In the summer of 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to extend the Selective Service term of duty beyond that passed the year before in the nation's first peacetime draft. The vote, only a few months before Pearl Harbor, was 203 to 202 in favor. The Selective Service has sometimes been a close-run thing.
The Selective Service has been back in the news of late, and yesterday the United States Supreme Court decided it wouldn't take a case involving the constitutionality of its registration rules. There have been constitutional challenges to the draft in the last few years--that is, whether it should be a male-only affair. For now, since the court passed, it seems the Selective Service will still be selective. And won't include women on the list.
The courts have been asked whether the requirements under the Selective Service law amount to sex discrimination. And, another question entirely, if this particular kind of sex discrimination is illegal. Some might think the matter is only academic, since there has been no draft since 1973. But the world has a way of surprising this country. See Pearl Harbor, mentioned above.
The usual suspects are behind several of the cases. For example, the ACLU's Women's Rights Project says requiring men to sign up imposes a "serious burden on men that's not imposed on women." There are punishments for men who don't register. And:
"It's also sending a tremendously harmful message that women are less fit than men to serve their country in this particular way, and conversely, that men are less fit than women to stay home as caregivers in the event of an armed conflict. We think those stereotypes demean both men and women."
We couldn't find anything in the various rulings that suggests men can't be good caregivers. And any woman who wants to sign up for military service, well, there's a recruiting station nearby. The Pentagon has opened combat jobs to women in the last few years, so women who want to serve in those units--and get all the pay, benefits, promotion possibilities, and general satisfaction that come with military service--can do so.
But whether women should be included in conscription has always been another matter. And should continue to be so.
Not all men are inclined to military service. But if the nation ever finds itself in a tight spot--a tough, choking, deadly spot--then a draft might be necessary once again. And most young men at 18 or 19 or 30 can carry a full rucksack and a rifle up a hill a few clicks. Or can after basic training and Individual Advanced Training.
But some young ladies will never be able to meet the same physical requirements. Even the military acknowledges such with its physical training tests, having much lower thresholds for women when it comes to push-ups (a test of the upper body) but about the same thresholds for both sexes when it comes to sit-ups.
But besides all the physical and practical problems, we don't think America is ready to watch her daughters sweat out a military draft. Things are changing so fast that this might be different in 40 years. Or even 10. But not now.
Call us outdated, call us antique, call us conservative, but the nation isn't there yet.
Some argue that the Selective Service is past its own service, and should be dismantled. If the Supreme Court ever rules it unconstitutional, that will be one of the options for Congress: Rid the nation of it.
Although the Selective Service is just a list of names (male names, for now), it's an important list. Not because there's a good chance that America will be mobilizing again on a 1942 scale, but because there's a chance. No telling what tomorrow will bring. There never is.
Remember when America went to fight a war that would end all wars? Only it didn't. Remember when America began dismantling its military because this was the only nation with The Bomb, and we'd never need tanks and bombers again? That was foolish policy. Remember when the Cold War ended and "experts" talked about The End of History?
Nobody knows what challenges this nation will have to meet in the coming years. And the all-voluntary military force has worked wonders since Vietnam. So a draft is highly unlikely. But not an impossibility.
Keep the Selective Service. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.