Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All's Fair in Love and War

This is kind of a part two to my earlier post office description, because it didn't fit well in the first entry. On one wall of the post office was an notice telling men to sign up for the draft, called "selective military service." Canada doesn't have that, and I didn't know the US had that still. You can ask for a form here to sign up, and I'd like to see it, but being foreign and female I'm afraid I would be regarded with suspicion for such a request.

The USA only drafts men into their armed forces, but accepts applications from female volunteers. That is probably a sore point with some men, and would certainly become more so if the US ran out of military volunteers and started calling up those registered for the draft. I imagine that will have to be redone at some point, but what a can of worms!

Under the laws of the US, the draft should probably be gender-blind. Women are supposed to be treated the same as men in voting, running for public office, receiving government benefits and every other dealing with government, so it's not exactly fair to the men for women to have a special exception for warfare. It's also, in a perverse way, unfair to the women, because if men are asked to pay a higher price for citizenship that justifies them receiving preferential treatment.

One reason women don't traditionally go to war is that they have not been considered capable of the duties. While being big and strong and testosterone-charged is very important when it comes to beating your opponent to death with a stone club, its importance shrank with the introduction of firearms, and size became a disadvantage in some military professions with the advent of tanks and fighter jets and other mechanized vehicles. Given training and indoctrination and assignment to appropriate war trades, I think women are as capable as men at waging war.

The things that women can do that men can't make a different and more valid argument against women fighting in wars. In order to sustain the population and produce the next generation of soldiers or post-war citizens, the women are more important. Only women can bear children, and once they have done so they nurse them, and traditionally they raise them. On the flip side, women can get pregnant during deployment, which is rather inconvenient to the army. This isn't accusing women of having poor self-control: it takes two to tango, plus in a war zone sexual assault is common.

The last is another reason nations keep women off the front lines. Part of what a nation is defending in wartime is their people, and their belief that they are better than the enemy. They don't want their women bearing the enemy's children. They want them home bearing their own children. The psychological effect of the war on the population at home is very important. Israel has a universal draft, and initially found that women performed well on the front lines, but when they saw the terrible effect on national morale of women coming home in body bags, they pulled the female draftees back to support positions. It may have been something people would have become used to, as people are quite used to women delivering mail and performing surgery these days, but it wasn't something the country was willing to try. There's also the risk of the enemy catching onto this and using the female soldiers as hostages, taking advantage of a weakness men have, that urges them to protect women even when it's not the smartest thing to do.

Warfare, it seems, is such a full-being activity that it really does matter what sex-specific body parts you have. I'd suggest a universal draft, with deferrals available for the essential functions currently exempted, plus pregnancy, nursing, and other childcare responsibilities. Parents of weaned children could choose which of the couple would take the deferral. This would have the weird side effect of inverting the population growth patterns of previous wars: I'm sure plenty of women would get pregnant in order to avoid going to war. And then that would be perceived as unfair by men who had no such option. I guess there's no fair answer.


Roger said...

I think the subtlety here is that it was "registering for the draft", not actually being drafted. The last US draft ended in 1973, and the registration requirement ended in 1975. The registration requirement was reinstated in 1980, but not the actual draft.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the US along with the Vietnam War, but turned 18 after the draft ended. Body counts and Walter Cronkite in a foxhole were just part of life. I was a kid, I had no clue what it all really meant. I had to register for the draft, but there was never any concern that I'd actually get called up. This is technically the situation today.

Knowing what I know now, with a son soon to turn 18 years old (i.e., required to register for the currently non-existent US military draft), it all takes on a dramatically different meaning. And more on the subject of your post, we also have a daughter who is already draft age, although females don't have to register.

I've heard it said that an all-volunteer military results in a more dedicated, professional force. Unfortunately, I think it also tends to insulate the general populace from the reality of war. It's one thing for a redneck to argue anonymously on an internet blog for invading Iraq in order to "get Saddam", or to put another bumper sticker on the pickup truck. It's something else, I'd imagine, when it's your young boy, or your daughter, being drafted against their will by Uncle Sam to go fight someone else's unpopular war. By "unpopular", I mean NOT something like WWII, but something like Vietnam, or Iraq, or...(Iran? Georgia?)

I heard Sally Field once say something to the effect of "if mothers ran the world there would be no war". Maybe, maybe not. I hope we find out some day. We might be in Afghanistan, but we sure as heck wouldn't be in Iraq.

Having a draft instead of an all-volunteer military is kind of like eggs and sausage for breakfast. You know, in terms of the differing levels of involvement of the chicken vs. the pig. Us chickens have a right to be concerned and to voice our opinions, but those pigs, well...

Sorry to hijack the blog, but your post kicked me into a different direction. The good news is that I'm not a cynic, I'm an optimist. I know we can do better.
Bob in Minnesota

Aviatrix said...

It's not hijacking, Bob. It's what the post was about. Registering for the draft is kind of a scary interesting thing to me, because it's not my country and it's not my gender. Even though the military isn't currently drafting, it must be a sobering thing to put your name and details on a form so your government can, if it wants to, tell you to go to war. Do you then give them permission to follow you through your tax records, or do you have to tell them every time you move? How does that work? What information *does* go on that form?

Anonymous said...

I already wasn't happy that I had to register for the draft when I turned eighteen, but what I thought was particularly insensitive was that I had to provide my own stamp to mail the form in.

Anonymous said...

You're required to inform the government within 10 days if any information (address, etc) changes until you're 26. What happens if you don't, I have no idea... I would guess a lot of people don't.

Anonymous said...


Regarding the whole "can of worms" of women in the military, I recommend checking out the Center for Military Readiness at

There is sufficient information available for non-registered users to give pause on this very controversial issue. A very thought provoking article about women in combat was published there on Monday at

You might also want to read a very moving tribute by fellow pilot blogger at

nec Timide said...

Some very astute observations, and interesting comments.

I will just add that, as a former soldier, the point of war, or at least battle, is to be unfair with extreme prejudice to your enemy. If both sides are correctly confident of being fairly treated by the other and intend fair treatment in return, we won't have war. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement mistakenly expecting fair treatment from Hitler, who intended no such thing. Sally Fields is probably correct, but I don't see mothers taking political power in those parts of the world that currently consume our military efforts, a shame.

It was interesting to read WWII being described as popular when compared to the Vietnam War. My opinion is that the opposite is true. WWII was not popular at all. Which is why Chamberlain was willing to, and was supported in, appeasing Hitler. The unpopularity of the European conflict kept the US out of the fighting for a significant period of time. In contrast the US population elected leaders who continued the war in Vietnam. WWII is largely popular in hindsight because as Germany fell to defeat and Japanese conquests were liberated the depravity of the Axis powers became readily apparent.

The perversity of the human condition is that we will never know what the world would be like if the US had joined the war in 1939, UN action in Korea had prevailed, the Vietnamese had defeated Communism, Desert Storm had deposed Saddam, or if he still held Iran.

Leading up to WWII few leaders saw Germany as a threat. Those that did didn't have the power or freedom to act. If the situation had been different and a coalition had been formed to stomp on German military expansion in the 1930s, would the 40s have been spent in recrimination of that act?

Was Saddam a threat of the same magnitude as Hitler? I don't know. We never will, for which I am greatful. As a soldier, drafted or volunteer, if my life is to be spent by my country, I don't want the decision based on what is or is not popular.

Anonymous said...

I guess it was wrong of me to describe WWII as "popular". I'd hope there never is such a thing as a popular war. Although I wasn't alive until well after WWII, I'd say my statement was based on today's pop culture consensus viewed through the hazy lens of history that after Pearl Harbor the men eagerly lined up to go into the military. And Rosie the Riveter put on her bandana, rolled up her sleeves, and went to build B-17s in Wichita, all the while the kids were collecting scrap iron and Gramps was selling war bonds.

I know that we as a nation had great divisions of opinion prior to Pearl Harbor (Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, America First), perhaps less so after Pearl Harbor. WWII, of course, started well before Pearl Harbor. December 7, 1941 is certainly a defining moment in the US national psyche and serves as a convenient target date for Hollywood. Kind of like saying the Civil War was just about slavery...

I look at Chamberlain going to Munich as I to some extent today look at the US talking to Iran or North Korea. I don't consider myself any kind of expert, those are just some of my impressions. Not direct parallels, but similarities, in my mind.

I think a strong military is critically important. It's generally the politicians I have problems with.

I'm also not saying that I believe war is never necessary. Sometimes, it is necessary to go kill people and break things. My nephew is a Major in the US Army and has recently returned from his second tour in Iraq, and a cousin is currently flying P-3's in the Gulf, having graduated from Annapolis several years ago. I'm proud of them both, and of others who serve and have served before them.

Although I never served in the military myself, knowing now what I didn't know then might cause me to change my mind. I don't regret never serving, I'm just saying if I had to do it over again I might have chosen a different path. I respect and thank those who did, and those who do.

A little research on the current draft leads me to agree with Travis. Males are supposed to register at age 18 and keep Selective Service advised of their whereabouts until they're 26 years old. I'm sure some people register, but I can't imagine many go to the trouble of keeping SS advised of their moves. I couldn't tell you how many addresses I had from 18 through 25, but I'd guess, with college, etc., it's over a dozen.

Aaaaand to bring us back to the topic:

There is, since a US Congressional mandate in 1989, a special provision for drafting "health care and professional occupation personnel" of BOTH SEXES from ages 20-57 now on the books. The US Dept of Defense says any future draft would probably result in health care workers being called up.

Thanks all,
Bob in Minnesota

Anonymous said...

Registering with the selective service is required for men ages 18 to 26. That does not say anything about who will be drafted if Congress orders conscription. It's simply a requirement that we tell the feds where we live, more or less. Congress could draft whoever they liked...

The form itself is very basic:
Name, Address, Social-Security Number, Date of Birth, and how you learned about the requirement to register.

Note that in Israel, universal draft is in fact conscription: all Israeli citizens must serve -- not just register.

nec Timide said...


I think we could agree on the important things. Fighting battles based on "popularity" is a bit of a hot button issue for me. Maybe I'm overly sensitive. I should have added in my first post that you seem to have put some thoughtful consideration to the topic. Which is all any soldier can as of his/her citizenry.

Anonymous said...

Well as a draftee, it was just something your did like serving on a jury or voting.I do believe in universal draft NO deferments. You can always find something for everyone to do.

As for Vietnam being popular, I dont remember that, I do remember seeing a picture of my brother carrying a Viet Cong flag down 5th Avenue in NY Times Magazine while I was in Basic Training. I remember lower Manhattan becoming a war zone of pro and anti war demonstrators.

As for WWII, I was born in 1945 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and almost all my male relatives alive and of the right age joined various services. I do know as the war dragged on many started having doubts.

BTW I was against the Vietnam War before during and after I served.