I knew it was coming. With all the demands on our military worldwide and the ascendancy of feminist thinking in the Pentagon and political establishments, it was only a matter of time that someone would propose drafting my daughters.
Given that more than 16,000 single mothers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, an "unprecedented" number as reported by the Washington Post, this cultural train wreck was bound to happen.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has proposed (re-proposed, actually) just such a plan. He is proposing a draft for both men and women "with no exemptions beyond health or reasons of conscience." Granted, his primary motivation is to deter an interventionist foreign and military policy. He appears to assume that a more broadly representative military, made up of citizens of all walks of life, from Blue states as well as Red, would put a political brake on preventive, preemptive wars of choice.
However, Congressman Rangel also claims a moral purpose in proposing a new draft: "I believe it is immoral for those who insist on continuing the conflict in Iraq, and placing the war on the table in Iran and North Korea, to do so only at the risk of other people's children."
I am old enough to recall Senator-elect Jim Webb's arguments, back when he was a Republican, that, even with a draft, America's elites took a pass on the Vietnam War due to the college exemption, monkey business with local Selective Service boards, and other political interventions to secure assignments to National Guard duty. This was in stark contrast to the elites of Britain who suffered brutally in the First World War. I recall the scene at Cambridge at the beginning of the movie Chariots of Fire (1981), where the camera moves across endless lists of the college's war dead during a white-tie dinner, all lost in the Great War.
I was a junior in college during the big lottery to establish the order of priority for men who were eligible for the draft. I drew number 366, the extra day added for Leap Year. So by the time I graduated in 1971, heading on to law school, I did not have any expectation of being called up.
Looking back, Jim Webb was absolutely right. It was a terrible injustice, a sharp sword severing the body politic, that those of us fortunate or inclined to attend college were exempt from military service. Following the exemption path was something one just did without thought or reflection. I can think of only one person in my college prep school graduating class who served in Vietnam. His name is written on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, a Notre Dame football walk-on, who quit college to join the Marines.
For this reason I came to accept the idea of some form of universal military service sans college exemptions, but not the politically correct social service options preferred by liberals. The latter hardly seemed to justify the involuntary conscription of young men, taking them away from their freely chosen paths in life. Community service is a valued calling, but it should not be an excuse for extending the power of the federal government over the lives of its citizens through compulsion.
But drafting women into military service is hardly the sort of thing a conservative can endorse. While many women forego the demands of child-rearing, it is a unique, necessary vocation which the government should be encouraging and protecting. Drafting women of child-bearing age would compel women who desire the vocations of wife and motherhood to enter an environment hardly conducive to the upbringing of their young.
When I read of a woman killed in action, with children at home, I grieve for her, her children, and for my country which allows such a barbaric and unchivalrous thing to happen. While fathers are essential to the flourishing of children, they are, in truth, expendable when compared to the nurturing and sustaining role of a mother. A hard truth, but one which the history of the human family has proven time and time again. As George Gilder taught us three decades ago, the role of mother is biological. The role of father requires socialization. We seem to be doing everything we can to deny both truths.
So my belief in the importance of national and political unity must yield to my commitment to the unique role of women as mothers. If the price of a draft is the conscription of women, I vote nay. The brutal fact is that we can live with casualties in war, but we cannot live without vibrant families which love, cherish, and protect children. In this way death will not triumph over life.
[Editor's note: The author has five daughters.]