Readers debate the role of women in the U.S. military and whether they should be allowed in combat units and forced to register for the draft. To join the discussion, especially if you’re a female servicemember, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reader Alana A. Roberts is very proud of her family members with military service—a sister, brother, husband, and two grandfathers—but she strongly disagrees with the idea of women joining the Selective Service. Her argument is one I’ve never heard before:
Nicholas Clairmont’s piece laying bare the political process behind the effort to make women liable to conscription was interesting. [The subsequent reader note from Susan argued that women have just as much of a national duty to protect their country as men do.] As a 34-year-old mother of a daughter and a son, I oppose this measure so strongly that I’m learning another language in preparation for the possible necessity of taking my daughter elsewhere to avoid the dishonor of her registering for the draft. The reasoning behind my opposition is as follows, although it’s instinctive and (if you will) archetypal rather than rational:
Because only women can bear children, and the survival of the nation depends on it, this is an actual duty—not for the individual woman, but for women as a class.
The sacrifice and difficulty of this duty is so great, and the physical courage required so real, and the survival of the nation (and humanity) so dependent upon it, that the duty of childbirth is equal in dignity and weight to the duty to defend one’s nation.
Like a soldier in battle, the woman who gives birth must shed her blood to do it. For nine months she donates her blood and bodily substance to the baby growing within her. Osteoporosis, anemia, and other maladies often result—injury and death, occasionally. In the act of childbirth, a woman actually spills her blood.
Even women who do not give birth or do not plan to are subject to the physiology adapted for the purpose. Thus women shed blood monthly in a cycle of preparation for pregnancy. Menstruation, awkward as it sounds, is the female draft.
This feminine physiology—not merely menstruation but the whole feminine mode of being human—renders military life more onerous for most women than for most men, in ways that are obvious to most people.
In nearly all civilizations, the childbearing class is preserved as such by exemption from military duty.
Israel’s policy is born out of an unusually necessitous situation: a small country under continuous attack. It is still not ideal.
What women desire is the liberty for exceptional women to do things that most women don’t want to do. We do not generally wish to force the activities of the exceptional woman upon the ordinary woman. We feel that the ordinary woman is, compared to the ordinary man, exceptional enough.
If you would like to address that argument, drop me a note and I’ll update. I’ll just quickly point out—because it’s close to home for me—that having children and serving in the military are by no means mutually exclusive; my mother had two sons and a long career in the U.S. Army. When I was born, she left active duty to focus on raising my brother and me but returned after several years and eventually retired as a full colonel, outranking my father. Unlike him, she never deployed to a war zone, but her best friend—a mother of three and high-ranking Air Force officer—did.
If you’re a woman who’s been deployed, especially in a combat unit, and would like to share your perspective, please say hello@. Update from a reader, Rory, who makes an essential point:
The push to register women for the draft is based on the idea that women are now eligible for combat so they should share the load, but the simple fact is only a minuscule number of women would ever be able to contribute in a combat role. In any draft scenario, all that would happen would be that men would automatically be sent to the front lines while women would fill all the support positions.
Women registering for the selective service would only provide an illusion of equality. The politicians will decide the issue based on ideology and gender optics, but I doubt the generals in Washington are factoring women into their contingency war plans.
Just because different people would have different roles in a draft, and because men and women would on average serve in different ways, I don’t think that’s an “illusion of equality.” All Americans would be serving in some way, based on their individual capabilities—just as the draft was done back in the day but with various kinds of men.
Susan has a strong opening argument in favor of gender equality when it comes to conscription:
I have my Dad’s draft card calling him up for “the duration plus six months,” and it still makes me stop and think. Although I was opposed to the draft during the Vietnam War, when my brother registered with Selective Service in 1971, I argued with my father that women should be subject to the draft as well. (At the time, of course, the roles for women in the military were limited to administrative or medical support, even if you tried to volunteer.) I wanted to be treated equally, and I thought equal rights and equal responsibility went together.
Certainly there are some women not physically capable for ground combat duty, but the same can be said for some men. And in a technology-driven military environment, physical size and strength are not the only determining factors, as proved by our current volunteer military forces.
My belief, then and now, is that the only appropriate use of conscription would be if a fundamental threat to our nation arose. In such a situation, I see no reason why women have less of a duty to serve. And I can’t rationalize the value of a life based on gender.
Over the past few months, Congress has been in the middle of a debate over whether to expand the Selective Service registration requirement to include women in any future military draft. In the latest development, the full House just voted on the idea for the first time after Ohio Representative Warren Davidson attached an amendment to a major government funding bill that would bar the government from paying for the expansion. It passed, causing another setback for supporters of women joining Selective Service:
House passes ban on funding changes to Selective Service registration 217-203, pushing back on Senate women draft provision #FY17NDAA
Some background: Proponents of gender equality when it comes to the draft hold that after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in December 2015 opened up all combat jobs to women, it’s only logical—and only fair—that women should be conscripted alongside men if the draft is ever resurrected. After all, the Supreme Court case in 1981 that upheld the male-only draft did so on the basis that women weren’t eligible for combat roles, and now women are. Plus, there’s a symbolic issue at play: While no one particularly wants to be drafted, supporters argue that there’s value in making clear that women have the same duty to protect their country as men do.
Not everyone in Congress agrees. As Duncan Hunter, a Republican representative from California, said during an Armed Services Committee hearing in April:
I’ve talked to coffeehouse liberals in San Fransisco and conservative families who pray three times a day. And neither group wants their daughter to be drafted. [...] The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemy’s throats and kill them for our nation, sanctioned by the U.S. government. That’s what a draft is for.
Hunter is getting at something that runs culturally deep. It’s why the issue of women in combat is so fraught. The moral stakes of conscripting women to fight and die are high, and this cuts right to some of the themes that drive America’s bitter culture wars: gender roles, patriotism, support for the military, support for actual wars.
Hunter’s quote comes from his ill-conceived attempt to prove that America couldn’t support drafting women. In early May, I wrote about how the amendment to expand the draft came about: Hunter himself proposed it to the House Armed Services Committee—as a bluff, sure that his opponents were all talk. He was convinced that when they faced the gritty reality of women being drafted, they’d see what Hunter regards as reason and vote against what they claimed to believe.
The vote didn’t break his way, and that’s when things went through the legislative looking glass. Hunter’s powerful ally from Texas, Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, used his position to go against the will of his committee’s members, killing the measure before it got to a vote on the House floor, where it was predicted to pass. Meanwhile, it passed in the Senate despite some loud protestations from, among others, Ted Cruz, recently back from the campaign trail. As it stands, the two chambers are conferring about how to bring their respective versions of the bills into agreement so that they can send it on to the president.
One of the reasons the debate has been so bitter is that each side assumes the other isn’t playing in good faith, and in a sense the two opponents aren’t talking about the same thing.
Enemies of the draft expansion see themselves as defending an old and noble chivalric idea about the male duty to protect—one of the last remaining justifications men have for themselves in modern society. Advocates of the expansion, on the other hand, see it as a way to reify an important conviction that the differences between men and women aren’t substantive enough to mean that the genders should play different roles. Some also see it as a basic issue of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, not to mention a a matter of basic fairness.
When the sides of a debate don’t even agree on what the debate is really about, things tend to get heated. According to one Atlantic reader who supports the draft expansion:
What it’s about is the fact that Hunter really would prefer if women couldn’t serve in many posts at all. He thought the draft threat was enough to get women’s advocates and political representatives to back down on the issues. He completely misread them, as well as women in general. It turns out, women don’t object to women being drafted. Many actually support the idea quite strongly. That was pretty easy to see beforehand, except for those who are really ignorant on the subject.
Women are much less likely than men to say women should be required to register for Selective Service when they turn 18, according to a poll conducted June 18-20 by The Economist/YouGov. Thirty-nine percent of women supported registration for women, compared to 61 percent of men.
It’s impossible to know why this is, but one explanation more or less suggests itself. We are, after all, talking about people being forcibly shipped off to war, and regardless of one’s stance about the principle of the thing, that’s not the most attractive proposition in the world. But as another reader points out:
There is a difference between not personally wanting to be drafted, or not believing in the draft, and not believing women should be drafted simply because they’re women.
Plenty of people twist themselves into knots decrying how horrible it is that some Americans don’t pay taxes or receive government subsidies, but then they always have a reason why industries they’re in should receive help from the government, or why people in their particular situation should receive tax breaks. It’s just as dishonest. Pretending to hide behind some sort of principle just because you benefit in the short term is not being principled.
Should principle guide policy in this case? If so, what principle? To join the debate about whether women should have to register for the draft, and why or why not, send us a note: email@example.com.
The thin blue line looks like it’s ready to invade a foreign nation.
This is what escalation looks like. “The situation on the ground in Minneapolis & St. Paul has shifted & the response tonight will be different as a result,” the Minnesota Department of Public Safety tweeted as businesses boarded up their windows and the Saturday sun sank low over the Twin Cities. The National Guard and law-enforcement presence would “triple in size,” the state agency warned, “to address a sophisticated network of urban warfare.”
“Urban warfare” is a striking choice of words for a state agency, and one that cable-news anchors seized on and repeated in the fiery hours that followed. For the fifth straight night, Americans marched and chanted—and some rioted and looted—overwhelmed with frustration and rage by the Monday killing of George Floyd, who died while a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Prosecutors charged Chauvin with manslaughter and third-degree murder on Friday, but three other police officers involved in the incident remain free. And the current protests are about not one black man’s death, but thousands of them, and centuries of discrimination, dehumanization, and denial of basic civil rights.
Quarantine reminded us that we could work out anywhere. But “anywhere” is not a place we go to do important things.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Uncharted,” a series about the world we’re leaving behind, and the one being remade by the pandemic.
It’s Day One of the reopened future, and as people have always done when it’s time for a new start, you head to the gym. Well, hold on. We should begin before Day One, because you’ll actually have booked this time slot the week before. It’s good for 90 minutes. Don’t be late.
You grab a door handle wrapped in germ-repelling vinyl and walk inside. A Bluetooth-enabled beacon at the front desk recognizes your phone and checks you in. The receptionist takes your temperature and hands you a towel, plus a colored wristband that’ll help the staff remind you when it’s time to go. Hopefully you brought some water with you, because touchless bottle fillers have replaced the drinking fountains.
The president is exposing problems in America that most did not want to see.
You’d think Donald Trump would have more sympathy for looters, being a looter himself. The president has helped himself to money from the U.S. Treasury, using political power to direct public money to his personal businesses. It’s not as visual as a riot, but until 2017 it would have been regarded as equally criminal.
But no, he seems to think they deserve the death penalty: “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” he said on Twitter about the protesters in Minneapolis. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken.
When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.
The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.
It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.
When, in January 2016, I wrote that despite being a lifelong Republican who worked in the previous three GOP administrations, I would never vote for Donald Trump, even though his administration would align much more with my policy views than a Hillary Clinton presidency would, a lot of my Republican friends were befuddled. How could I not vote for a person who checked far more of my policy boxes than his opponent?
What I explained then, and what I have said many times since, is that Trump is fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office. For me, that is the paramount consideration in electing a president, in part because at some point it’s reasonable to expect that a president will face an unexpected crisis—and at that point, the president’s judgment and discernment, his character and leadership ability, will really matter.
If there were a way to watch Netflix’s new series Space Force without any of the dialogue, you might mistake it for a drama from happier times. The show’s score, which pops up intermittently in wafts of softly rousing strings and trumpets, seems to consciously evoke The West Wing; in one episode, it crescendos emphatically while a troupe of astronauts marches out from an aircraft hangar toward a shining gold horizon. The directors include significant names from the film world: Dee Rees (Mudbound) and Paul King (Paddington). Space Force’s set alone, which replicates a boondoggle of a U.S. military base in Colorado, is so sprawling and detailed and shiny that it feels like it should belong to a James Cameron movie, not a Greg Daniels workplace comedy. At a time when entertainment has adjusted to lo-fi spectacle—the Zoom sketch-comedy show, the TikTok satire, the art of performative bookshelving—the obvious expense of Space Force almost feels unseemly, even without the reported $10 million Steve Carell was paid to star in it.
We will need a comprehensive strategy to reduce the sort of interactions that can lead to more infections.
Updated at 12:08 a.m. ET on May 26, 2020.
COVID-19 has mounted a sustained attack on public life, especially indoor life. Many of the largest super-spreader events took place inside—at a church in South Korea, an auditorium in France, a conference in Massachusetts. The danger of the indoors is more than anecdotal. A Hong Kong paper awaiting peer review found that of 7,324 documented cases in China, only one outbreak occurred outside—during a conversation among several men in a small village. The risk of infection indoors is almost 19 times higher than in open-air environments, according to another study from researchers in Japan.
Appropriately, just about every public indoor space in America has been shut down or, in the case of essential businesses such as grocers, adapted for social-distancing restrictions. These closures have been economically ruinous, transforming large swaths of urban and suburban life into a morbid line of darkened windows.
The president is supposed to protect and defend the nation’s supreme laws. Shooting looters is unconstitutional.
Overnight, protests of the egregious police killing of George Floyd roiled several American cities, including Minneapolis, where riots and looting frightened locals and destroyed livelihoods.
A prudent president would have urged calm.
On Twitter, President Donald Trump instead aggressively insulted elected officials in Minneapolis. “A total lack of leadership,” he wrote. “Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right.”
Then Trump threatened to unleash American carnage on looters. “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” he declared in a second tweet. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
His racism and intolerance have always been in evidence; only slowly did he begin to understand how to use them to his advantage.
The first quotation from Donald Trump ever to appear in The New York Times came on October 16, 1973. Trump was responding to charges filed by the Justice Department alleging racial bias at his family’s real-estate company. “They are absolutely ridiculous,” Trump said of the charges. “We have never discriminated, and we never would.”
In the years since then, Trump has assembled a long record of comment on issues involving African Americans as well as Mexicans, Hispanics more broadly, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, and people with disabilities.
Elon Musk’s aerospace company just launched two NASA astronauts into space for the first time.
For nearly a decade, if Americans wanted to leave the planet, they had to do so from a launchpad in Kazakhstan. Now they need only go as far as Florida.
Two astronauts launched into space this afternoon, departing from the sandy shores of Cape Canaveral, from the same launchpad where the space shuttles and Apollo missions once took off. The astronauts work for NASA, but for the first time in spaceflight history, they’re flying on a truly private spacecraft, designed from top to bottom by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken made the journey wearing SpaceX suits, inside a SpaceX capsule, atop a SpaceX rocket, from a SpaceX-operated launchpad.
The astronauts are bound for the International Space Station, humankind’s only off-world residence, where one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are waiting for them. The successful launch makes SpaceX the first private company to put astronauts in orbit, a feat achieved by only three spacefaring nations: Russia, the United States, and China.