The Consequences of Having Women in Combat

When you are playing a strategy game, it is important to look at the features of the position, and consider what your opponents or teammates might do.  For example, in Settlers of Cataan, you want to place your settlements in a good location, and place your roads going in a good direction, so your opponents don’t cut you off.  In chess, you want to bring your pieces to squares where they work with your other pieces, and where they strike at the opponent’s weakness.  You should never make a move in isolation.

When it comes to government, similar rules apply.  Before making or changing a policy, you need to consider its effect on already existing policies.  One decision, mixed with already existing decisions, can have unintended consequences.

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that from now on, women would be allowed in combat positions in the armed forces.  The line between combat and non-combat positions has been blurring in the past few years, so this decision is no surprise.  However, there is a consequence of this decision that may be a surprise.

In the 1970s, President Nixon ended the draft.  However, in 1980, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, we thought we might eventually need a draft again, so President Carter re-instated Selective Service registration for young men.  Most of my male readers know all about this.

When you have a law, there will always be lawsuits.  So naturally, there was a court case that challenged the constitutionality of Selective Service registration, because it was for men only.  The case was Rostker vs. Goldberg (1981), and the Supreme Court decided 6-3 that male-only draft registration was constitutional.  They reasoned that the purpose of the draft was to raise a combat force, and women were not allowed in combat roles in the armed forces.  Therefore it made sense to draft only men.

Now that women ARE permitted in combat positions, the reasoning behind this Supreme Court case no longer applies.  After all, if women can do anything in the armed forces that men can do, they should also be subject to the draft, right?  In fact, there is a petition on the White House website that argues that for the sake of gender equality, women must now be subject to the draft.  It reads:

With the decision of the Secretary of Defense to end the “combat exclusion,” women are now eligible for combat roles in the military. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Rostker v. Goldberg, that the requirement for males–and only males–to sign up for Selective Service was constitutional precisely because women were excluded from serving in front line combat units.

That exclusion no longer exists–to ensure a just and equal society the Obama administration must implement Selective Service registration for women when they reach the age of 18, as well as require all women under the age of 30 to register for Selective Service as well–under the same penalties for non-compliance that apply to men.

This is an important issue for fairness and equality.

Now I don’t expect that this will reach the 100,000 vote threshold any time soon.  Most conservatives believe the slippery slope is leading this way, but they will not sign it because they don’t think that women should be drafted.  Most liberals will not sign it because they don’t think that anyone should be drafted.  And even if this petition gets to 100,000 signatures, Barack Obama won’t want to consider it because he doesn’t want Sasha and Malia to be drafted.

But logically, this petition is consistent.  Secretary Panetta has, unintentionally (or perhaps not), opened up a can of worms.  It is only a matter of time before the consequences of his decision work themselves out.

It could be amusing to watch all the young women who voted for Obama because of free birth control find themselves registering for the draft.  If that was the only effect of this decision, it would be pure entertainment.

However, there is the question of what my daughters (and my friends’ daughters) would do.  As members of the Presbyterian Church in America, our church has made a statement against women in combat, so my daughters should be entitled to Conscientious Objector status.  However, the Obama administration has tried to limit religious freedom in other areas.  For example, they have argued that private business owners cannot exercise their pro-life convictions when it comes to choosing an insurance plan, and that Catholic colleges and ministries, because they are not actual churches, have to cover birth control, regardless of their religious convictions.  So they might argue against Conscientious Objector status for women who simply believe that warfare is a man’s job.

In that case, I could see some of the kindest and gentlest young ladies I know transformed into 60’s style anti-draft protesters.  Except that they will have fewer drugs.  And a better vocabulary.  And better music.  And, we hope, a large number of their middle-aged dads backing them.

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