The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 2, 2013

Full equality in military service should really mean full equality

The Back Porch

By Nerissa Young

— I remember the day my brother signed up for Selective Service. I don’t remember the date, but I remember the day.

He drove out to our tiny, one-room post office in a corner of the old community store building, went in, filled out the card and came home.

It was all over except for the worrying. The U.S. was in the Cold War with Russia, and sometimes at night I lay in bed and feared the Russians would turn loose an atomic bomb and annihilate us — or worse, that they wouldn’t annihilate us but my brother would be sent to war.

My brother is like many brothers. His heart is bigger than he is. He carried sick calves to the barn, fed our family dog every day without being asked and sneaked a kitten home as a present for my sister because she was desperate to have one.

He believes in God, country and others and practices what he believes. I couldn’t — didn’t want to — imagine him as a soldier fighting a war. We hoped and prayed that because he is the only son in the family that maybe he would not have to serve if called.

Daddy had come close to serving. He got his draft notice and took his physical, but Mom’s pregnancy with my brother prevented him from being called up.

I didn’t stop worrying about my brother being sent to war until President Reagan got the Soviets to sign a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons. Little did I know that wouldn’t stop wars, nor would it stop good brothers like mine from fighting them.

President Jimmy Carter reinstated Selective Service registration in summer 1980. Though the U.S. relies on a 100 percent voluntary military force, the government could call up men who are registered.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat has renewed the debate about whether they should have to register with Selective Service.

They should. Equality is equality, and many women say they want to fill combat roles. They want to be able to compete for the kind of command jobs that will allow them to advance in rank and their careers as men do. Combat roles are where men often earn those career advances.

Some may argue that women shouldn’t have to go to war because they are, after all, women. As the sister of a good man, I don’t think men or women, dog or cat or any of God’s creatures should have to go to war.

Perhaps instead of spending a lot of time and effort figuring out who should be fighting the wars, humankind should spend some effort figuring out how to stop them.

The Washington Post said after Carter reinstated Selective Service registration, a group of men sued, claiming that exempting women was a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.

While the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 against the men — citing the combat exclusion — their claim is valid. If women want to enjoy the full fruits of citizenship, they must be willing to pay the full price.

Anything less is asking me whose life has more value — my two nephews’ or my niece’s. I can’t answer that question because all their lives are extremely valuable.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail:

© 2013 by Nerissa Young