Sunday, 5 June 2016

Op-Ed: Dump draft registration, don't extend it to women

[My “Open Forum” op-ed on Selective Service registration in the San Francisco Chronicle, online 4 June 2016, print edition 7 June 2016, page A8. Original version on the sometimes-paywalled Web site; PDF. If you agree, here’s a leaflet about what you can do to help.]

Congress is now debating amendments to a pending defense bill to either extend Selective Service System registration to women or end it entirely. Congress should drop this costly and inevitably futile attempt to extend draft registration to women, and end draft registration altogether.

The debate was prompted by the change in policy that allows women in combat. If all combat assignments are open to women, then it follows that there is no longer a basis in military policy for requiring men but not women to register. If Congress does nothing, pending court cases are likely to produce a ruling that the men-only draft registration requirement is unconstitutional.

Those who believe in treating women and men equally include those who would register both men and women for the draft, and those who wouldn’t require anyone to register.

Missing from this debate has been whether it will even be possible to get women to register.

President Jimmy Carter’s proposal to reinstate draft registration in 1980, after a five-year hiatus, initially included men and women. Some of the strongest opposition came from women. The National Resistance Committee was founded at the Women’s Building in San Francisco within weeks of Carter’s announcement.

Carter’s rationale for bringing back draft registration was to prepare for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in support of the fighters who were then referred to as “mujahedeen,” and who later became the Taliban and al Qaeda. (The U.S. government put me in prison in 1983-1984 for refusing to agree to fight on the side of the Taliban and al Qaeda.)

In the early 1980s, the government tried to scare young men into registering by prosecuting a handful of vocal nonregistrants. But the show trials backfired. They called attention to the resistance and made clear that there was safety in numbers. Enforcement of draft registration was suspended in 1988, and never resumed.

Young men today have to register in order to be eligible for student aid and some other government programs, but there’s no attempt to verify their addresses. The only audit of Selective Service, in 1982, found that 20 to 40 percent of addresses on file already were outdated. Noncompliance has made registration unenforceable and the registration database useless as the basis for a fair or inclusive draft.

Any realistic budget for the expansion of draft registration to women would need to include the cost to track down, prosecute, and imprison those who resist.

Young women have the same reasons as young men to oppose draft registration, and will undoubtedly have other reasons of their own. A petition to end draft registration entirely, started last month by a draft-age San Francisco woman, Julie Mastrine, got more than 10,000 signatures in its first week. The petition quotes the young feminist writer Lucy Steigerwald, “You don’t stop the runaway truck of U.S. foreign policy by throwing a man in front of it, and you definitely don’t stop it by throwing a man and a woman, just to make things equal.”

The federal government doesn’t do well at acknowledging that its power is limited by the willingness of the people to carry out its orders. But draft registration has failed. The only realistic choice is to end it.

Edward Hasbrouck is a travel writer and human rights activist in San Francisco. His website about the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance is at

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 5 June 2016, 18:49 ( 6:49 PM)

"In honor of Muhammad Ali, Sen. Rand Paul will introduce bill to end Selective Service" (by Nick Storm, CN2 Louisville TV news, 6 June 2016):

"U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, will soon be filing stanbdalone legislation to end the practice of registering for the Selective Service. The bill titled ‘The Muhammad Ali Voluntary Service Act’ will be presented to Congress in honor of the famed boxer who refused to serve in the Vietnam War."

The reference to a standalone bill may be an error. In the embedded video interview, Sen. Paul says it will be an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act now on the Senate floor.

My Op-Ed in the SF Chronicle was finalized for publication just before we learned of the death of Muhammad Ali. I wrote about Muhammad Ali and his resistance to the draft in a contributioon to a recent anthology:

Muhammad Ali is the world's most famous draft resister. The best way to honor his legacy would be to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System.

Ali is eulogized for refusing to fight against people he didn't consider his enemies. But the US government continues to require all young men to sign up for a possible draft. Those who haven't registered are denied eligibility for Federal jobs, student aid, and some other programs, just as Ali was denied eligibility to practice his livelihood until his conviction for refusing induction into the military was overturned.

If the government wants to honor Ali and make amends for having tried to imprison him, Congress should use this opportunity to abolish the Selective Service System and end registration and the threat of a draft.

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 6 June 2016, 17:45 ( 5:45 PM)

"Senate Presses Ahead on Defense Bill Despite Divisions" (Associated Press, 10 June 2016):

"The Senate moved ahead on a $602 billion defense policy bill that would... require young women to register for the draft. In a rare Friday session, the Senate voted 68-23 to proceed despite numerous disagreements over potential amendments to the bill....

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, objecting to provisions that would bar the closing of Guantanamo and limit the size of the National Security Council staff."

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 10 June 2016, 10:49 (10:49 AM)

"Congress still sending mixed signals on women in the draft" (by Travis J. Tritten, Stars and Stripes, 10 June 2016):

"Despite key votes in Congress, it remained unclear Friday whether the United States is closer to an historic move requiring women to register for the military draft.

The Senate was wrapping up an annual defense bill that calls for opening the Selective Service to women despite opposition from some conservative lawmakers. Meanwhile, the House reached an opposite outcome in May when Republicans successfully blocked a measure integrating the draft....

Now, as Congress pushes ahead with its annual defense budget, the House and Senate face brokering a compromise between lawmakers who are deeply divided over requiring women between 18-25 years old to register with Selective Service -- and potentially forcing them to the front lines of future wars....

[C]onservatives ... rallied around a proposal by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to strip the draft language from the National Defense Authorization Act in the Senate. But lawmakers never got to weigh in.

Senators agreed Friday to move forward on the massive $602-billion military policy bill without considering Lee’s change. His staff said there was virtually no chance it would receive a vote.

The defense policy bill was expected to be passed by the Senate as early as Tuesday.

The chamber’s push to open the draft is backed by many Democrats as well as Republicans."

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 10 June 2016, 10:58 (10:58 AM)

"In Defense Bill, Congress Considering Draft Registration for Women" (by Mal Leary, Maine Public Broadcasting, 10 June 2016):

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 10 June 2016, 15:25 ( 3:25 PM)

"Women and the draft: Sign of equality, or Potential consequence of it?" (by Katie Leslie, Dallas Morning News, 11 June 2016):

"...The talk comes amid a separate measure from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is pushing what he calls a "Muhammad Ali" plan to abolish it altogether. That effort is unlikely to succeed as most lawmakers and defense officials see the Selective Service as an insurance policy in the event of another major conflict..."

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 12 June 2016, 06:56 ( 6:56 AM)

What to say more after Orlando? Who could make people understand there are civil rights? We start losing our faith in human capacity of understanding. All human rights attitude seems lost.

Posted by: Jim Bucharest Expat, 13 June 2016, 11:24 (11:24 AM)

"Selective Service serves no purpose" (by Bridget Bush, Columnist, Louisville Courier-Journal, 14 June 2016):

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 14 June 2016, 18:52 ( 6:52 PM)

Interesting that in order to receive federal funds men have to register for the selective service. But what about all those illegals who get federal funds without having to register?

Posted by: Noreen Anthony-Tabar, 16 June 2016, 08:38 ( 8:38 AM)
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