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Kathleen Parker: Gender equality shouldn’t go so far as actual combat

March 1, 2019

WASHINGTON — Last week, a district court judge ruled that it is unconstitutional for only men to have to register with the Selective Service, opening the possibility that women might also have to register.

The ruling may be fair in principle, but does it make sense? Would a universal draft best serve the security of the United States? Or would it be yet another exercise in asserting equality of the sexes to advance primarily social, not military, goals?

The military always wants more bodies at its disposal — and high-ranking Pentagon women have long lobbied for full inclusion at every level of military engagement because, without combat experience, women couldn’t compete with men for the highest military rankings.

Yet when now-retired Gen. Ann Dunwoody became the first female four-star officer in 2008, the combat exclusion of women was still in place. Although her service was extraordinary, including being the first female battalion commander in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, she never engaged in direct ground combat.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller’s ruling seems to make sense as fair-is-fair. But fair isn’t always absolutely fair. At this juncture, nothing has changed. The government probably will appeal the decision and then, likely, the Supreme Court will take a stab.

It seems improbable in light of precedent that the high court would find against Miller. The Texas judge specifically mentioned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 1996 opinion in United States v. Virginia, in which she concluded that excluding women from Virginia Military Institute violated the equal-protection clause of the Constitution.

Yet earlier, in 1981′s Rostker v. Goldberg, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of excluding women from the Selective Service System’s male-only policy. Noting that the purpose of the registry was to allow the government to raise a combat army — and given that women weren’t then allowed in combat — the court wrote that the two sexes “are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft.”

Much has changed since the 20th century, and the question is whether Rostker would still stand given those changes. Since 2015, all military jobs have been opened to women, including direct combat.

No sane person has ever argued that women aren’t as brave as men or that they lack any other qualities necessary to military success. But in discussing women’s expanding military roles, we return to the question of what ground combat really means. As the Defense Department defined it in 1994, it means “engaging an enemy on the ground ... while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force’s personnel.”

What changed in 2015? Nothing — except the definition of combat, which the Pentagon altered so that civilians could pretend that this is not a travesty.

The debate isn’t really about military preparedness but is about social engineering — changing the way people perceive things so that they can be arranged according to the designs of a relatively very few. What’s missing from all such cultural arrangements is a full appreciation of human nature, which remains essentially the same through most of time.

Maybe no 18-year-old American “woman” will ever be ordered to fight men mano a mano, but it seems more than a possibility at this point. I’m going to go out on a limb and simply say that a civilized nation doesn’t put its women in combat where they have an unequal ability to survive.

How’s that for your equality equation?

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist. Her email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.