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.
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.
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.
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.
The president’s executive order is opportunistic and Orwellian—but that was the whole point.
Donald Trump has used Twitter to do many things: accuse a man of murder, incite insurrection, harass private citizens, block critics, lie about voting systems, threaten war crimes, promote unproven drug treatments, and divert attention from the 100,000 deaths of Americans on his watch. He has done all of this, and more, for years without the slightest interference by the platform. Even as he repeatedly violated Twitter’s rules and policies and the targets of his malicious campaigns pleaded for intervention, the social-media platform stood down.
But on Tuesday, Twitter did something it had never done before. It fact-checked Trump, or, more precisely, it added a small label with an exclamation point and the words “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” to two of Trump’s tweets that contained false claims about voter fraud. Clicking on the label leads to a Twitter announcement headlined “Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.”
The president’s two strongest instincts stand pitted against each other: his need for attention and his need to punish enemies.
Tweets can be career-enders for the twits who post them. Remember the Taco Bell employee from 2012, who didn’t reckon it a firing offense to tweet a video of himself peeing onto a sumptuous heap of Nachos BellGrande. To no one’s surprise but his own, he reckoned wrong.
I’ve often wondered whether President Donald Trump, with his impulsive, counterproductive, inadvertently self-revealing tweets, could ever meet the same fate. The question was raised anew (by me) this week. It was a week shortened by the holiday, and Trump made fewer public statements than he does in a normal week. And so, away from the gaze of his admirers and the prying eyes of the press, he tweeted instead.
Seeing Trump exclusively through the prism of Twitter gives an incomplete picture, of course. It is best to take him in his totality as a public figure, not only on social media but also in the zig and zag of his press briefings, in his Oval Office Q&As, in the set-piece speeches with their mash-ups of scripted rhetoric and chaotic improvisation, in the answers shouted above the roar of Marine One. Yet Twitter isolates parts of his public approach to the world and throws them into sharp relief—useful to anyone more interested in understanding him than in hating or venerating him, if any such people are left after the last four years. (Anyone? Anyone?)
The new executive order targeting social-media companies isn’t really about Twitter.
As the United States enters a pandemic summer, with more than 100,000 Americans already dead, and as tear gas engulfed Minneapolis last night, following protests after yet another killing of a black man by a police officer, the president tweeted that the “shooting starts” when the “looting starts.” The tweet echoed a historic line uttered by a police chief in Miami in 1967 during the civil-rights unrest that was also widely condemned at the time. Twitter hid that tweet behind a message saying that it was “glorifying violence”—a violation of the site’s terms of service—though users could still choose to view it by clicking through. All of this was an escalation of the seeming conflict between the president and Twitter: Just two days ago, the social-media company added a fact-check link to one of Donald Trump’s tweets for the first time. The president responded by issuing an executive order that is getting a lot of attention, but not the right kind.
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 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.”
A popular joke about entitled white women is now a big pandemic meme.
In the ongoing, tense conversation over how long America has to remain locked down during the coronavirus pandemic, one of the more absurd moments came two weeks ago: Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, called for the immediate reopening of her city’s casinos, offering her constituents up as a “control group” to test whether stay-at-home measures are actually effective. The notion baffled public-health experts, who maintain that a rigorous adherence to social distancing is essential to overcoming the outbreak. It drew swift condemnation from other Las Vegas officials, who referred to Goodman as “reckless” and “an embarrassment.” And, as is so often the case in public blunders, it received its harshest criticism online. Goodman was called “an idiot,” “an actual monster,” and, maybe most damning, “a real Karen’s Karen.”
The Vast of Night, now on Amazon Prime Video, is a sharp debut from a filmmaker you should pay attention to.
The Vast of Night couldn’t be more explicit about its influences. Andrew Patterson’s debut film, streaming on Amazon Prime Video as of today, is presented as a spooky episode of a Twilight Zone–esque show called Paradox Theater broadcasting on a retro TV. The film is a cleverly paced, micro-budgeted sci-fi thriller set in the late ’50s, in the shadow of Sputnik. And thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the only way to see it when it opened on the big screen two weeks ago was at the most 1950s of venues: the drive-in theater.
The national closure of movie theaters has sent the usual summer-film season into hibernation. Every blockbuster has been postponed for months, and there’s still no clear idea of when cinemas will reopen on a wide enough scale to welcome those movies back. Drive-ins have gone from antiquated gimmicks to the backbone of today’s (paltry) weekly box-office reports. So it’s fitting that cinema’s strange summer is being kicked off by a throwback like The Vast of Night—a story of amateur radio sleuths hunting an extraterrestrial audio signal that tells a familiar tale with eerie deftness.