WASHINGTON -- Last week, a district court judge ruled that it is unconstitutional for only men to have to register with the Selective Service, opening the possibility that women might also have to register.
The ruling may be fair in principle, but does it make sense? Would a universal draft best serve the security of the United States? Or would it be yet another exercise in asserting equality of the sexes to advance primarily social, not military, goals?
I should qualify all this by noting that the military always wants more bodies at its disposal -- and high-ranking Pentagon women have long lobbied for full inclusion at every level of military engagement in part because, without combat experience, women couldn't compete with men for the highest military rankings.
Yet when now-retired Gen. Ann Dunwoody became the first female four-star officer in 2008, the combat exclusion of women was still in place. Although Dunwoody's service was extraordinary, including being the first female battalion commander in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, she, like most military women, never engaged in direct ground combat, as defined by the Department of Defense. More on this shortly.
U.S. District Judge Gray Miller's ruling seems to make sense in a fair-is-fair kind of way. But fair isn't always absolutely fair, and, as Dickens wrote, the law is still an ass. For a better understanding of what's at stake, it would be constructive to review the history of the draft. At this juncture, meanwhile, nothing has changed. The government probably will appeal the decision and then, likely, the Supreme Court will take a stab.
It seems improbable in light of precedent that the high court would find against Miller. The Texas judge specifically mentioned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's 1996 opinion in the United States v. Virginia, in which she concluded that excluding women from Virginia Military Institute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
Yet earlier, in 1981's Rostker vs. Goldberg, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of excluding women from the Selective Service System's male-only policy. Noting that the purpose of the registry was to allow the government to raise a combat army -- and given that women weren't then allowed in combat -- the court wrote that the two sexes "are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft." Thus, constitutionality wasn't an issue.
Much has changed since the 20th century, at least culturally, and the question is whether Rostker would still stand given those changes. For one thing, since 2015, all military jobs have been opened to women, including direct combat.
No sane person has ever argued that women aren't as brave as men or that they lack any other qualities or values necessary to military success. But in discussing women's expanding military roles, we return to the question of what ground combat really means. As the Defense Department defined it in 1994, it means "engaging an enemy on the ground ... while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force's personnel."
What changed in 2015? Nothing -- except the definition of combat, which the Pentagon altered so that civilians could pretend that this is not a travesty. It took only a generation or so for the culture to be manipulated into believing that women are equal to men not just under the law but in every conceivable way. This is, of course, a purely political abstraction with existential consequences.
Moreover, this entire debate isn't really about military preparedness but is about social engineering -- changing the way people perceive things so that they can be arranged according to the designs of a relatively very few. What's missing from all such cultural arrangements is a full appreciation of human nature, which remains essentially the same through most of time. Progressives will twist themselves into balloon poodles trying to codify gender differences, but heaven forbid we should speak of sex differences, not to mention cultural adaptations to better ensure survival of the species.
Maybe no 18-year-old American "woman" will ever be conscripted or ordered to fight men mano a mano, but it seem more than a possibility at this point. I'm going to go out on a limb and simply say that a civilized nation doesn't put its women in combat where they have an unequal ability to survive.
How's that for your equality equation?