by Shelly Goode-Burgoyne
“The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.” ~ General George Patton
A few months ago Norway quietly became the first Western nation to require women (over half of their population) to participate in mandatory military service. The bill passed with a 96% majority in Oslo; the seat of Norwegian Parliament. The law will require all medically qualified Norwegian women aged between 19 and 44 years to complete at least 19 months of military service. During wartime Norwegian women will also be subject to conscription. The first Norwegian women to serve their 19 month stint will meet for training in the summer of 2016. Norway’s northern neighbor, Sweden is also in the process of passing a very similar law. Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said in a statement:
“Conscription is an important principle of the social contract between citizens and the state, but only now can we say that all of the state’s citizens take part in this fully. Norway is now carrying out almost pioneering work internationally. We have every reason to be proud.”
“Equality” means sharing the benefits and the burdens of citizenship.
Unlike Norway, the United States does not practice compulsory military service; we do not conscript our male citizens into military service. We are, and have been an all-volunteer force since the end of the Vietnam War, and the finest in the world in my opinion. However our country is not completely without the means to quickly raise an army during crisis; we have managed to maintain something called the Selective Service System, and every time an American male turns 18 in this country he must place his name onto this federal list.
To be clear the Selective Service System is not a draft, but simply a list of all American men age 18-44, to be called up for any reason of national emergency that our government sees fit. During the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and most recently the Vietnam War, the Selective Service System was utilized to fill needed military vacancies.
Since the end of the Vietnam War and the inequitable means by which the Selective Service System drafted young American men into service, the Selective Service System has rarely made waves or attracted much attention at all. This independent government agency resides quietly in a nondescript office building in Arlington Virginia; in fact, finding its actual physical address is not an easy task…but don’t be fooled, there are real consequences if an 18 year old American man does not register. An American man’s failure to register his name and permanent address with the Selective Service System constitutes breaking federal law, and young men actually become ineligible for federal student loans, grants, and many other benefits of our free American society. American women have never been required or permitted to voluntarily register their names, even to fill support roles.
Believe it or not many Americans, to include myself, actually have a problem with this discrimination, based entirely on gender. Twice this exclusion of young American women in the Selective Service Registry has been brought to the Supreme Court, and twice the men who have brought the case have lost. The first Supreme Court challenge to the exclusion of women into the Selective Service, Rostker v. Goldberg was decided in 1981. During this case, The Department of Defense used the Combat Exclusion Policy as the cornerstone for their decision to continue to exclude women from registering their names. In 1981 the United States Supreme Court, stated in their decision:
“The existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’ decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.”
So the reason women don’t have to register for the Selective Service is…?
This Combat Exclusion Policy, the foundation of the Court’s 1981 decision came to an end in January of 2013, and taking this into account, The National Coalition for Men appropriately filed a new lawsuit in April 4, 2013, that again challenges the legality of requiring only males to register for Selective Service. This recent lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Selective Service System in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, but was dismissed on July 29, 2013. The NCFM has since filed for appeal.
Beyond challenging the exclusion in the Supreme Court many lobbying organizations are using different and more creative means to change this outdated and discriminating law. The Reserve Officers Association, a well-known congressionally chartered organization, with strong lobbying power also thinks the time has come for equality on this issue. In fact last year the ROA recently drew up Resolution 13-03, for which they will lobby heavily for in 2015…it calls for all American women to register their names on their 18th birthday. ROA officers state:
“Even though 275,000 women have deployed to fight America’s recent wars, an inequality exists between men and women between the ages of 18-26 under the Selective Service Act, women should be treated equally as responsible, competent, contributing members of America’s society.”
So what will come to pass on this issue? Taking into account the recent January 2013 termination of DOD’s combat exclusion policy, will women eventually have to register on their 18th birthdays? Will women actually be required to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk? Interestingly, Lawrence G. Romo, the current Director of the Selective Service System has stated: “The Selective Service System, if given the mission and additional modest resources, is capable of registering and drafting women.”
Let me first say that I don’t really care that much what our Congress does with the Selective Service Registry. If our elected leaders decide to alter it fundamentally or get rid of it altogether, so be it. In all truthfulness, I am not so sure how I feel about the federal government possessing a massive list of names to do with what they please, and frankly, if I am being honest with myself, I actually think that it is very unlikely that politicians would be willing to pay the political cost of requiring young American women to pay the same price for citizenship as men.
In my mind, what is a lot more likely, is Congress simply scrapping the requirement for men altogether. However, if our politicians actually do have the courage to preserve our nation’s only means of calling up American citizens in times of crisis, than I think we must require the 53% of our population who have two X chromosomes to register their names.
If American women expect to reap the benefits of our free American society; if they have any hopes of participating fully in our democracy, then they, like men ought to be expected to bear the responsibility of defending it as well.
Shelly Goode is an Army combat veteran.