Yesterday’s approval in the House of Representatives of a bill requiring women ages 18-26 to register for the selective service is forcing a much-needed conversation on gender equality in matters of war and combat.
Our daughters as well as sons have an equal right and responsibility to serve our nation and our world. And now they have an equal opportunity to – potentially – be called out of their lives for the sake of unlearning all we try to teach them about respecting the dignity and humanity of others. They have the chance to be shipped far away to render parents childless and children orphaned. With our sons, they will share the prospect of being wounded in mind, body and soul. They will be able to serve – in the form of wreaking devastation and desperation and bringing an already delicate planet closer to the brink of destruction – until they come home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and contemplate or succeed in taking their own lives, if they come home at all.
This is not the kind of equality I dreamed for my daughters.
And I admit, it would have been on my radar a lot sooner if I had sons.
I’ve long felt an urgency to end war. Besides being immoral, unconscionable, and deadly, it is also wrecking our world. Our military has the world’s largest carbon footprint, and its damage is compounded by the fact that, in destroying land, lives, and dignity, it also eliminates the trust and good will necessary for all people to come together and save this sinking ship that is our planet. As much as I know this, as much as I center my vocation on this knowledge, it is still hard for me to imagine myself or my family being an immediate victim of climate change or a terrorist attack on US soil… although our war-making abroad makes both of those scenarios a more likely possibility than they would otherwise be. But the urgency has become intensely personal with the specter of the draft looming over my daughters. It was never acceptable for that specter to loom over anyone’s son, either. And as we begin to hold conversations about what it means not only to allow but to potentially force women into combat, we also need to talk about what it means for men. This legislation brings attention to the need for our nation as a whole to consider what it means to require preparation for war as if war is a necessity, instead of a crime, a burden, and the ultimate evil.
Many women are echoing the sentiment of Rep. Jackie Speier, who lauds this legislation as a crucial step toward equality, arguing, “I actually think that if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support a universal conscription.” Yet equality – not only among the genders, but among all distinctions of people, is radically diminished by violence and war. Sending more people into war – women or men — simply undermines the humanity of more people, reduces the compassion of more people, and diverts more resources from food, education, housing, medicine, and aiding the poor, into the pockets of profiteers.
There is a direct connection between violence against those labeled enemy others and violence against one’s own friends and family. How could it be otherwise, when people are trained to hate and be hated, when they are broken down in basic training to make it easier to kill and risk being killed? As David Swanson writes in War Is A Lie, “This is why drill sergeants are pseudo-evil toward trainees. They are inoculating them, conditioning them to face, handle, and believe they can survive the wind of hate.” That wind of hate batters and erodes not only the souls of soldiers, but also their relationships. Domestic abuse is so common in the military that the Department of Defense treats it with specific concern. The Pentagon estimates that approximately one in three women in the military are sexually assaulted, and while the percentage of women victimized might go down as the number of women serving goes up, the total number of women victimized is sure to increase. The idea that rape in the military might go down as the normalcy of women in the military increases is belied by the fact that more men than women are victims of rape in the military, as well as the fact that violence perpetuates itself not only between people, but in the souls of those who wage it as well. While women must already be vigilant against sexual assault anywhere, the dehumanizing nature of the military can foster sexual as well as mental and physical violence. The notion that conscripting women would improve our treatment is ludicrous. Forcing women into military service would harm women. Of course, it would equally harm men.
Some are quick to say that such a measure is merely symbolic, as the United States has not used a draft in over 40 years. Yet with the United States waging wars designed for perpetuity all over the globe, the reinstatement of the draft is a realistic prospect. Consider the fact that the measure to conscript women was folded into a bill to increase military spending and improve combat readiness, despite the fact that we already spend more on our military than any other nation and more than the next 8 nations combined. No matter how much war we wage, we seem constantly preparing to wage more, and indeed, the more war we wage, the more aggression against us (and within nations we destabilize) increases, creating a pretext for more war. The idea that we will need more fighters in the future than are willing to volunteer is guaranteed if we continue this trajectory. The de-facto poverty draft may fill the need of a legal draft for a while, but probably not forever.
Perhaps this is why a much better path toward true equality between men and women is hardly ever considered. Instead of conscripting women, why not eliminate required registration for the draft all together? The answer is that though we have an all-volunteer military, we are conditioned to think that a draft might be necessary one day because war is inevitable and sometimes required for the greater good. But this line of thinking is fatally flawed, and the creativity, wisdom and imagination it takes to envision a nation and a world without war is needed in equal measure from women and men. Eliminating preparations for war and war itself is not only necessary for continued life on this planet, it is critical to changing the violent mindset of humanity that keeps not only genders, but also races and classes and nations and ideologies, divided.
Some people consider universal conscription for women as well as men to be a testimony to women’s strength. Yet the strength our world needs right now and evermore is the strength to love, the strength to forgive, the strength to reconcile, and the strength to repair a war-wasted world. Women and men alike have that strength, and the time to draw upon it is now.