of the enlisted force. Perhaps the draft should be used to achieve gender parity… because of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JD:
    How would that work, given that we aren’t drafting anyone?

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  36. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Cain:

    A use for a Selective Service, not the one we have now. Andy suggested abolishing the whole thing.

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  37. Barry says:

    @JD: “Perhaps the draft should be used to achieve gender parity… because of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

    Oh, look who thinks he’s smart.

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