Congress Debates Women and the Draft, but Not War and the Draft

“Firestorm erupts over requiring women to sign up for military draft”, reads the headline on a story today on TheHill.com.

Unfortunately, that firestorm amounts mostly to an exchange of sound bites and social-media posts, not a real debate, much less a hearing with independent witnesses, in either the House or Senate. It focuses on the proposal included in the Senate version of the annual National Defense [sic] Authorization Act (NDAA) to expand registration with the Selective Service System to include young women as well as young men, rather than on what may be a more significant proposal in the House version of the same bill to try to make draft registration automatic by basing the list of potential draftees on information aggregated from other Federal records rather than provided by registrants themselves — denying potential draftees the chance to indicate their opposition to being drafted, and to obstruct the mobilization for total war, by opting out of draft registration.

Most importantly, the current “debate” ignores both the profound and quite possibly insolvable practical problems with trying to compile a registry of potential draftees from other existing Federal databases, and the more fundamental issue with any contingency planning or preparation for a draft: the way that, even when a draft is not active, the perceived availability of a draft as a fallback emboldens warmakers to embark on wars that people wouldn’t volunteer to fight.

There’s a long tradition of antiwar feminism that identifies militarism, war, and conscription with patriarchy. Expanding draft registration to women would be a significant step toward more comprehensive militarization of all society. “War will never be a part of a framework for imagining equity,” a group of draft-age women wrote in 2021. But when Congress talks about planning for a military draft, it needs to consider the impact those plans have on war planning and warmaking, not just misguided ideas of “gender equity” through, as CODEPINK has aptly put it, “equal moral injury, equal PTSD, equal brain injury, equal suicide rates, equal lost limbs, or equal violent tendencies that military veterans suffer from.”

The attempts by Democrats and Republicans to score partisan points against each other’s positions on military conscription ring hollow in light of the fact that one of the current proposals to expand and make it harder to resist preparations for a future draft comes out of the Republican-majority House, where it was part of a bill approved in an almost entirely party-line vote, while the other comes out of a closed session of the Democratic-majority Senate Armed Services Committee.

If either the Democratic or Republican party leadership wanted to take action against active, ongoing planning and preparation for the activation of the Selective Service System’s contingency plans for a draft, they had their chance — and chose not to take it.

The only difference on the question of a military draft between the two parties, or between the versions of the NDAA already adopted or currently under consideration in the two houses of Congress, is on the tactics and methods to be used to try to salvage and shore up the failed draft registration program. The bipartisan consensus on the existential importance to military policy of maintaining a credible threat of a draft remains solid.

Some Democrats and some Republicans in Congress are also making noises about wanting to look more closely at proposals for changes to draft registration. But on this, too, they have had their chances, and chose not to take them.

In 2021 and 2022, when Congress most recently considered changes to the Military Selective Service Act, it had before it a bipartisan bill with both House and Senate sponsors to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System. Despite joint appeals to the Armed Services Committees from sponsors and supporters of the Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021, that bill never got a hearing in either the House or the Senate. Only proposals to expand Selective Service registration have been considered, not those to cut back or end it.

None of those quoted in recent reports on the pending proposals for changes to Selective Service were among the sponsors of the Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021. If any of them are serious about opposing a draft — a draft of men, a draft of women, or a draft of both — the first thing for them to do to give substance to that opposition would be to reintroduce the Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021 in the current Congress, and work to get it a full and fair hearing with independent witnesses.

If proposals to expand and/or make it harder to resist draft registration are approved as part of this year’s NDAA, that will make it even more urgent to find a champion in Congress to reintroduce the Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021 next year.

It’s an election year, and voters should question candidates not just as to whether they support a draft, but as as to whether, if elected (or right away, if they are already in Congress) they will reintroduce and work for a hearing on the Selective Service Repeal Act.

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