Retired four-star general and Raytheon executive Lloyd Austin was at his confirmation hearings yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The incoming Biden administration is betting big on Austin’s nomination as he will be the first African-American secretary of defense. Austin will require a waiver to assume the position because seven years have not passed since he left the service. As an appointee of the president, General Austin will have an ideological obligation to support some measure of the president’s social policies.
When asked about lifting the ban on transgender persons from serving in the military General Austin answered that he was in favor of overturning it. “I support the plan to overturn the ban,” he said. “I truly believe that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.”
No doubt LGBTQ activists will celebrate Austin’s position as a major advancement of their civil rights in being able to share the full burdens of national defense along with everyone else.
Last year the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service had issued a report that included a set of modernizing recommendations for the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA). Among the recommendations was making women eligible for the draft. When Austin was asked if he would support that recommendation his answer was bureaucratic and opaque rather than supportive or definitive:
“I understand that Congress created the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service to study and provide a recommendation on this question as a core task. If confirmed, I would review the Commission’s recommendations and seek the input of experts within the Department before making an assessment. I am aware that future wars may have requirements for skills in non-combat fields in which the percentage of individuals qualified would not be variable by gender and excluding approximately 50 percent of the population —the female half — from availability for the draft in the case of a national emergency. Having a national conversation on the responsibilities of citizenship for all Americans would play an important role in increasing consideration of military service by both women and men, which is critical to the sustainment of the All-Volunteer Force.
If it is determined that the MSSA is an important component of our National Defense Strategy, then it is logical to modernize the system. If confirmed, I would work across the government to aid this effort.”
If you look at the two answers together it seems like General Austin has talked himself into a box he may have a hard time getting out of policy-wise. If transgender persons are accepted into the military for the purpose of allowing them to take on the full duty of citizenship, does it makes sense to exempt trans-women from the draft while compelling trans-men to register for the Selective Service? It’s also rather evasive to say that he will consider the Commission’s recommendation and consult with experts “before” making an assessment. Didn’t the congressional commission itself consult with experts within the military in making its recommendations to the government? And didn’t this country already have a “national conversation” that resulted in women serving in the military and now in combat jobs? Do we need to do all these things again now? The general should be pressed on whether transpersons will also be exempt from the draft as part of his and President Biden’s policies.
Women have been a part of the Armed Forces on a permanent basis since 1948. At first, they were purposely excluded from the military draft or combat jobs. Excluding women from combat-arms is no longer allowed. The pressure to do so came from feminist groups that claimed that women’s exclusion from these positions kept them from full participation in the rights and obligations of American citizenship.
But these groups did not advocate for including women in the Selective Service System. Signing up for Selective Service may not seem to confer any benefits to those who register, but there are steep penalties for refusal. Failing to register makes one ineligible for federal student aid, federal job training, or even a federal job. It’s also possible that you could be prosecuted and face up to $250,000 in fines and up to five years in prison if you refuse during wartime.
Clearly, the trend to include women in the draft is gaining momentum which makes General Austin’s vague answer more puzzling.
In 1981 the Supreme Court upheld women’s exclusion from the draft because they were not able to serve in combat. That exclusion was lifted in 2014. A federal lawsuit in 2019 was filed by a men’s group charging reverse discrimination by women being exempt from the Selective Service. The judge, in that case, ruled that the exemption was discriminatory and unconstitutional because women were then serving in combat and made up a major part of the armed services. According to Pentagon figures, women now comprise 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army, and 8.6 percent of the Marines Corps.
A Biden Administration claiming that it’s committed to complete gender equality really has no choice but to live up to its own rhetoric and include trans-women and women in the Selective Service System as well. To do otherwise is to create a special inequality between men and women not only in the Armed Forces but in civilian society as well.