Two weeks ago, the Pentagon lifted its ban on women in active combat roles. Now that women can serve, effectively, the same role as men in combat, does this mean women could be drafted into the military?
Male U.S. citizens and male immigrant non-citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to have registered for the selective service within 30 days of their 18th birthdays.
Many scholars agree that – from a legal standpoint – there is no constitutional justification for women to not register, as men do. However, from a societal and moral standpoint, the question is far more difficult.
Women face discrimination and myriad other difficulties as soldiers. One in three women have experienced military sexual trauma, resulting from physical assault of a sexual nature or sexual harassment during active duty or training. While “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” was in place, 31% of the discharges under the policy were women. Yet, only 14% of the overall U.S. military consists of women.
Yes, women have equivalent operational duties as soldiers, but how can proponents of selective service equality argue their position when the military still fosters an atmosphere of abuse and exploitation?
But could military gender equality help us take a step toward national gender equality? In 1948, President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981 ordered the integration of armed forces shortly after World War II, a major advance in civil rights.
Charles C. Moskos, Jr., U.S. military sociologist wrote, “The desegregated military offers itself as a graphic example of the abilities of both whites and blacks to adjust to egalitarian racial relations with surprisingly little strain. Also, an examination of the racial situation in contemporary military establishment can serve as a partial guideline as to what one might expect in a racially integrated America.”
This is not an issue of false equivalency either; Morris J. MacGregor, Jr. wrote in ‘Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965’, “The rapid urbanization of many black Americans, coupled with their experience in the armed forces and in defense industries, had enhanced their economic and political power and raised their educational opportunities… Possessed of a new self-respect, young blacks began to demonstrate confidence in the future and a determination to reject the humiliation of second-class citizenship.”
Women face segregation of a different sort. They were denied the opportunity to serve in combat roles alongside their male counterparts, and continue to face discrimination to this day. No one believes that this inequity in any way justifies the debasement women endured any more than they think African-Americans did before military desegregation, yet we recognize the effect of prejudice in everyday life.
We – both men and women – have an opportunity to use this change in policy as a call to action for all-inclusive gender equality. There is no reason that career acquisition or advancement, military placement or promotion, or societal perception or predisposition should be determined by anything other than ability, merit or experience.
Will women have to sign up for selective service? Legally, most likely. Should women have to sign up for selective service? Societally, it’s necessary for the advancement of our nation, the species and ourselves as more enlightened human beings.