Ted Cruz Is Right About Drafting Women

Doubling the draft pool for political expediency is folly.

“I remember Mitchell Sanders sitting quietly in the shade of an old banyan tree,” writes Tim O’Brien in his classic Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried. “He was using his thumbnail to pry off the body lice, working slowly, carefully depositing the lice in a blue USO envelope. His eyes were tired. It had been a long two weeks in the bush. After an hour or so, he sealed up the envelope, wrote FREE in the upper right-hand corner, and addressed it to his draft board in Ohio.”

Should such experiences be reserved only for men?

Women are now eligible to serve in combat roles in the U.S. military. Does that mean they, like men, should be required to register for the Selective Service System, the government agency tasked with preparing for a possible military draft? ABC news reporter Martha Raddatz asked Republican presidential hopefuls that in Saturday night’s debate. The three candidates who responded—Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie—all favored forcing women to register for conscription. Christie even framed not forcing them to register as discrimination, and said that “we need to be a party and a people that makes sure that our women in this country understand anything they can dream, anything that they want to aspire to, they can do.”

Presumably few women aspire to get drafted, but I digress. Several in the conservative intelligentsia expressed shock at the apparent unanimity. Jay Nordlinger of National Review tweeted that “[a] country that sends its daughters, mothers, aunts, sisters, granddaughters into war is barbaric. A civilizational cord has been cut.” Amy Otto of the Federalist questioned the usefulness of the draft in assembling an effective military and pointed to evidence that “mixed-sex units are going to have more challenges and be less effective than single-sex units.”

On Sunday, one candidate, Ted Cruz, did come out against drafting women, calling it “wrong” and “immoral.” But that only one candidate—indeed, the Republican field’s most controversial candidate short of Donald Trump—would oppose the proposal should set off alarm bells for the conservative movement. For one, a long-held position—skepticism of putting women in top-line combat roles—has been abandoned almost overnight, with conservative leaders now swinging to an opposite position: that women are such essential combat assets that we must prepare to compel them to enlist. But this is bigger: it’s a ‘canary in a coal mine’ moment for conservative intellectuals. The core principles of the philosophy they’ve guarded aren’t being transmitted to conservative leaders.

For one, only one Republican, among the eight or so in the race, seemed to believe that men and women have intrinsic differences. This goes beyond the physical dimorphism Otto discusses. For centuries, our own culture, along with many, many others, held that men have a special duty to protect women. In this view, forcing women to participate in combat, especially when there are able-bodied men who could take their place, would be a serious failure of that duty of protection; in this view, preventing women from being needlessly exposed to the dangers of war is a core purpose of having a military. This view is not extreme traditionalism—indeed, it fits with the Obama administration’s current policy, under which women can volunteer for war, but only men can be drafted.

The alternative view is that men owe nothing more to women than they do to other men. This is a logical extension of individualist social philosophies found in parts of the left and in libertarian quarters of the right, but it is at odds with common practice. (We tend to regard violence by men against women, for example, as worse than similar violence by women.) Indeed, the only place we’re likely to see the alternative view explicitly stated is in antifeminist circles—MRAs and so forth—that see women’s social advancement as grounds to absolve men of special duties toward them. The alternative view’s individualist roots make it an imperfect fit for conservative philosophy. Of course, a modern conservative party, particularly one with libertarian influences, will encompass multiple viewpoints, but we would expect it to err toward the original view and not almost unanimously endorse the modern alternative.

Similarly, a conservative movement should be wary of the draft as a double threat to liberty. The primary threat is obvious: forcing people to join the military breaches their freedom. That’s not to say it is never a lesser evil. It just means conservatives in particular should be wary.