by Erinn Colt for Courage to Resist

In July, self-described “anti-feminist” and “men’s rights lawyer” Roy Den Hollander went on a killing spree partially motivated by anger over the failure of his lawsuit against the men’s-only draft system along with jealousy that a rival men’s rights activist had succeeded where he had failed. The group that secured a court victory around the issue in 2019 is the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), which was formerly criticized by the Southern Poverty Law Center for misleading the public. 

While NCFM’s case has been appealed, it has already made its mark politically. On March 27, 2020, three days after a Congressional commission determined that including women in mandatory draft registration would be “necessary and fair”, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill to extend the mandatory draft registration to include women.

The sponsors of the bill, mostly men, say its purpose is “To build on America’s spirit of service to nurture, promote, and expand a culture of service to secure the Nation’s future, address critical needs of the Nation, and strengthen the civic fabric of American society.”

As positive-sounding as that mission is, it’s worth questioning why a policy change that is promoted using terms of gender equality has been championed by misogynists and domestic terrorists like Den Hollander while being supported by only 38% of female voters.

Gender inequality remains a major human rights challenge in the U.S. and worldwide. At present, women are paid less than men, more likely to be subjected to sexual and domestic violence, and underrepresented in public and private leadership positions alike. They are also more likely to have lost their jobs thanks to COVID-19. Public opinion polls have found near-unanimous support for passing an Equal Rights Amendment to make gender equality part of all laws as part of the U.S. Constitution. Given the scope of current inequalities, being compelled to register for a draft is not a stand-alone priority for most American women.

While men’s rights groups like NCFM are concerned with what they see as a message about men’s expendability embedded in current draft policies, according to the United Nations it is women that bear a disproportionate burden in armed conflict worldwide. Seventy percent of non-combatant casualties in recent conflicts were women and children. And when livelihoods are disrupted by war, women face increased rates of domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, and child marriage.

However, while male voters are more likely than female voters to support adding women to mandatory draft registration, a large majority of American men *and* women told Rasmussen pollsters they oppose mandatory draft registration altogether. In a 2011 Pew survey, veterans were even more likely to oppose a draft than civilians. 

These objections are likely tied to fears about how a draft might be used. The significant casualty tolls of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, neither of which resulted from immediate need for self-defense, rest heavy on the memories of many Americans. Most recently, the January 3, 2020 strike against a top Iranian general sparked fears about a draft in the event of war with Iran. 

The U.S. already has the most powerful military in the world, due to a combination of resources, personnel and technological development. Realistically, the most effective way to improve U.S. national security is not through enabling a draft, but instead using the tools of international diplomacy and cooperation to promote international peace and security. Unfortunately, in his 2018 book “War on Peace,” Ronan Farrow detailed how the authority given to U.S. civilian diplomats has continually declined over the past few decades. 

Tragically, the COVID-19 crisis has now claimed the lives of more Americans than the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined, with the U.S. leading the world in the number of new daily cases. While many countries across Europe, Asia and elsewhere have cooperated in consulting experts, testing policies, sourcing PPE and creating travel restrictions, the U.S. response has been characterized by a competitive attitude. The current administration’s failure to learn from the experiences of international policymakers and experts has cost Americans greatly. 

To increase safety, stability, and trust in government by Americans in 2020, our representatives’ priorities should first be to provide for citizens’ basic needs, and to strengthen civilian oversight of foreign affairs as intended by the U.S. Constitution. Universal healthcare and a stronger social safety net, incorporating realities of gender inequality, could add significant security to the lives of average Americans. And restoring U.S. diplomatic efforts, including support for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, human rights and peacekeeping functions, and cooperation with historic allies such as the European Union, could promote peaceful resolution of new international political challenges. In short, lawmakers should focus on fighting for foreign and domestic policy that represents the priorities and interests of most Americans, rather than overruling the will of voters regarding the draft.

draft registration end for all