The government is collecting names again. Boys, men of 19 and 20 are going to the post office to deliver their alphabetical letters. In return, they may receive numbers more vital to their lives than any zip code.
For the moment, though, the government does not want the names of their sisters, female classmates, girl friends. In the midst of legal confusion bordering on chaos, these girls, women, of 19 and 20 remain exempt.
Sometime in the fall, perhaps, the Supreme Court will offer up another of its tortured decisions on whether an all-male draft is unconstitutional. The verdict of this court -- torn between defending the Constitution and letting Congress do as it will -- is unpredictable.
When I wrote about women and the draft in February, I felt that if there were a crisis worthy of registering men, we should also register women.
The response I received then was, I think, worth sharing now, when this issue comes up again so strongly. Yes, there were the usual number of frontlash letters from pro-military women who said it was a "man's job" to fight. There were also letters from pro-military men who said 1) women would ruin the army and 2) "women's libbers belong in the trenches".
But the most intriguing letters came from those -- most of them women, most of them mothers -- who were both anti-war and pro-equality. Some wondered out loud whether women were being conned into the military under the guise of "equality."
Jeanne Joyce Blide of Lakeland, Minn., a former Navy nurse, mother of four sons and one daughter, wrote: "None of them wants to go to war. I don't want anyone to go to war."
Yet this woman remembers when she was refused a credit card and when she was banned from a father-son banquet. Now, she ponders the difference between her sons and her daughter: "Will my daughter have equal rights when she is drafted?"
Anne Kennedy of Arlington, Mass., was also concerned with the unequal burdens on her daughters: "There is a real danger in allowing ourselves or our daughters really to be pushed into a corner. . . . We already carry extra burdens; we always have.
"Women drafted today . . . would serve men from within the military structure as they have always 'served' men. . . . Until women really can take their place beside men as equals, then let's keep the 'inequality of the draft.'"
And a third letter writer, Barbara Kross of Belmore, N.Y., the mother of two sons now beyond draft age, said: "After all, if I'm against the draft, then how can I be for drafting women?"
The questions raised by these letters were prickly ones. Should women accept equal responsibility without equal rights? If you are in favor of women's rights, can you be against a co-ed draft? If you are in favor of peace, how can yu accept a second sex joining the first in the post office lines? But they wind around the most fundamental questin a person or a society can ask: "How can we prevent war?"
Men have been far better at war provocation than prevention. We know that.
Perhaps women would be no better. Historically, the few who have led countries or armies have been as homicidal as their prime ministers and lieutenants.
But there has never, ever, been a counry in which all women shared power and decision-making. I cannot believe that we would be more bloodthirsty.
The question, then, is the same one that Virginia Woolf addressed back in 1938, at the brink of war, when she wrote her remarkably thoughtful essay, "Three Guineas." How do women get into a position of power and influence where they can affect policy, even peace? How do they do it without being turned into imitation men?
I don't frankly, know the answer. There is a real risk, as my letter writers noted, that women will win equal responsibility and never get equal rights. It would have been far more just if women were partners in the government that made the decisions about registration (but, then, there were few 19- and 20-year-old men sharing that, either).
There is also a real risk that, if drafted, women would simply become more foot soldiers for male generals in the wars that men provoke. There is even a risk that they would become as hawk-like as a Pentagon caricature.
Yet only the women who are subject to the draft, side by side with men, can resist the draft, side by side with men. Only the women who are subject to the same laws can claim the same rights to change them.
There is simply no way to move ahead without taking the risks of equality -- where and when they are presented. If we refuse this strange "opportunity," we step backward, are left out, give up the possibility of change. We may even lose the chance at the power to decide between just and unjust wars and, curiously enough, the power to make peace.