The Draft: A Woman’s Right?

Last week marked the twelve year anniversary of the opening of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring the more than 16 million men and women who served during the war.  When I walk the halls of the Pentagon each day there are memorials which surround me to honor not only men, but women who have honorably served to defend our nation.  In the center of Arlington National Cemetery there is an entire memorial dedicated to the women of our Armed Services.  There can be no doubt that over the past century women have shared in the rich heritage of military service.  Yet, the one element which has always distinguished these women from other woman, has been their freedom to exercise a choice in deciding to serve our country in this capacity.  Since 1917, when women were first allowed to join the U.S. Armed Services, this opportunity has always been a decision not made under compulsion, but under free will.

Yet, all of this could change within the next month if a bill which recently passed the House Armed Services Committee is approved by Congress and signed into law by the President.  Just as all male U.S. citizens are required on their 18th birthday to register for Selective Service, this bill would mandate all women to also register; making them legally bound to participate in the draft process in the event it was ever required.  It invokes the inevitable question regarding whether women should be required to register for the draft and if so why have they never been forced to do so in the past.  Before answering that question, consider for a moment the intent of the draft and the conditions under which it would likely be instituted. It is essentially the forced supplementing of a shortfall in military personnel, typically combat troops, who will be required to serve on the front lines of a battlefield. Although it could be rightly argued that warfare has changed since the draft was executed in WWII and the Vietnam War, the fundamental purpose is to fill a gap in combat operations.

So as we consider this issue it must be understood that fundamentally, an extension of the draft to include women, is the endorsement of forcibly committing young women to the front lines of a combat area.  Put another way, it is also the belief that not only men, but women have a duty to protect the homeland of America.  That is not an argument about whether a woman is physically capable of defending our nation, but rather a question of obligation.  In the event of a draft, there is little distinction made between the strong and the weak, the small and the large, because every man in this country is viewed as having an obligation to fight and if need be die, for the protection of this country.  Is this an obligation which should be shared with the women living in this country?

While there is certainly a legitimate argument that our military consists of jobs with non-combative roles, the fundamental justification for this law is to demonstrate equality across genders in America.  So in the event of a draft, how could it be argued that women would only be given non-combative roles, while the men are being sent to fight and die on the front lines.  Who would conduct the selection process to determine who serves in combat and who does not.  If the basis for this requirement is gender equality, then the integrity of the program mandates an equal dispersion of genders.

The Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, recently opened all combat careers to any gender, but this the issue of the draft is a much different debate then permitting women to apply for service in combat roles.  Instead, the more urgent issue is whether women should be mandated to serve on the front lines.  Consider for a moment the practical impacts of enforcing such a law on the young women of America.  The preponderance of single parents in this country are mothers, although we certainly should not discredit single fathers who share similar circumstances.  Can we envision a young, single mother being forced to leave her children out of a duty to fight for her country or would we argue that there are enough men to take her place.  Imagine a mother and a father both being drafted at the same time; required to leave behind a family for someone else to care for.  Even if there are exceptions, who decides which one stays and which one leaves?  If the father volunteers what is to prevent the draft board from selecting his wife instead under the banner of equality.  Could a husband imagine sending his wife off to war while remaining at home with the children?

What does it say about a culture that we are adamantly supportive about providing women adequate time to care for their children through maternity leave, nursing areas in the workplace and flexible work schedules, but are unwilling to admit that there just might be some fundamental differences between the roles of men and women.  Isn’t it interesting that many child custody cases in divorce court decide to award primary custody to the mother on the basis of studies which identify maternal care as a key element in the development of a child.  While the death of any parent in a family with young children is heartbreaking, there is something about the death of a mother who leaves behind young children which grips and moves us in a way which cannot easily be understood.  There is a reason for the metaphor, “just as a mother cares for her child” because the imagery epitomizes our understanding of love, nurture and care.  Is this really just antiquated imagery from a bygone culture dominated by male chauvinism or is it perhaps rooted in a human nature designed by God and not meant to be suppressed?  If it was not the result of God’s design then why would Peter write, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pt 3:7).

As Christians we need to think carefully about what the Scripture teaches about the role of women and ask ourselves some serious questions about this topic while we still have the opportunity to influence the decision.  Would you send your wife to war?  How about your daughters?  Or try this one, would you send your mother to war; to fight and to die?  Don’t be so quick to correlate permitting a woman’s freedom to serve in a combat job and forcing them into one.  In the event of a draft, women will still have the freedom to join the military if they so desire.  The draft is ultimately about freedom, but only in this way; through the suspension of an individual’s freedom in order to fulfill the duty to protect America’s freedom.  This decision isn’t about granting women’s rights, it is about taking away a woman’s right to have her freedom’s protected.

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