Today, I was asked by an acquaintance what I thought about the fact that men in the U.S. are compelled to register for the selective service or lose all government assistance, scholarships, loans, and any government employment. I started to respond, dully, that I’m not a fan of either compulsory military service or sexism, but I found myself hesitating.
I’m a woman, you see – any drafts that may come won’t affect me, directly. I can suppose all I like that, in another life, if I were a male, I’d register as a conscientious objector or just refuse to register out of pacifist principle. But I’m not male and will never have to make that decision, so out of fairness I’ve always stayed out of the discussion (hypothetical as it must be in this age without active drafts).
It’s never seemed like my place before to do more than nod soberly in support of all the offhand references to its unfairness that come my way. And before being directly asked today for my opinion, I had never considered the possibility that I had anything of value to add to the discussion. Those of my cohabitants who remember what it was to live through a draft may feel differently, but to me the compulsion for men to register for the military has seemed like one of those anti-sodomy blue laws – obviously wrong, but for the most part inactive and sailing uncontested into history like a nightmare unremarkably outgrown.
Of course, like the anti-sodomy blue laws, this too is an active, if a quiet, injustice. I hadn’t realized it before being specifically asked to participate in the discussion and realizing that it is one I have avoided. No policy is inactive that you hesitate to discuss, for any reason.
This is a shock to me – to realize that I’ve been self-segregated from one of the most important sociological discussions of our times, because of my gender. Because of my gender, and what the government has to say about it. Now my mind is clawing through the conversations I haven’t had, through the points of my pacifist expression that have been diluted and tempered through this lens. It’s been a personal impulse, part-guilt, and part-humility that has kept from speaking more vocally against the cogs of war. That doesn’t change the fact that I have done exactly what the patrician systems of governance have intended me to do all along, in keeping my mouth shut and leaving the war-talk mainly to men.
We could rely, unethically but efficiently, on exclusive mercenaries to power our armies. We do not. We could compel half the able-bodied youth in our nation to serve as soldiers. We do not. We have a system that uses some of us, and the effect (if not the intent) is to keep those of us who are not risking and giving our all, all but silent on the sidelines. We have a war-machine that is compulsory in theory, voluntary in practice, and compulsory again in public review.
What is it now that keeps us believing in the inevitability of war?