Shirola: For full gender equality, women should also have to register for the draft

Wesley Shirola, Assistant Opinion Editor

Turmoil has rocked relations between Iran, Iraq and the United States over the past several weeks. If you haven’t been following the news, here’s what you need to know. On January 3rd, 2020, the United States Department of Defense issued a statement affirming that Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad earlier that day.

Five days later, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, Iran launched missile attacks on Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation. Just hours afterward, President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the White House. He threatened Iran with additional economic sanctions and said, “The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”

In light of these recent events, many have begun fearing the possibility of a World War III. While a World War III is highly unlikely to happen — as my colleague, Tanisha Tekriwal, argued on Tuesday, and as President Trump signaled on Wednesday — it is worth contemplating what would happen if it did. Specifically, we must determine how the United States would form a military large enough and powerful enough to come away victorious.

Since the Vietnam War, the United States has relied on a voluntary armed forces. Young men and women who wish to serve their country are welcome to enlist of their own free-will. This system keeps our military large enough in peacetime — there are currently just over 1.3 million active-duty troops — but this number would likely be insufficient in a hypothetical World War III considering the several millions of troops deployed in prior World Wars. The United States faced this same dilemma in the early years of World War I. In preparation, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Selective Services Act on May 18, 1917, creating the draft.

Between 1948 and 1973, men were conscripted into the military in both peacetime and times of conflict. Currently, the Selective Service System is in a “standby” state for when Congress deems it necessary to recommence military conscriptions. Today, all men must register with the Selective Service System, commonly called “the draft,” upon turning 18 years old. Women, on the other hand, are excluded from the draft. To this, we must ask: why?

Women may volunteer for military service, and many do, especially since all military occupations and positions became open to women in January 2016. Indeed, women are essential to the U.S. armed forces and deserve respect, as I wrote in these pages in October 2017.

If this is the case, why are women still excluded from the draft? In the past, they were not allowed to register primarily because they were forbidden from serving in combat roles. That is no longer the case.

Thankfully, some have begun to take notice. In early 2019, a federal court in Texas ruled that the male-only registration requirement is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, this ruling has no practical effect on the draft due to the fact that the judge failed to issue an injunction requiring specific changes to the draft registration, as CNN reported. Even before that, President Jimmy Carter recommended that the draft be amended to include women in the first half of the 1980s. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the practice of requiring only men to register was constitutional.

We keep telling ourselves that we are striving for complete gender equality, yet here we have an obvious shortcoming and aren’t really doing anything to fix it. Admittedly, part of the problem lies in opposition to women serving in the military in the first place, let alone registering for the draft.

According to Joe Heck, an Army Reserve brigadier general and former Republican congressman, when people are asked whether women should register, they have an answer. “Either it’s yes, women should have to register just on the basis of equality, or no, women should not have to register because they have a different role in American society.”

It is up to us to convince the latter half of these individuals of women’s crucial contributions to our armed forces and why they too should have the civic responsibility to register. “It would appear imprudent to exclude approximately 50 percent of the population – the female half – from availability for the draft in the case of a national emergency,” the Pentagon said in January 2019.

I couldn’t agree more.

Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg junior. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.