Of course, you know by now that female service members are eligible (or rather, will be eligible, after changes to the Pentagon’s policies go into effect) for all military jobs, including those classified as primarily combat-oriented. To say nothing of the changes that our military will undergo as they implement this change, there are a lot of other things that are going to get a shake-up, as well.
The same rule that barred women from serving in combat-arms specialties also exempted women from having to register for the Selective Service System – which we all know better as “the draft.” So what happens now?
Secretary Panetta was a bit glib about it when he was asked during a press conference: “With regards to Selective Service, you know, that’s not our operation,” Panetta said. “I don’t know who the hell controls Selective Service, if you want to know the truth. But, you know, whoever does, they’re going to have to exercise some judgment based on what we just did.”
Unfortunately for him, that’s not totally accurate. It is true that Congress is responsible for the laws mandating the draft (under the Military Selective Service Act), meaning it’s not up to DoD to decide whether women will have to register for the draft. But Secretary Panetta is required to report to Congress about any changes in policy they make which might affect the Military Selective Service Act – which means that he’ll have to provide a detailed analysis, and probably a set of recommendations that will carry plenty of weight when it comes time for the legislative body to sort this all out.
As it stands, the Military Selective Service Act will soon be unconstitutional, because it requires something of men that it doesn’t require of women; that was actually a case brought before the Supreme Court in 1981, which stated that because females were exempt from combat arms, they were also exempt from the draft. So Congress is going to have to take the step in deciding whether all citizens – not just the males – have to register for the draft.
And yet, this is all still up in the air. The Pentagon hasn’t actually changed any rules yet, and they left plenty of space for the heads of the military branches to make recommendations on whether certain occupational specialties will remain closed to women. I don’t have any facts, but I have a hunch that some of our more elite special operations jobs will remain all male for a while longer than the rest of the services, and this could complicate any congressional move to retool the Selective Service System. On the one hand, certain jobs are still closed to women. On the other hand, we don’t have a Selective Service System in this country in case we need highly trained special forces; we have it in case the shit hits the fan and we need to draft a large standing Army and Marine Corps as quickly as possible.
If you ask me, I think that this aspect of citizenship – registering for the draft, and coming face-to-face with the fact that you could be called to give your life to your country – is an important experience for people to have, and a privilege that I’m glad to share with those of my fellow Americans who are women and haven’t gotten a chance to do so yet. It might sound silly, but I felt good when I registered with Selective Service. It’s just a little form – but it’s also a promise to do your duty if your nation ever needs you, and I was glad to make it. (So glad, in fact, I joined of my own free will just a few years later.)
I think women should have to register for the draft, and I hope Congress makes this happen soon. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
(image credit: Wikimedia Commons)