If you didn’t live through it yourself, your parents probably remember the draft during the Vietnam War, which inspired more than one young man to escape to Canada after their number was drawn.
Today it’s far less likely that we’d ever institute another draft. Nevertheless, politicians are discussing whether or not women should be included in the draft, assuming the issue ever comes up. After all, isn’t that what equality is all about? Equal opportunity in being forced to protect your country and kill others?
In an era where we’re more concerned about the latest ridiculous thing President Trump posted on Twitter than we are with, say, the massive number of documented sexual harassment charges involving him, it’s no surprise that we’ve come to focus on things like so-called gender equality in a situation that will likely never arise.
The usual arguments against drafting women into the military often have to do with the physiological differences between men and women. There is some merit in this: a study from the Marine Corps Force Integration Plan found that “a mixed-gender unit was injured twice as often as an all-male unit, was less accurate with infantry weapons, and was less efficient at removing wounded troops from the battlefield.” All-male squads were found to be faster, have greater accuracy with weapons, and generally performed better on basic combat tasks like dealing with obstacles and evacuating casualties.
But it’s not really about physiology. And it’s not about using the draft as a method of promoting gender equality, either. As Andrew Bacevich points out in The LA Times, “it provides a classic illustration of how presidential campaigns trivialize American politics, with manufactured controversies distracting attention from genuinely substantive issues.
“Whether or not to support registering women is a sound bite question,” he continues. “How well our military system is performing is one worthy of sustained and serious discussion.”
As far as that goes, Congressional reports have found that the draft as a whole is a subpar method for staffing our military. An all-volunteer force is far more effective.
“A volunteer military can be choosy and set higher standards,” the report says. “Even when the army was reducing its requirements during the worst of the Iraq years, its quality standards remained well above those of conscript forces….The end of the draft also has dramatically improved commitment and morale.”
Never mind who gets drafted; the draft as a whole is ineffective.
Even from the point of view of gender equality, drafting women is sketchy at best. “There is nothing progressive about requiring women to register for the draft,” writes Myra Pearson for Bust. “Women should never be bound by law to fight wars that are started by governments disproportionately controlled by men, for resources controlled by men—especially while we’re still expected to do most of the child-rearing, paid less than men for the same work, and can’t get justice for sexual assault or domestic violence.”
Gender equality is a very real issue, as is improving and staffing our military. But to focus on the draft—whether it’s rules around who can be drafted or anything else—is merely a way of ignoring the larger issues for both men and women. It’s time to stop paying lip service to issues of gender and make some real progress.