House and Senate Armed Services Committees Vote To Make Women Register for the Draft

On September 1st the House Armed Services Committee joined the Senate Armed Services Committee in voting 35-24 to expand registration for a possible military draft to include young women as well as young men.

Following this House committee vote and an earlier Senate committee vote in July (before Congress’s summer vacation), the versions of the annual "must-pass" National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to be considered later this fall in both the House and Senate will include provisions requiring women to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday and report to the Selective Service System each time they change their address until their 26th birthday, as young men have been required to do since 1980.

An alternative compromise amendment to suspend draft registration unless the President declared a national emergency and put the Selective Service System into standby was submitted before today’s committee session, but ruled out of order on the basis of arcane PAYGO procedural rules. Under the same rules, the amendment to the NDAA to expand draft registration to women was ruled in order, considered, and adopted without any antiwar opposition from members of the committee.

Floor amendments may be proposed when the NDAA is considered by the full House and/or the Senate to repeal the Military Selective Service Act, end draft registration entirely, abolish the Selective Service System, or put Selective Service into "standby" as it was from 1975-1980. But even if such amendments are proposed and put to a vote, they have little chance of success in either the House or the Senate.

It’s now overwhelmingly likely that the Fiscal Year 2022 NDAA to be adopted in late 2021 or early 2022 will authorize the President to order women to register for the draft at age 18, starting in 2023 with women born in 2005 and after.

It’s time to shift our anti-draft focus from Congressional lobbying to resistance.

In the most obvious sense, the attempt to get young women to register for the draft and report changes of address to the Selective Service System is bound to fail. Few young men comply with the registration and address reporting requirements, and even fewer young women are likely to do so. Widespread noncompliance has rendered registration of men unenforceable, and the proposed legislation to expand draft registration to women includes no plan or budget for enforcement.

Women have all the same reasons to oppose the draft as men do, plus additional reasons of their own. As I pointed out in my testimony in 2019 to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (which invited no draft-age women to testify about whether they should or could be forced to register), "Both feminist and anti-feminist women will be more likely to resist being forced into the military than men have been, and more people will support them in their resistance. There’s a long tradition of antiwar feminism that identifies militarism and war with patriarchy. Women have been an important part of draft resistance movements even when only men were being drafted and when most public attention has been on male resisters."

Now the tables are turned, and it’s time for men to support young women in their resistance to the expansion of draft registration, just as it’s time for older people to support young people as allies in their resistance to an age-based draft.

But if expanding draft registration to women is bound to fail, draft registration is already unenforceable and has been so for decades, an attempt to bring back the draft is unlikely, and the registration database would be less than useless (in the opinion of a former Director of the Selective Service System) for an actual draft, why should we care about draft registration or make it a priority to support draft registration resistance?

The flaw in the thinking behind this question is the mistaken assumption that the primary goal of anti-draft activism is to protect young people from being drafted.

It should go without saying – but unfortunately doesn’t – that the primary victims of a U.S. draft are not draftees but the much larger numbers of people, mainly civilians, against whom draftees are deployed to wage war around the world, and the civilians at home, especially women and children, who are impacted by the violent masculinity in which soldiers are trained. That this is not taken for granted, and that draftees are conceptualized primarily as passive victims of the draft rather than as potentially empowered agents of obstruction of the war machine, is symptomatic of the ageism of most observers, even otherwise progressive ones. The ageist conceptualization of young people as passive "victims" of the draft denies them agency and blinds older people to the success of their nonviolent noncooperation with a system that seeks not only to oppress them but to use them to oppress others.

Since 1980, resistance to draft registration has won a profound victory over the state and the war machine: It has rendered draft registration unenforceable and prevented a draft.

But that victory is only partial. The function of draft registration is not so much to enable an actual draft as to enable war planners to pretend that the draft is a viable policy option, so that they can contemplate and commit the US to larger, longer, less popular wars without having to consider whether enough people will volunteer to fight them. The real victory of draft resistance will be when the failure of draft registration and the consequent unavailability of a draft as a military "fallback" option is widely enough recognized that US war planning and war making begin to to be constrained accordingly.

The failure of older allies to publicize and follow through on the success of draft registration resistance in preventing a draft, and thereby to realize the potential of that resistance to rein in military planning and adventurism, is directly attributable to their ageism.

Misconceiving their goal from the start as protecting vulnerable (read: powerless) young people from the draft rather than helping young people protect the world from wars that depend on young people as warriors, ageist anti-draft activists have assumed that as long as the threat of a draft has been eliminated, there is no further need or reason for anti-draft activism. As a result, many of them redirected their energy and their priorities for activism away from the issue of the draft, just when the success of draft registration resistance had brought it to the brink of a larger victory over planning and preparation for unlimited war(s).

Since the government has not yet been forced to admit that draft registration has failed, it has continued to plan and initiate one war after another on the assumption that, if it needs to do so, it can always fall back on a draft.

Draft resistance is not a lobbying strategy but a tactic of nonviolent direct action. Its success does not depend on Congress. Just the reverse: the government’s ability to wage war depends on the willingness of (young) people to fight. Young people have the power to prevent wars by opting not to fight them – and now young women are about to be given that power as well.

As Congress moves toward a vote to expand draft registration to young women as well as young men, it’s time to support all young people in their resistance and to educate, agitate, and organize against the draft and draft registration.

Edward Hasbrouck maintains the website and publishes the "Resistance News" newsletter. He was imprisoned in 1983-1984 for organizing resistance to draft registration.

52 thoughts on “House and Senate Armed Services Committees Vote To Make Women Register for the Draft”

  1. October 8, 2020 Draft Registration on Track for 2021 Debate in Congress and Supreme Court

    The military draft is still on the back burner. But the issue – and specifically whether to (finally) end draft registration or try to expand it to young women as well as young men – is on track to be debated in Congress and quite possibly the Supreme Court in 2021.

    Jul 23, 2021 Democrats Vote To Force Women To Be Drafted Into The Military, Refusal To Sign Up Is A Felony

    The National Defense Authorization act has passed every year for 60 years. And though many, like Rand Paul, have attempted to filibuster the NDAA it still passes.

    1. I don’t know if you were referring to the “Virgina Slims” cigarette commercial from so many years ago but that is what your comment reminded me of.

  2. The draft would be dead anyway. Generations post Baby Boomer, even among the generally apathetic, are more individualistic and would give a giant middle finger to the effort. It would be a disaster if the government ever tried to actually conscript. Even Vietnam, a lot of the opposition came from fear of the draft.

    1. The military wouldn’t necessarily engage in a mass draft of women.

      This just gives them access to people with skillsets the volunteer military and male draft pool may be short of.

      Women soldiers proved very capable in interacting with other women in occupied countries, for example.

    2. Should conscription be enacted, it will be accompanied by a propaganda campaign that activates a significant majority to obey nationalist authority. Those dissenting will be demonized as threats to the nation and most young people will comply with orders to report, train, and deploy. Capital’s power to produce subjects obedient to ruling class authority will prevail against the puny voices of peace advocates just like it does against the advocates for economic equality.

  3. I’m thinking sexual harassment and assault, since the armed forces are notably poor about addressing such things.
    Also, pregnancy…then what?

    1. Women who have enlisted know full well about the problem. There is still the “boys will be boys” attitude to contend with.

  4. Oh, cool, the League of Women Voters won’t get to skate anymore—unless they’re a Miss Got Rocks or a politically connected Hampton’s Hillary.

  5. What a lot of people tend to forget, is that women needn’t be drafted for combat or even en masse.

    If the military is lacking in a skillset, being able to tap into skilled women gives them more optioms to meed that skills deficit.

    Women have also proven useful in dealing with other women. As warfare is of fought on the fifth generation level, where civilians are both agents and objects of warfare, women’s people skills become a tactical asset.

    Newsweek published a story on the Pentagon’s undercover army, which exceeds even the CIA’s clandestine forces.

  6. Drafting women and employing them in combat can only have as a result the brutalization of humanity yet further. Drafting anyone ought to be written off as involuntary servitude in the first place. Were America ever to actually be invaded, I am sure we’d have more and plenty enough of volunteers.

  7. The author makes some interesting points about young Americans resistance to registering for the draft but ignores their apathy for their peers volunteering for the military and the killing they perform for the ruling class. Young American adults reluctance to register for the draft should be attributed to their apathy rather than as a conscious choice to resist serving as combatants for the war machine. Few, if any, condemn their peers for volunteering to kill Afghans, Iraqis, and any other peoples their commanders choose for elimination.

    Feminists should be especially suspect for their peace advocacy because of their agitation to be allowed to kill alongside their American brothers who volunteer to join in the killing. The feminist ideology of the 1970’s that women’s political empowerment would reduce imperial war making has been demonstrated as a fallacy with all the Democratic liberal and Republican female candidates who crow about their military involvement in combat as an expression of their rights of citizenship. These women claim their participation in the killing has prepared them for political leadership. Neither their feminist peers or male counterparts condemn their ‘service’ or endorse their prosecution for crimes committed.

    Should the ruling class require mobilization for war, most young Americans, male and female, would display their obedience and not only register for the draft but dutifully report for training and deploy to the killing fields. Like their parents and grandparents, these American young adults are subjects of nationalist authority and they will goosestep their way to ignominy if commanded to.

  8. This issue has an interesting twist to it. Many Christians believe that based upon Old Testament scriptures, that the conscription of women is prohibited in the Bible. I first discovered this back in 1980, when President Carter was considering including women in his newly revived Selective Service registration requirement for men. He announced that men had to register on a Friday, but added that he will take the weekend to decide whether to include women or not and announce on Monday.

    That weekend, the AM airwaves were flooded with alarmed evangelical radio ministers telling young women to not comply with this law, based upon biblical mandate. They were encouraged to identify with churches that fully supported their non-compliance. They further went on to say to women that if they experience any official consequences for non-compliance such as fine, jail or denial of employment and benefits, that these pastors have set up a war chest to help such women sue in EVERY Federal court throughout the land based on religious right! I have to consider the possibility of such a threat being revived today, as such a school of interpretation of the ancient text persists. This is possibly the real reason the Supreme Court recently passed on ruling about this; they know all to well that is linked to the freedom of religion based objection. Which makes the whole issue a can of worms no court relishes dealing with. If this proposal passes, watch the Federal courts become log jammed!

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