I was standing in line at the post office just before Christmas, and noticed the sign telling young men between 18 and 25 to register for the draft.
And my first thought was “Why only men?”
Now this wasn’t the first time I had considered the issue, but since the US moved to an all-volunteer army after the Vietnam debacle, I haven’t thought about it much. Staring at that sign brought all the issues back to me: It seems unfair to put a burden on men that isn’t also put on women. It seems unfair to draft anyone in a free society. But is an all-volunteer army really voluntary, or a good idea?
A lot of men say it’s unfair to just draft men and not women, and I agree with that. But I’d go farther: By saying that only men have the legal obligation to serve their country, we’re also saying that women aren’t full citizens. And when we say women aren’t full citizens, we’re really saying they aren’t full human beings. (I should point out that I held the same opinion back when I was young enough for the draft to be a personal issue.)
Some people still believe women can’t be good soldiers; the current rules limiting the combat role of female members of the military are a case in point. Our experience with women in the military in the current wars belies that argument — see Erin Solaro’s excellent book, Women in the Line of Fire. Besides, there are a lot of men who aren’t cut out to be soldiers. It’s far past time to let go of the idea that only men can protect the rest of us.
But even if a draft is handled more fairly, is it still an appropriate policy in a free society? The idea of forcing anyone to take on a job they don’t want has always bothered me, and the fact that those in the military put their lives on the line makes it even more disconcerting. And having read stories about the press gangs of the British Navy — who essentially kidnapped men and shipped them off to sea — it’s hard for me to see where the line is drawn between the draft and involuntary servitude (a half step up from out-and-out slavery, if only because the period ends at some point).
Besides, as a martial artist, I know there are people — women and men — who truly want to serve as warriors. I suspect that in any well-run society in which wars are only fought when necessary, those people are enough to keep any country safe. That’s the premise behind the all-volunteer army.
But if you look at the US military, you’ll find a lot of people who joined up for economic reasons. And while that’s a classic fantasy story — the young warrior with no prospects who rises to lead the people — there’s something inherently unfair about relying on primarily on people who can’t afford to go to college or pursue other training to fight our wars. And some — most particularly Congressman John Conyers — have argued that actually drafting people into the military would bring war home to more people and perhaps alter our foreign policy.
So while the draft disturbs me, so does the idea that people suffering life-changing injuries and dying because they had no job opportunities except the military. Not to mention the fact that a large percentage of our society is not personally affected by our wars.
These ideas haven’t quite crystalized into a story yet, but I have a feeling they’re going to find their way into some piece of military SF. The issue of who should fight our wars is at least as important as the issue of whether we should fight a particular war in the first place.
And for those of you who wonder where writers get their ideas, note that I got this one while standing in line at the post office. When writers tell you that they’re working all the time, it’s true, though I confess that sometimes we’re not working on the project that is actually on the front burner.
Nancy Jane’s collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available here.