President Carter said it was in this nation's best interest to register young people, so that if a military draft were to become necessary at a later date, much of the needed paper work would already be completed.
Dissent was heard from some who are of an age likely to be registered. There was also vigorous opposition from "almost a score of women's rights, civil rights and antiwar groups." Almost everybody else thought the president's suggestion made sense.
However, there was no quick consensus on the question of whether to include females in the registration. In fact, intra-family squabbles arose, even among such spouses as Liz Taylor and her senator.
But for practical people, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill brought the debate to a quick halt. He proclaimed that Congress would never approve the drafting of women, so there was no point in discussing the matter any further.
O'Neill has his shortcomings, but he does know the mood of Congress rather well, so perhaps he has saved us all a lot of time and effort. Nevertheless, it is inappropriate that so complicated and controversial an issue should be settled on the basis of one comment from O'Neill. One man shouldn't have that much power.
When it was first proposed that women be hired as police officers, many of us thought they wanted to serve only in safe clerical jobs, and would be permitted to perform no hazardous duties. How wrong we were!
We learned that women want the right to risk their lives on the street, just as male officers do. The law and public opinion were on their side. Discrimination according to sex was forbidden, and the importance of women in police work has been winning increasing recognition ever since.
There is an added significance to public acceptance of the female cop. Her demonstration that she can do the job prepares us psychologically to accept women in other callings into which they previously could not venture. Female truck drivers are commonplace today, and we're not likely to swoon with surprise when we see women sliding under an ailing automobile on a mechanic's creeper, stringing wire on a telephone pole, or earning a living in other jobs that were once held exclusively by males.
Being a female police officer in an urban center is admittedly not the same thing as being a female soldier in a shellhole out in the boonies. The question of whether women should be ordered (or even permitted) to become soldiers -- with or without an ERA amendment -- would have provoked an interesting debate. The question of whether women should have been registered for national service short of front-line duty would have been easier to decide. But thanks to Tip O'Neill, we don't have to bother our heads about either possibility.
O'Neill has banged his gavel and we might as well go on to the next order of business. POSTSCRIPT
If I were O'Neill, I think it would concern me somewhat to discover that the two major centers of support for my position come from:
1. Those who are likeliest to be registered, and therefore are likeliest to judge the need for registration from a personal rather than a national perspective.
2. Those who say they want to speak out against this administration's "efforts to get us into another war," as Bella Abzug put it.
Other women were quoted as saying that "the draft should be invoked only if the United States were attacked." They did not explain how this would work if draft headquarters becomes vaporized in the Soviet nuclear strike that first informs us we are under attack. Possibly they think there will be time for somebody to bring the news from Philadelphia to Washington on horseback.
Well-intentioned people who accuse President Carter of making "efforts" to get us into war should be ashamed of themselves for being so careless with their language. If Carter deserves criticism, it is for persevering too long with a policy based on detente, disarmament and mutual trust. It now appears that, being a peace-loving man himself, he talked himself into believing that the Soviets are also pure of heart.
It is presumptuous of any group to style itself as "antiwar." The use of such a label implies that nonmembers favor war. This is nonsense.
Young or old; rich or poor; male or female; black, white or green -- every rational person is against war.
What we disagree on is: What is the best way to avoid war?
We have tried disarmament and detente. We have tried talking softly and carrying a big stick. We have tried talking loudly while pretending that we carried a stick. Each of us must judge for himself which policies produced the best results.