The Politics of the Draft


Why worry about women in combat? Why not just let the Pentagon go ahead with boiling the frog? After all, proponents argue, it is an all-volunteer army now.

Let me highlight one reason, among others: the draft.

This argument is often dismissed automatically as being politically untenable. “They’ll never bring the draft back!” But that is short-sighted and naive.

If women in the military begin serving in combat, voluntarily, and the ban against women in ground combat is lifted, then there will be no legal basis for maintaining their exclusion from the draft.

This is just common sense. As further evidence of how plausible this scenario is, here’s an article in this month’s Washington Monthly, “The Case for the Draft,” arguing for a reinstated draft now, that would include both men and women:

A better solution would fix the weaknesses of the all-volunteer force without undermining its strengths. Here’s how such a plan might work. Instead of a lottery, the federal government would impose a requirement that no four-year college or university be allowed to accept a student, male or female, unless and until that student had completed a 12-month to two-year term of service. . . They would be deployed as needed for peacekeeping or nation-building missions. They would serve for 12-months to two years, with modest follow-on reserve obligations.

The authors do hedge their bets a little by including “national service programs” like tutoring with AmeriCorps as part of their draft program. But there is still the legal issue: on what legal grounds would you exclude the rest of the female population from mandatory combat service once some women are serving voluntarily, should the need arise?

We face an unknown future, so our policy decisions today should be guided by wisdom informed by yesterday’s history. One thing we do know is that nation’s must be prepared to protect themselves against the unexpected. Any other posture is sheer foolishness.

Some of the wisdom of yesterday includes knowing the politics of the draft. One of the legacies of Vietnam was General Westmoreland’s strategy of using the draft to fill ranks. Instead of calling up the standing army, reserves, national guard, then finally the general population, Westmoreland bypassed this cascade — we went from standing army directly to the civilian population. His rationale was that he could keep the draftees longer.

We all know the domestic political tension that resulted, and continues to haunt us today. How much worse would that political conflagration be if Uncle Sam comes after our daughters?

The politics of “allowing” women in combat lead remorselessly toward drafting women. And a feminine mobilization leads directly to political gridlock right at a time when self-defense requires prompt, resolute, decisive action.

We simply cannot afford to advance on the assumption that we will never again need a mass mobilization to defend our country. In some sad tomorrow, we may need to call up civilians, but not now, not today.

And not women.


See Outside the Beltway for info on tomorrow’s vote on women in combat in the Armed Services committee.

And Intel-Dump for a pro-women in combat argument. . .

Thanks for the link to Mudville’s Open Post and to OTB’s Daily Linkfest.


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3 Responses

  1. Synova says:

    When I have looked at the draft proposals they are almost always politically motivated by anti-war proponents. The whole idea, pushing the draft, is to frighten the middle class and wealthy into believing that *their* children will be drafted. Besides angling for people to become actively anti-war, they also tend to cite issues of social equality and portray military service as preying on the poor and minorities.

    Clearly, including women in the draft proposals is exactly for the purpose of frightening people about the possibility of sending young women involuntarily into combat. I suppose we can say it’s working, and if draft proposals go through the way they are, it’s not exactly an unfounded fear.

    It is, however, a deliberately induced fear.

  2. Synova says:

    I admire your daughter for her service, Soldier’s Dad. I also very much like the name you use because it makes that claim for her.

    My daughters are younger, the oldest isn’t quite 13 (though she’s taller than me!). I’ll be proud of them if they choose to serve… actually, I’ll be proud of anything they choose to do, I’m sure. 🙂

  3. Beth says:

    Although I tend to agree that women should not be drafted, I am attempting to look at the issue from every angle. What are your reasons for believing that women should not be drafted? or for that matter, should not serve in combat?

    I have commented on your blog at

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