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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Columns

New defense policy places women into Selective Service eligibility


Last week, Congress drafted the final version of the annual defense policy bill after months of negotiations over provisions.

One of the provisions that was considered and ultimately rejected in the House version of the bill was the requirement for women to sign up for the Selective Service System once they’ve turned 18.

Non-combat jobs make up the majority of service positions in the military. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that women could enroll in, virtually, all combat jobs such as some infantry positions.

Women’s eligibility for combat positions in general was largely widened in 2013 under then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a move partly in response to a lawsuit that four service members filed concerning the combat exclusion policy and its violation of Fifth Amendment rights.

Those two things, at the same time, were also the basis as to why women were not required to register for the potentiality of a military conscription.

Aside from a brief period when President Gerald Ford eliminated the registration process until President Jimmy Carter reinstated it in 1980, we have maintained a military conscription in some capacity since President Franklin Roosevelt passed the Selective Training and Forces Act of 1940.

Even before that time, the U.S. has had a long history of drafting during wartime. An often-overlooked aspect concerning men’s mandatory registration is the penalties incurred for failure to comply.

A young man that fails to register for the Selective Service System can be barred from receiving financial aid for student loans, job opportunities and, most importantly, put in prison for up to five years and fined $250,000.

Sure, we haven’t had a draft since the Vietnam War, but the likelihood, or lack thereof, regarding the system’s reinstatement should not mean the whole process should be beyond reproach.

The argument, made a couple of decades ago after the last draft period, that women shouldn’t have to register with the Selective Service System was more plausible when they were barred from certain combat positions — even when non-combat jobs have always been present and plenty.

That said, I am against the idea that women must sign away a potential part of their future or risk imprisonment by refusing to do so. I’m simply not for anyone, regardless of gender, being required to do it.

There’s also the dilemma that transgender individuals who are born male and then change their gender are required to sign up for the Selective Service System, but not vice versa. While this whole topic could easily be written off as “men got to do what they got to do,” it’s not that simple.

Sen. Ben Sasse was outspoken on the matter and claimed how we shouldn’t pass this type of provision to our defense bill and avoid “jumping into a heated debate about drafting our nation’s mothers, sisters and daughters.” I also don’t think we should, but now I don’t think we should force only a segment of the population to have to sign up for it.

Sasse should tread lightly when using those terms, considering many of us have fathers, brothers and sons who jumped into a fight without a choice.

The rhetoric is all there, but objectively it doesn’t make sense.

Opinion columnist Nicholas Bell is an MBA graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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