The national news is filled with the breathless word that Leon Panetta has declared that all combat roles are to be "opened" to women. Such an opportunity! Silly me, I'd missed the fact that back in the 1990's the official (though oft-flouted) ban on women in combat roles had been lifted at the Congressional level and the whole issue turned over to the Department of Defense.
All of which means, in case you didn't know, that it is now not at all implausible that young women between the ages of 18 and 25, like young men in the same age range, will be required by law to register for the draft.
Oh, not instantaneously. The Selective Service law is still law, not bureaucrat pseudo-law that can be changed overnight. So Congress will have to catch up with the program, and there may be a period, however brief, in which citizens can lobby Congress not to change the law. But there is an independent entity here: The courts. In Rostker v. Goldberg the Supreme Court ruled that the reason the Selective Service law doesn't violate men's rights to "equal protection" is because women can't serve in combat. With that response officially out of the way, it is as sure as can be that, if Congress doesn't capitulate, someone will file a lawsuit again, and the court will not have that rationale anymore to bolster the unequal treatment of men and women in registering for the draft.
Which leads to a very real question: What should those of us who have or will have women we love in the relevant age range and who regard women in our androgynized military as an obscenity counsel them to do if and when the law says that they are required to register for the draft? There is an obvious sense in which just going along with it is acquiescing in the vision of women as warriors and of men and women as fungible, which we utterly reject and are teaching them to reject.
On the other hand, the penalties of refusal to register are heavy. Men who do not register for the draft are technically subject to federal prosecution which can lead to up to five years' prison time and a fine of $250,000. This aspect of the law has not been enforced since the 1980's but could be once again. Most states have laws that link the ability of a man within the relevant age range to get a driver's license to his registration for the draft. Without a driver's license one cannot drive, and without official ID, one may not be able to vote. Then there are the "incidental" penalties, like being unable (ever) to get federal student aid or loans if one does not register within the relevant time period. Some states (I am told, though haven't verified) will not allow men even to attend their colleges if they have not registered for the draft. Side note: My own state of Michigan says here, contrary to the statement at the SSS site, that a man can get a driver's license in the state within the relevant age range while refusing to register for the draft. However, it ominously warns that in that case you are in violation of federal law (and after checking "no" on the form you would of course be in knowing violation) and possibly subject to federal prosecution.
In short, it would be no small matter for our young women to be asked to engage in immediate civil disobedience if required to register for the draft.
Are there any other options?
I believe it is imperative for Christian complementarians and other traditionalists to have this discussion now. A line in the sand needs to be drawn, and we need to find a way to help and know how to counsel our daughters and female friends when this happens, as I now think it inevitable that it will. There may be some delay if Congress drags its heels and the matter has to go through the courts, but my prediction is that within ten years young women will be officially required to register for the draft. Maybe a good deal sooner.
What do we do?
The registration for the draft is itself highly symbolic. Being brought about precisely by the extreme move to open all combat roles to women, the registration itself would represent a sort of stamp the government would put on the young woman saying, "It is the official position of the United States that men and women are no different as regards military service."
Moreover, there is in the nature of the case no precedent for granting conscientious objector status to women who are not pacifists, solely on the grounds that they have sincere conscientious or religious objections to military service for themselves as women. The official definition, from the SSS page, is
A conscientious objector is one who is opposed to serving in the armed forces and/or bearing arms on the grounds of moral or religious principles.
Obviously, this has always applied in the past to pacifists. The question then is whether it is at all plausible that it would be allowed to apply to a non-pacifist woman (perhaps even a woman who owned a gun for self-defense, for example) who objected on grounds of moral or religious principles to serving in the armed forces because she considered such service as a warrior/soldier inappropriate for herself qua woman.
The fact is that it is fairly unlikely that an actual draft will be called, and as there is no precedent on this question yet, there would not be for years to come after women were required to register, leading to even less sympathy for the claim if the matter ever arose.
We should understand this: It is not possible to make a claim to be exempted from registering for the draft on conscientious grounds. The law is quite clear that those (currently only men) who would apply for CO status should they be called up must nonetheless register. The issue of whether their request for exemption would be granted is thus deferred indefinitely, and they would simply have to be ready to mobilize their arguments for a conscientious exemption within a matter of ten days (!) if a draft should be called and their name should be chosen.
To bring this home a bit, consider the fact that in the current all-volunteer force women have been sent away from their small children. In some cases women have their young children with them overseas in government-run daycare. In Brian Mitchell's invaluable book he even describes one pilot who did her pilot runs in between breast-feeding an infant. So you, if you are the relevant age, or your daughters, or your wife, could be given the choice of taking a baby to a foreign country to be mostly cared for by the government or of leaving the baby behind without its mother. If the father were also unlucky enough to be called up, the children could be left in effect orphaned. My recollection is that we have had cases like this, with both parents sent abroad leaving the children behind, in the all-volunteer force.
Women who object to serving in the military for gender-traditionalist reasons would also therefore have to make it clear that they object to "alternative service" that, if they had children, would require them to leave their children. This, too, arises from the unique nature of the objection--an objection not to war but to feminism.
Even sincere pacifists do not all (or most) consider themselves obligated to defy the law to register for the draft. Rather, they usually register but write on their card something like, "I am a conscientious objector" (a notification that the government ignores, noting the registration in the computer and destroying the card), then keeping a photocopy and putting together other documentation of the sincerity of their objections in case it is needed for future reference. On the other hand, given that pacifists are a known part of American culture and that exemptions for them are precedented, they have reason to believe that this will work, which traditionalist women would lack. Plus, a male pacifist doesn't have the same objection that a traditionalist woman would have to being taken away from home and family to do alternative service, provided it was non-military in nature.
So, if you share my concerns here, I'd like to know what you think:
1) If a woman truly considers it to be wrong for women to be drafted into the military and to serve as soldiers/warriors, is she obligated by conscience to refuse even to register for the draft if that should be required by law, thus subjecting herself to possible (but unlikely) prosecution and to the major life disabilities caused by not being able to drive, etc.?
2) If not, what are the probabilities that such a woman, if she registered and were subsequently called up in an actual draft, would be granted conscientious objector status for her sincere or even religious anti-feminism?
3) What practical steps can we as moral traditionalists take to help young women who may be coerced to register for the draft to document the sincerity and nature of their objections for possible future reference? Might it, for example, be a good idea to form some sort of organization opposed to women in the military which women could join, providing further evidence that their objections are sincere and long-standing? How about if pastors step forward and offer their services to interview or correspond with young women and document their objections? And so forth.
I do not believe that it is jumping the gun (no pun intended) to talk about such things. If we wait indefinitely, it could be too late. And if we are going to counsel young women that, if that is the law, they should register for the draft while holding out hope of not actually being forced into the military, it becomes imperative that their sincere objections to being in the military as women be recorded over as long a period of time and in as many ways as possible.
If anyone happens to know a friendly draft lawyer who could give an opinion on whether a non-pacifist woman with anti-feminist objections to serving in the military would ever be granted CO status, feel free to ask him.
The conservative pundit-o-sphere will be largely talking about a lot of correct and important things like the horrors of combat and the utter bone-headedness and evil of putting women into those situations. They will be telling us more about how bad this all is for the military. That is all quite true, and I don't mean to downplay it at all. But I hope here to issue a kind of call to arms (this time the pun is intended) to traditionalists to start thinking how we might protect ourselves and the women we love from being forced into such horrors against their will. Let's not just go tamely along in every respect and vaguely hope for the best. We ought to be able to do better than that, and the time to start thinking about how to do better is now.
P.S. Comments by nasty misogynists expressing nasty misogyny will be summarily deleted without excuse or apology. Any such commentators who are stalking this site, please take warning and just go away.
Update: 4/13/2013 In doing some research for a post on women in the military intended to be published in another venue, I have had occasion to try to find the page number in Mitchell's book for the story about the pilot breastfeeding between flights. I have been unable to find it, and searches using Amazon's "look inside" function appear to indicate that I did not read it there. Nor has googling so far turned up the source of my memory, which is quite clear and has been for some years. So I must withdraw the claim that this anecdote is in Mitchell's book. However, some evidence that I didn't imagine it: Here is an entire site expressly dedicated to women breastfeeding in the armed forces. It confirms here that breastfeeding women can be deployed in the Air Force. Here is a post by a female pilot in the Air Force who did not breastfeed between flights but was indeed feverishly pumping and storing breast milk between (non-combat) flights and even having "another crew" deliver her breast milk to her husband.