Sometimes, you just see an article or a headline and it starts a rumination in your head. So it is with an opinion piece in the LA Times this morning titled: “Should women register for the draft? That’s the wrong question to ask about our military.” I have a number of thoughts on this…
I still remember, many years ago, when I dutifully sent an address change to selective service (I think it was when we moved in 1989), and I got back a letter saying, “You’re too old; you no longer need to send us address changes.” I’m at the tail end of the old draft era, and at the beginning of the new draft era. My brother had to register for selective service, and had the real risk of being sent to Vietnam, if he hadn’t been in school. When I turned 18, that draft was already over. A new form of selective service — register only, but no service — started in 1980. So I registered, but President Carter told us we wouldn’t need to go.
As a result, I’ve never been called up or had to serve in the military. At 56, and with my various medical issues, that’s unlikely to happen now. However, once I graduated college I started serving the nation, and have actually been serving the nation for my entire working career. I’ve been helping develop, evaluate, and acquire secure systems that the Government needs; I’m actually cognizant and proud every day that I do so.
So do I think women should register for the draft? I think it is an absurd question in many ways.
First, there’s the “women” aspect. Not having women register means that we see some inherent difference in their ability to serve. The military has been co-ed for many years; women are now fulfilling combat roles. Further, denying the military the talents of women would put us at a severe disadvantage. Further, we’re in an era were we are erasing the gender-bound roles. We have marriage equality, and we’re bringing in equality for the transgendered. With that, we shouldn’t have the distinction at all. The requirements to register should apply to all adult citizens.
But then, there is the question of “registering” at all. If we require all adults to register, irrespective of sex, then doesn’t your selective service number become your defacto national ID? Who needs social security numbers anymore — just use selective service IDs. But if government is as much of a “big brother” as one says, there shouldn’t be the need to register because everyone should be automatically registered. After all, you have to get a social security number when you are born. You’re going to be someone’s dependent. You’ll be on the records. The government knows who the adults are from the tax records; even if it didn’t, “big data” out there does know. Why require registration when it isn’t technically necessary. A separate registration is an artifact of a pre-Internet era.
So let’s set aside the question of whether women should register, or whether there should be registration at all — and go instead to the question of whether there should be Selective Service. Here I think our laws are too lax. I think there should be required service to the nation. I’m not saying there should be military service, or that it should be volunteer. I believe that everyone should be required to do some form of service to the nation in their life. It could be service in the military. It could be working for the Federal government either directly or as a contractor (as I do). It could be doing research for the national good. It could be working with the Peace Corps, or helping to rebuild our cities. It could be working with charities or religious groups. Whatever is done, we live in a special nation with wonderful freedoms (despite its various flaws) — and we should all be working to make it better.
But the article in the LA Times that started this rumination was moving more in the direction about our military being too big. I’ve seen comments to that effect before, along with the chart that shows that defense spending occupies over 50 percent of the Federal budget. Usually, when that chart appears, it is accompanied with an exhortation that the funding should go to some other purpose — perhaps more subsidies to the poor or other redistribution schemes.
I look at government spending a different way. Instead of looking at government spending by department, look at it this way: how much of Federal spending is spent on jobs: either direct Federal employees or people working for Federal contractors? In doing so, note that Federally-funded research is also in the jobs category. How much is spent on acquiring things: building infrastructure, renting infrastructure, maintaining infrastructure, acquiring material — be it weapons systems, computer systems, or whatever. In that acquisition cost, think only of the physical items — the people that build them are jobs, not things. Lastly, how much is spent on subsidizes to people: programs like welfare, veterans services, tax breaks, and such.
When you look at the government that way, I’d suggest that the vast bulk of Government expenditures is for jobs. Be they jobs at Defense Contractors, the military payroll expense, employees at Agriculture, NIH, researchers. A much smaller percentage is on acquiring things; a similarly small percentage in on subsidies. So, making the significant cuts at defense as people propose would create significant unemployment; it would result in the loss of many well-paying jobs and hurt the middle-class of this country.
That’s not to say there isn’t waste that couldn’t be cut. There is lots of waste, much created because there were a few people who abused the system, and so entire levels of cruft are built up to prevent that abuse from happening again. But the notion of seeing the defense budget as solely for weapons of war is the wrong way to look at it. The bulk of the defense budget is spent on people: the military, the defense contractors, the veterans. The actual physical weapons are just a small part. That $35 million bomber: the raw cost of the components is nothing compared with the labor cost to build it, maintain it, and acquire it.
So, circling back to the original trigger for this rumination: Should women be required to register for the draft? You should walk away with the following points:
- It is silly to even attempt to make a gender-based distinction such as this these days.
- Separate registration shouldn’t be required in this era of big data. The government knows who the over 18 adults are already. Registration should be automatic.
- We think of selective service as being called to work in the military. In reality, all of us, as citizens of this nation, should be required to do some form of service that benefits the nation over our lifetime.
- Military spending isn’t for the machinery of war. Military spending is in reality a gigantic jobs program, including both those who work for the DOD, as well as supporting services and defense contractors. It is also a subsidy program for veterans. The raw material costs for things acquired is minor when compared to the other functions.
I thank you for your attention.