Commentary: Abolish draft registration – don’t expand it to include women

December 22, 2021 6:25 am
A woman soldier in uniform bows her head with an American flag taking up the full background

“If you’re looking for a way to promote equal opportunities for women, draft registration is the wrong approach.” (John Moore | Getty Images)

Plans to mandate Selective Service registration for women were dropped in last-minute negotiations over the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed Congress on Dec. 15. But they will no doubt return. So will proposals to end mandatory registration for men. The latter is a better step toward gender equality.

Although military conscription ended in 1973 and the Defense Department appears to have absolutely no interest in restoring the draft, the federal government has required since 1980 that all men submit their names and contact info to a massive data base. Failure to do so within 30 days of a man’s 18th birthday makes him potentially subject to five years of imprisonment or a fine of $250,000 or both. So does failure to notify Selective Service of an address change, something that is frequent among the 18- to 26-year-old set that would be subject to the draft should it be revived.

No one has been prosecuted under the Selective Service Act for decades, but Congress and many state governments have adopted additional sanctions to coerce young men to register. For example, male applicants for federal job training and jobs in federal executive branch agencies must prove that they have registered or that they are exempt, according to the Center on Conscience and War. Many states have adopted similar measures, including requirements that men be registered before receiving a driver’s license. In New Hampshire, male non-registrants are barred from state jobs and admission to state-funded institutions of higher education.

The draft itself ended in 1973 due to the unpopularity of the U.S. war in Vietnam. Registration ended in 1975. But President Jimmy Carter brought it back in 1980 out of a desire to look tough following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since then, young men have been required to sign up and the Pentagon maintains a network of draft boards – one for each county – ready to spring into action should conscription be renewed.

Maintenance of the system cost the taxpayers $27.9 million this year, enough to provide pre-school for 4,213 children at $6,622 each, which the Private School Review says is the average pre-school tuition in New Hampshire.

If you’re looking for an example of wasteful government spending, you need look no further than the Selective Service System. As Bernard Rostker, director of the Selective Service System from 1979-1981 testified to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service in 2019, The current system of registration is ineffective and frankly less than useless.”

If you’re looking for a way to promote equal opportunities for women, draft registration is the wrong approach. As Tori Bateman of the American Friends Service Committee says, “This is not feminism; it simply expands an unjust system to more people.”

“Selective Service registration for males is a pillar of the U.S war culture and economy,” adds Bow resident Mary Lee Sargent, a longtime feminist peace activist and teacher of American history. “Expanding this system to include women is the opposite of what feminists should support; it strengthens a system and values that must be abolished, not expanded.”

Instead of expanding the Selective Service System, Congress should end it once and for all. Fortunately, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill., have sponsored legislation to end the Selective Service System entirely. That is the best path to equality.

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Arnie Alpert
Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is a longtime peace and social justice activist. He lives in Canterbury.