As a species, we humans are really good at hanging onto silly traditions.
For example, there’s the bizarre idea that groundhogs are expert meteorologists.
Or the concept that our lives are immeasurably improved by adding or subtracting an hour of sleep every year. (As always, I promise to give my vote for life to the politician who succeeds in killing Daylight Saving Time.)
But for sheer useless levels of why-the-heck-do-they-still-do-that, it’s hard to beat registering for a non-existent draft.
Most of you know what I’m talking about, especially my fellow male Americans who have turned 18 since 1973. We’re the group who at one time, under the dire penalty of law usually reserved for the destruction of mattress labels, have had to register for … well, essentially nothing. Once upon a time, that small piece of paper could have gotten you sent to a strange land with a deadly weapon. Today, your library card carries more potential to change your life (especially with my overdue fees).
For over 40 years, it’s been a ritual without meaning, sort of like discussing the chances of a Denver Nuggets NBA championship. So naturally, there’s a chance we may expand it.
Starting this year, American women became eligible to serve in combat roles for the first time. So naturally, in February, someone in Congress decided that meant women should also be eligible for the draft. If, you know, there were a draft. Which there isn’t likely to ever be. But still – the piece of paper must be filled out, yes?
But there’s also a competing bill, drafted (my apologies) in part by two Colorado congressmen, Democrat Jared Polis and Republican Mike Coffman, and which got a hearing on the radio airwaves this week. This one would also make men and women equal in the eyes of Selective Service … by abolishing Selective Service altogether.
Staggering. I mean, think of all the pencils that would suddenly no longer have a use!
I suppose continuing the Selective Service registration for our 18-to-25-year-olds might make some sense if there were any realistic chance that this country might revive conscription again. And let’s face it – there’s a better chance of seeing Peyton Manning change his mind and come back for one more season with the Denver Broncos than there is of seeing Uncle Sam revert to a draft. (Given recent news, it looks like there’s a better chance of seeing Brock Osweiler come back, too, which is another story and requires paying attention to a different sort of draft altogether.)
Conscription is really good at putting together a really large army really fast. When your biggest threat is another nation-state with a big army of their own, it’s hard to beat for effectiveness. Think of Revolutionary France, surrounded by foes (and then deciding to do a little conquest themselves). Or the Union and Confederacy, locked in mortal combat. Or the 1940s U.S.A., needing to quickly bulk up its forces to take down Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
But warfare has changed. Society has changed. In an age of fighting terrorists, insurgents, and other irregular combatants, it’s not as useful a tool. The last time we put conscription to use, we not only generated a large army, we also generated protests, trips to Canada, and really bizarre stories of how so-and-so managed to avoid the draft. (My personal favorite involved a friend who was called for his draft physical during Vietnam, only to be marked 4-F when someone forgot to plug in the device that was supposed to give him his hearing test. “Raise your hand when you hear the tone.” “Uh … OK.”)
We have a volunteer force now, a highly-trained force of people who actually asked to be there. It’s worked pretty well. Barring a massive change in historical trends, it’s liable to keep doing so.
So why keep the pretty, useless (and pretty useless) cards?
Real bipartisan cooperation seems to be pretty rare these days. When we get it, maybe we should listen. By all means, make men and women equally eligible for Selective Service – as in, not eligible at all.
And then, once we’ve got that under our belt, let’s do something about that lost hour of sleep, OK?