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 email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Constitution should be the sturdy vessel of our ideals and aspirations, not a derelict sailing ship locked in the ice of a world far from our own.
During her confirmation hearings, Amy Coney Barrett argued that the judicial philosophy known as “originalism” should guide judges in their interpretation and application of constitutional principles. Most famously associated with the late Justice Antonin Scalia (for whom Judge Barrett clerked), this idea sounds simple and sensible: In determining what the Constitution permits, a judge must first look to the plain meaning of the text, and if that isn’t clear, then apply what was in the minds of the 55 men who wrote it in 1787. Period. Anything else is “judicial lawmaking.”
In some cases, interpreting the Constitution with an originalist lens is pretty easy; for example, the Constitution says that the president must be at least 35 years old (“35” means, well, 35), that each state has two senators (not three and not one), and that Congress is authorized to establish and support an Army and a Navy. But wait a minute. What about the Air Force? Is it mentioned in the text? Nope. Is there any ambiguity in the text? Again, no. It doesn’t say “armed forces”; it explicitly says “Army” and “Navy.” Did the Framers have in mind the Air Force 115 years before the Wright brothers? Not likely.
The vocalist flaunted her personality, not her pipes—in an assertion that her stardom is bigger than singing.
It’s been almost five years since Adele Adkins released new music. Her last album, 25, delivered emotional, vocally masterful, classicist pop just in time to soothe listeners during taxing election seasons in the U.S. and U.K. An excellent Saturday Night Live sketch back then even posited that her hit “Hello” could be the one thing to bring together feuding family members at Thanksgiving dinners. Continuing Adele’s streak of blazing commercial success, 25 ended up being the best-selling album in the world that year.
With campaign stress—and the melancholic chill of sweater weather—in the air again, now would seem an ideal time for listeners to be comforted by her voice once more. Earlier this year, Adele told congregants at a wedding that 25’s follow-up would arrive in September, but that month came and went without any new music from her. There was, however, one tantalizing bit of news: Adele was booked to play last night’s SNL. Today, her status as the queen of heartbreak remains intact; the role she played was not musical guest but teasing, affable, yet ultimately unmemorable host.
Many Americans who brand Trump and his allies as fascists are paying too little attention to abuses in Hong Kong and cultural genocide in Xinjiang.
How do Americans decide what to be outraged about? It seems like ancient history now, but that was one of the questions TheNew York Times inadvertently raised in June when it appended an editor’s note to an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton—a piece that some on the Times staff saw as presenting a physical danger not only to the country but to themselves.
The op-ed called for American troops to be sent to “restore order” to cities experiencing violent protests. Outside and inside the Times, it was widely condemned as “fascist” or fascist-adjacent. More recently, though, the Times published an op-ed of a similar vein, except this time readers had the opportunity to glimpse what actual fascism looks like. Fascism, in today’s context, isn’t mere authoritarianism, but the attempt to suppress all dissent, public or private, in the name of the nation; it is the expression of a regimented society that elevates order as both the means and end of all political life.
“Our boyfriends, our significant others, and our husbands are supposed to be No. 1. Our worlds are backward.”
Kami West had been dating her current boyfriend for a few weeks when she told him that he was outranked by her best friend. West knew her boyfriend had caught snatches of her daily calls with Kate Tillotson, which she often placed on speaker mode. But she figured that he, like the men she’d dated before, didn’t quite grasp the nature of their friendship. West explained to him, “I need you to know that she’s not going anywhere. She is my No. 1.” Tillotson was there before him, and, West told him, “she will be there after you. And if you think at any point that this isn’t going to be my No. 1, you’re wrong.”
If West’s comments sound blunt, it’s because she was determined not to repeat a distressing experience from her mid-20s. Her boyfriend at that time had sensed that he wasn’t her top priority. In what West saw as an attempt to keep her away from her friend, he disparaged Tillotson, calling her a slut and a bad influence. After the relationship ended, West, 31, vowed to never let another man strain her friendship. She decided that any future romantic partners would have to adapt to her friendship with Tillotson, rather than the other way around.
What the happiest Springsteen album in decades can teach us about Joe Biden, the wisdom of maturity, and the meaning of life
I recently saw a photo of Lyndon B. Johnson in the first year of his presidency. He looked like a classic old guy—wrinkled, mature, in the late season of life. It was a shock to learn that he was only 55 at the time, roughly the same age as Chris Rock is now. He left the presidency, broken, and beaten, at 60, the same age as, say, Colin Firth is now.
Something has happened to aging. Whether because of better diet or health care or something else, a 73-year-old in 2020 looks like a 53-year-old in 1935. The speaker of the House is 80 and going strong. The presidential candidates are 77 and 74. Even our rock stars are getting up there. Bob Dylan produced a remarkable album this year at 79. Bruce Springsteen released an album today at 71. “Active aging” is now a decades-long phase of life. As the nation becomes a gerontocracy, it’s worth pondering: What do people gain when they age, and what do they lose? What does successful aging look like?
To raise doubts about the Democratic nominee, right-wing-media smears don’t even need to make sense.
On Tuesday, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham broke some news: An “investigative journalist” named Matthew Tyrmand had uncovered a cache of 26,000 emails belonging to Hunter Biden’s disgraced business partner Bevan Cooney, who is now in jail. Tyrmand claimed that he had gotten hold of the emails via a person in the same facility as Cooney (a “federal work camp for white-collar infractions,” is how Tyrmand put it). Tyrmand explained that Cooney felt stiffed by Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and implied that Cooney had handed over his own Gmail password in an act of revenge.
Perhaps that’s what happened. Or perhaps not: I have good reason to doubt the reliability of the source. The last time I saw Tyrmand was in October 2017. I was speaking at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and he was in the audience. Security guards were keeping an eye on him after I warned them that he might show up: He’d come to another public lecture of mine the previous day in New York City, then had turned up in Boston and announced on Twitter that he was following me to Cambridge. His goal, I think, was to shout at me and draw attention to himself while waving a cellphone camera in the air, which is what he’d done in the past. But the lecture went off smoothly; afterward, a very gentle and very tall Harvard professor stood firmly between us, engaging Tyrmand in vigorous conversation so that I could slip away unharassed. I didn’t hear directly from Tyrmand after that—I block the social-media accounts of tiresome trolls. But I gather that, year in and year out, he continues to post obsessively about me and my husband, a Polish politician, including photographs taken surreptitiously in public places. I have no idea why.
As society gets richer, people chase the wrong things.
“How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
One of the greatest paradoxes in American life is that while, on average, existence has gotten more comfortable over time, happiness has fallen.
According to the United States Census Bureau, average household income in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, was higher in 2019 than has ever been recorded for every income quintile. And although income inequality has risen, this has not been mirrored by inequality in the consumption of goods and services. For example, from 2008 to 2019, households in the lowest income quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of about 22 percent after correcting for inflation; the top quintile increased spending on eating out by an average of just under 8 percent. Meanwhile, domestic government services have increased significantly: For example, federal spending on education, training, employment, and social services increased from 2000 to 2019 by about 30 percent in inflation-adjusted terms.
Donald Trump barely won the state in 2016. Here’s how Democrats plan to flip it back.
In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan by the narrowest margin of any state—10,704 votes.
“There are 11,000 more votes in Detroit,” Garlin Gilchrist told himself that night. “There are 11,000 Black men who could vote to change that.”
A few months later, Gilchrist,then just 35,entered the race for Detroit city clerk—the city’s chief elections officer. His pitch: He could help engage more voters, and help make it easier for them to vote. As a young Black man, he felt he could understand why so many other Black men had sat out the presidential election—and why some thought their vote didn’t matter. Black men had shown up twice for Barack Obama, and their life hadn’t changed that much. Hillary Clinton wasn’t even Black.
The president of the United States poses a threat to our collective existence. The choice voters face is spectacularly obvious.
In 1973, a United States Air Force officer, Major Harold Hering, asked a question that the Air Force did not want asked. Hering, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was then in training to become a Minuteman-missile crewman. The question he asked one of his instructors was this: “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”
The writer Ron Rosenbaum would later call this the “forbidden question.” Missile officers are allowed to ask certain sorts of questions—about the various fail-safe systems built to prevent the accidental launching of nuclear weapons, for instance. But the Air Force would not answer Hering’s question, and it moved to discharge him after determining that officers responsible for launching nuclear weapons did not “need to know” the answer. “I have to say I feel I do have a need to know because I am a human being,” Hering said in response.
In normal times, Americans don’t think much about democracy. Our Constitution, with its guarantees of free press, speech, and assembly, was written more than two centuries ago. Our electoral system has never failed, not during two world wars, not even during the Civil War. Citizenship requires very little of us, only that we show up to vote occasionally. Many of us are so complacent that we don’t bother. Nearly 40 percent of eligible voters failed to participate in the 2016 presidential election; nearly half stayed home for the midterm election two years later. We treat democracy like clean water, something that just comes out of the tap, something we exert no effort to procure.
But these are not normal times. The coronavirus pandemic—which has killed more than 200,000 Americans and sickened millions, including President Donald Trump—has made many voters anxious about going to the polls on November 3. The pandemic has also created new opportunities for Trump and his allies to subvert the election.The warning signs are multiplying: If Trump gets his way, the presidential election on November 3 will not be free and fair. My Atlantic colleague Barton Gellman has laid out an entirely plausible scenario, one in which Trump challenges the validity of mail-in ballots, more numerous this year, and persuades state legislatures to overrule them, imposing an undemocratic result. He reported that Republican Party officials are preparing for this outcome.