Editorial: Women and the military


The ISD Editorial Board examines women and selective service in the military. 

Editorial Board

Editor’s Note: Editorials are representative of the views of all Editorial Board members. One or two members will compile these views and write an editorial.

Women may very soon be required to register for selective service. That probably comes as a big shock to most people as discussion around the topic has generally been centered around equality and not an actual bill in Congress.

But that’s all changed as the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is set to be passed by both the House and the Senate. Actually, the House has already passed its version of the NDAA and the Senate Armed Services Committee has done likewise.

It’s especially important to note that both of those votes passed with bipartisan support, meaning it is incredibly likely that the 2022 NDAA will be sent to President Biden’s desk with the requirement that women register for selective service.

It cannot be stressed enough: selective service is different from a draft. The former is the system that the government uses to keep track of all males between the ages of 18 and 26, while the latter is the actual implementation of forcing civilians to join the military and fight for their country in wartime.

You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that actually believes the United States will ever implement another draft. Massive armies just aren’t the way we fight wars anymore. In that sense, who is and who isn’t required to register for selective service is a bit of a moot point. Who cares if women have to sign up the same as men if the system isn’t likely to ever actually be used again?

Well, a lot of people care actually.

In fact, Iowa State’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences invited Amy J. Rutenberg, associate professor of history, to deliver a lecture on this very topic as a part of the Dean’s Lecture Series. Professor Rutenberg’s lecture focused on the history of women in the military as well as selective service and the draft.

Those are important topics to study and discuss, but they operate under the assumption of continued military conflict and the viability of a draft as a tool to fight those conflicts. It is the Editorial Board’s opinion that the draft is no longer an effective tool for military conflict and should be done away with.

Selective service exists in anticipation of a draft, but the last draft occurred during Vietnam. The United States has been fighting wars in the Middle East for over three decades purely with volunteer soldiers. A draft simply hasn’t been needed.

We don’t line up and march at each other anymore, nor do we dig into long ditches and fire across well defined battlefields waiting for reinforcements to shore up losses. Rather, the military has opted for smaller, more elite groups of soldiers trained to complete specific missions and target key aspects of the enemy.

Forcing all of the young men, and now potentially all of the young women, to register with selective service to possibly fight in a war some day doesn’t even kind of align with how our military has chosen to fight wars.

Selective service is an antiquated tool that the Pentagon has rightfully abandoned as a means to fight wars. It has no place in our modern society and should be eliminated rather than debated each year.

That said, if our representatives are going to debate the inclusion of women in registering for selective service, it is the Editorial Board’s opinion that women should be required, the same as men.

For the same reason that selective service should be eliminated, women should also be included if the system remains. Our methods of warfare have changed in such a way that arguments against including women either ignore all of the necessary personnel our military requires or deny the ability of military leaders to train and command soldiers, male or female.

If the United States were to get involved in a conflict of such proportions that a draft were necessary, the implementation would look far different than it has in the past. New soldiers aren’t going to simply be assigned to a battalion or squadron and sent into combat with only a few weeks training.

Female soldiers, as well as male soldiers, are going to be evaluated and placed in the military in the most fitting position. Not everyone is going to be asked to fight on the front lines because most people aren’t cut out for it. 

At the same time, the United States military allows women to serve in combat roles. Females can volunteer, demonstrate their abilities and serve in combat in ways that historically only men have been allowed to do.

The U.S. military is the best because it is indifferent to all things except for this last little footnote. By requiring women to register for selective service, the military will demonstrate that sex and gender no longer matter as it pertains to developing elite soldiers. If selective service is to remain, women should be a part of it, just as they are the rest of the armed forces.