It turns out there may be a limit on how equal women want to be.
Equal rights? Of course, you Neanderthals in easy-fit jeans.
Equal pay? Isn’t it about time the ones getting the work done get paid the same as you fantasy-baseball-playing (on the company clock) fools?
But equal conscription? Ah, um … let’s not rush into anything.
As Congress considers whether women should have to register for the draft, a new poll by The Economist/YouGov finds that by a slim margin, women don’t think women should have to sign up with the Selective Service, as young men have to do when they turn 18.
A majority of men (61 percent) said women should be required to register, and 40 percent of women agreed. But 43 percent of women disagreed.
That divide will surely be reflected when the Senate and the House attempt to reconcile their approaches to the issue. Last month, the Senate approved by 85-13 an amendment to the $602 billion military spending bill that would require women to register, while the House version says that the proposal should be pondered.
Of course, no Americans – boys, girls, cats or dogs (well, maybe bomb-sniffers) – have been forced into military service since 1973 when the Vietnam War draft, which sent so many long-haired draft-dodgers hot-footing it to Canada, ended. But theoretically, if the country were attacked or we wound up with an even more bellicose president than the one who started the Iraq War, conscription could be re-imposed.
And a President Hillary Clinton would complicate all that.
Despite a pretty itchy trigger finger, there is no suggestion here that Hillary would start a war. But she would be the Commander in Chief, and should Congress reinstate the draft, a woman president (with maybe a woman vice-president at her side) ordering only young men to put on a uniform and march off to fight would make for some dismal optics.
The basic problem is that a woman commander-in-chief sending an army into battle with draftees who are only young men would be open to charges of gender hypocrisy. If a woman can be the general of generals, why shouldn’t women also have to be grunts? It’s easy to imagine the chorus of complaints, "Oh, yeah, women want to be equal, except when it comes to defending our country."
But besides the equality argument, there are three reasons why requiring women to register would be good for the country:
- National Service. Making women sign up could reignite the debate about compulsory national service and put more pressure on lawmakers to create an alternative to spending two or three years as active military.
- More Melting. One of the reasons the melting pot isn’t doing as good a job of assimilating newcomers as it did in the past is that there is no longer a draft that takes recruits from all ethnicities, economic backgrounds and geographic locations and puts them in the same equally loathsome situation – a body and mind-altering experience called boot camp. Young Americans of all genders need to be exposed to other Americans, new Americans and Americans-to-be whom they might otherwise never meet or, more important, be forced to rely on. Some form of national service for young men and women would help build a more cohesive nation.
- War Deterrent. The all-volunteer military has arguably made Washington more cavalier about sending troops into harm’s way. If the children of the American middle and upper-middle class had been at risk of getting drafted and trundled off to battle, there would have been significantly more resistance to George W. Bush’s bloody and foolish incursion into Iraq. And if those in the draft pool included young women, neo-neocons and lawmakers – the vast majority of whom now have no military experience -- would think much more carefully before getting us into a war that requires ground troops.
In short, there could be a peace dividend.