Opening Note: This post is not intended to explore the morality on any level of the draft itself. It is intended to engage with the question of whether the draft should, if employed, be restricted to men only, or include both men and women equally.
I read the Gospel Coalition’s blog, and am often very encouraged and edified by it. Equally, I also often disagree with their posts. Unsurprisingly, many of these posts tend to be on the subject of gender. Usually I just sort of move on, but a recent post by Joe Carter called ‘Will Women Be Forced to Register for the Military Draft?‘ moved me to do more. Not only do I disagree with this particular post, I find it rather insulting, both as a thinker and as a woman. As such, I wanted to post a response to it.
Carter’s argument, if it can be so called, boils down to this:
“A poll taken in 2013 found that nearly sixty percent of Americans believe women should be eligible for the draft. Women favor the draft at a much higher rate than men (61 percent to 35 percent), and Democrats favor the draft much more than Republicans (80 percent to 50 percent). Overall, 59 percent of those polled said women should be drafted.
A likely reason for the increased support is a foolish and historically ignorant belief that the military draft is an outdated institution and will never be used in the future. While the draft has indeed been dormant for forty-two years, it is likely to return during America’s next large-scale conflict. The reason the draft will be needed is obvious: relative to some other nations, the U.S. is woefully lacking in manpower… That is why many people have no qualms about supporting “gender equality” by allowing women to be drafted: It doesn’t affect them directly. They seem to have no concerns about forcing their granddaughters or great-granddaughter to be subjected to the horrors of war. As long as it doesn’t directly affect them, they are allowed to be seen as embracing ‘equality.'”
To summarize, Carter argues that the more likely reason women (and men) support the draft is because we don’t think it will ever be used. Carter can think of no other, perhaps more intellectually honest, reasons for supporting the draft for women than a desire “to be seen as embracing ‘equality'” without consequence (in an anonymous survey, no less?)
For me, two reasons come immediately to mind, although there may certainly be others. The first is that women have thought through the implications of being registered in the draft, and concluded that they find laughable the idea that their sex somehow disqualifies them from wanting to defend– to the death if necessary– what they believe to be valuable and worthwhile. Certainly this is where my own feelings lie. Certainly I imagine I would struggle with many qualms and fears if faced with the harsh reality of defending my values in a contest of the magnitude of war– but I don’t doubt that many of the young men who have in the past been drafted to defend their country felt the exact same qualms and fears I would. Though the women-and-children-first, ‘men at the front lines’ mentality that has been the currency of the patriarchy for centuries upon centuries is deeply ingrained (it’s a huge movie trope, for example), I categorically deny that there is something intrinsic in me that would rather be defended and sacrificed for than to defend and sacrifice. I feel a jealous ferocity rise in me at the idea of my husband or children being attacked, for example, that I defy any man to exceed, and I am confident that my fellow women experience the same feelings.
A second explanation is the notion that women don’t want to be conscripted and do hope that the draft is never employed in their lifetime or that of their daughters, but they nonetheless feel that it is just and necessary that the draft legally include both genders. Even if no noble fire of courage and self-sacrifice kindles in them at the notion of defending their home and country, they acknowledge that their feelings aren’t a good gauge for what is legally just or morally ethical. Thus, while hoping that the draft need not be employed, they still conscientiously believe on an intellectual level that the draft should include both men and women.
However, even if we grant Carter his ill-defended premise that women self-evidently should not be included in the first line of a nation’s defense, that all the men of a country should sacrifice themselves to defend their women, he provides in his own post a defeat of his conclusion that women should thus be excluded from the draft. This defeat lies in the numbers he provides.
“Currently, the armed forces is comprised of about 2 million men and women, both on active duty and in the reserves. The potential pool of draft eligible young men (ages 18-25) on file with the Selective Service is approximately 16 million.
In contrast, China has an available manpower of 750 million—more than twice the entire population of the United States. They also have over 100 million draft eligible men, with nearly 20 million men in China reaching military age every year. Although it has less manpower than China, Russia also has about 45 million men of draft age.
If we were to face either or both of those countries in violent conflict, the draft would need to be implemented in the U.S. on a broad scale. Having already shown that drafting women has popular support and having no legal basis to exclude anyone based on gender, young women would be drafted in numbers equal to young men.”
What Carter is saying here is that the United States currently has an eligible pool of 18 million people, tops, in the event of a war. If that war were with China or Russia, they would be colossally outnumbered. This ‘first line of defense’ of American manpower a jest, then! Refusing to double your available forces is a foolish way of defending your women even if defending your women is acknowledged to be the goal. It strikes me not as noble and self-sacrificing to tell women to stay at home hoping that a military of 18 million will stand up against a military of 850 million, but as blind and self-aggrandizing. If you truly want us to be defended, let us stand beside you. Not all of us will live, but at least we won’t have sat at home watching you be slaughtered in a foolish and misguided attempt at chivalry that ultimately does us no practical good at all.