Sarah Smiley: Questions answered about women and the draft

Last week's column about women and the draft, and specifically readers' responses to it, raised many questions. I answer them below.

Last week’s column about women and the draft, and specifically readers’ responses to it, raised many questions. I answer them below.

• There’s still a draft?

I was amazed by the amount of people – mostly young mothers with sons – who were not aware that the United States still requires men ages 18-25 to register for Selective Service. To review: Selective Service is essentially the government’s Plan B for a major disaster and a nicer way of saying “the draft.”

An active draft, in which the government forces men into service for the country, has not been implemented since the 1970s. So, yes, worrying about Selective Service is based on multiple hypotheticals and “what ifs.” However, the consequences for men who do not register for Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday are definitely not hypothetical, and, yes, the government does follow-up.

At the very least, an unregistered male cannot work for the government and loses eligibility for financial aid. At worst, unregistered men can be sentenced to up to five years in prison or a fine of no more than $250,000.

Therefore, in a hypothetical, what-if world, Selective Service is not fair and equitable because women would not be drafted during a national emergency. But in a very real sense today, men are subjected to consequences for non-registration, and women are not, even though by 2016 women will have full integration in the military.

• You’re a woman, so why are you against women?

Selective Service for men has largely gone unnoticed, even while women have fought for equality in all other aspects of society. We have said — and proved — that “women can do anything men can do.” Now we have to be willing to accept all the responsibility that equality brings.

As our society moves toward becoming more gender neutral, even at Target, the burdens that men have always shouldered should now become women’s, too. That’s equality.

Through Selective Service, our government operates on the idea that an unwilling male soldier is better than even a willing female one. Are feminists really okay with this?

• So you’re in favor of Selective Service?

Actually, I’m not.

• So why do you want to force our daughters to do something that you don’t even want your sons to do?

Selective Service goes under the radar because society and lawmakers are not ready to deal with the issue of drafting women. It’s a political no-win. Asking the question alone creates all sorts of problems for the “war on women” argument.

Basically, we’ve been so busy giving women access to the military, we’ve ignored the unintended consequences. Once women are included in the discussion about Selective Service, the inequalities in it for men become more apparent.

Each time someone argues why women shouldn’t be included in the draft (“we need them to procreate,” “some women don’t want to join the military,” “not every woman is cut out for combat,” etc.), it becomes more obvious — again, in our gender-neutral society — that maybe men shouldn’t be either.

After all, not every man is cut out for combat either.

Once lawmakers have to consider women for Selective Service, they will be forced to do away with this law altogether. Once lawmakers have to consider drafting their daughters — daughters who have individual feelings about serving in combat — I think they will realize that our best defense remains an all-volunteer, professional military.

• You’d think differently if you had girls. You’re just bitter towards moms who have daughters, aren’t you?

It’s true that I have three sons and no daughters. During a recent dinner-table conversation about the draft, I received very different reactions from them: one said he couldn’t wait to register, one said he didn’t want to do it and one cried.

I imagine that if you have all daughters, you children’s responses would be just as varied.

That’s the point.

I also imagine mothers of daughters would feel the same pit in their stomach if they had to imagine one of their daughters being drafted against her will, knowing she was terrified.

That’s also the point.

• But is a draft really likely anyway?

We live in a child-centric society. We have gone to enormous and sometimes ridiculous lengths to protect our children. Children have never been so cherished, protected and documented.They are celebrated with elaborate birthday parties and participation trophies. They are coddled at universities.

All of the above is why Selective Service is an unpopular topic with lawmakers.

But it sure makes you think about the thousands of mothers who watched their sons — some scared beyond belief — head off to war in generations past, doesn’t it?

Coincidentally, at the exact moment I was writing last week’s column, the Secretary of the Army was telling leaders in Washington that it’s time to consider women for the draft. So this isn’t as hypothetical as we had hoped.

• So are you anti-military?

My husband is, and father and grandfathers were, in the military — by choice. If any of my sons join, I want it to be by his choice as well.

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