Unconscionable conscription | WORLD
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Unconscionable conscription

Will Americans force women into combat?

U.S. soldiers take part in an event at Utah Beach in Normandy, France, on June 5. Associated Press/Photo by Daniel Cole

Unconscionable conscription
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Last week, the GOP majority in the House of Representatives passed the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The headlines about this bill have focused on a raft of social conservative priorities that have been attached to the bill, including ending DEI hires, halting funds for transgender surgeries, and blocking funds for service members seeking abortions. While GOP legislators and their constituencies would welcome such measures, it is by no means clear that the bill will reach final passage without significant alteration.

Nevertheless, while much of the reporting on the bill has focused on these controversial “culture war” items, there has been very little coverage on a little noticed provision that would amend the Military Selective Service Act “to require the registration of women for Selective Service,” according to an executive summary released by the Senate Armed Services Committee. If enacted, and if the United States ever reinstitutes the draft, women could be eligible for conscription in a military that no longer has a ban on women serving in combat units.

In the aftermath of the sexual revolution, Americans have by and large cast aside the “quaint” view that men and women are different and that they ought to have roles and responsibilities that correspond to those differences. Perhaps many Americans will view the House bill as nothing more than the next stage of progress toward gender equality in our society. I would invite readers to consider a different perspective.

In 2013, Ryan Smith wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the reality that awaits women in combat. He describes his own experience as a Marine during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when he and his fellow Marines were crammed for days into personnel vehicles.

The invasion was a blitzkrieg. The goal was to move as fast to Baghdad as possible. The column would not stop for a lance corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or even a company commander to go to the restroom. Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.

Many Marines developed dysentery from the complete lack of sanitary conditions. When an uncontrollable urge hit a Marine, he would be forced to stand, as best he could, hold an MRE bag up to his rear, and defecate inches from his seated comrade’s face…

When we did reach Baghdad, we were in shambles. We had not showered in well over a month and our chemical protective suits were covered in a mixture of filth and dried blood. We were told to strip and place our suits in pits to be burned immediately. My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers.

Should we not fight to the last man before letting the war come to our wives and daughters and mothers?

This was Smith’s experience before any shots were fired. The worst was still ahead.

Is there a father in America who would under any circumstance risk having his daughter exposed to this? Is there a husband in this country who thinks it OK for his wife to risk being captured by our enemies? To risk becoming a prisoner of war? Is this the kind of people we want to be? I would sooner cut off my arm than allow such a thing to happen to my own wife and daughters, and I don’t think I would be alone.

In countries ravaged by war, we consider it a tragedy when the battle comes to the backyards of women and children. When they fight, it is the last resort when all other lines of defense have fallen. How could any man let a woman stand in between himself and the conflict? Should we not fight to the last man before letting the war come to our wives and daughters and mothers?

On average, women have a bone structure and muscle mass that are a fraction of that of men. And you don’t have to be a conservative to acknowledge this. It’s an empirical fact observable by anyone with eyes to see. This puts women at a distinct disadvantage in combat, and it weakens military readiness.

Many women have served admirably in our military. And there are certainly some who are physically exceptional and who may show some aptitude for combat. But that’s just it. They tend to be exceptional. They are not the norm. Opening the draft to all women and potentially exposing all women to combat service is treating the exception as if it’s the norm. This is absurd and dangerous. That is why we should oppose any policy that might lead to women being conscripted into combat units.

At the end of the day, this issue is irreducibly moral. It goes to the heart of what kind of people we wish to be. Are we really so beholden to the myths of gender theorists that we are willing to send our wives and daughters to be ground up by the rigors of a combat unit? I hope not.

Denny Burk

Denny serves as a professor of Biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of numerous books, including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).


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