With greater equality comes greater responsibility. That’s essentially what a federal judge said in a recent ruling that renders America’s male-only military draft unconstitutional.
While the propriety of Selective Service registration itself remains debatable, the judge’s rationale here is less so. Women make up increasing percentages of the armed forces and participate fully today in combat duties. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., lost both her legs in combat during the Iraq War. It’s time for young women to be included in the draft requirement exactly as young men are.
America hasn’t actually drafted anyone into the military since the end of the Vietnam War. But in case that changes, federal law requires that men register for the Selective Service upon turning 18. They are eligible to be called up continuing through age 25. Failure to register can lead to a range of punishments, including prison.
This newspaper has expressed ambivalence about the value of a military draft. An all-volunteer military probably serves the nation better, but the draft has a way of focusing Americans’ attention more sharply on the justifications for war. As long as there’s a draft, there’s no ignoring the growing role of women in the military.
Women have played supporting roles throughout the history of the U.S. military, but in recent years, their roles have been primary, even before they were formally allowed into combat roles in 2015. Duckworth sustained her injuries back a decade earlier when the helicopter she was piloting was hit by rocket-propelled grenades.
Changing attitudes and advances in military tactics and technology have dramatically reduced the gender barrier in warfare. While women still make up a low percentage of fighting forces, hundreds now serve in combat roles in the Army alone. They also rank among the killed and wounded.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that the military was justified in excluding women from draft registration, which made sense then because they were officially excluded from serving in combat roles.
U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller of Texas noted in his recent ruling that today’s military service conditions have changed. “If there ever was a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’ that time has passed,” he correctly noted. He ruled that drafting men exclusively violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Young people today are far less engaged in world events than during the Vietnam era, largely because the threat of being drafted into war doesn’t loom nearly as large. That threat has a way of impressing the gravity of war upon registrants, which is probably a good thing. As long as draft registration is in effect, it’s unfair to men and insulting to women that it remains gender-specific at a time when soldiering no longer is.