The verdict is a bad one. I know that even as it first comes in over the wire.
The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can draft men only.
The court has ruled that it is constitutional for the government to pass over the houses where our daughters dwell and pluck our sons off to war.
As I read about it, my mind instantly turns to the file of arguments against this verdict, why it is wrong for men, wrong for women. Congress has treated men as expendable, women as inferior. The court has upheld its right to do so.
I run through the file quickly, almost ritualistically. And yet, in all honesty, I find it hard to feel this decision, really feel it, as a "devastating blow" to women. Perhaps I am no longer willing to see women drafted into equal responsibilities without equal rights. Perhaps I am tired of being unilaterally fair. Perhaps I am just terrifed of war.
But I feel, momentarily, relieved.
I talked to Ellie Smeal, the head of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and an opponent of an all-male draft, and she is not surprised at this emotion. "I think people dont't want anybody to be drafted unless there is some compelling reason," she says. "We are coming to the conclusion that war is not a rational foreign policy. There are no winners in war.
"It's not a question of being unpatriotic. If we knew the Nazis were coming through Europe, I think we would fight again. But now we're afraid our kids will be fighting for some damn oil well. So some people breathe a sigh of relief that at least we can save our daughters."
I share my sense, too, with Dr. Helen Caldicott, a leader of the anti-nuclear war movement. She knows this feeling, but for another reason. She says simply, "I am thoroughly against women becoming soldiers. It goes against everything we stand for as sisters, as nurturers. Women are the civilizers. To join the draft is to join the killers."
Yet both of these women, coming from different places, different platforms, also sense how illusory the relief is. If there is a war, women may not equl soldiers. But they will be equal victims.
If there is a war in the 1980s, it will not be fought in trenches but in computer centers, not with bayonets but with nuclear bombs. There is no way to protect our daughters, or ourselves, from that.
So I turn away from thinking about the impact of this decision on women, and think about its impact on peace.
Ellie Smeal -- who makes no claims about women's innate peaceful nature, to intuition, to moral superiority -- acknowledges that the women's movement has always been a peace movement. She is part of that. NOW is part of that.
"There is a 20 percent difference between men and women in terms of peace advocacy," she says, citing poll data. But Smeal believes that the women's peace movements of the past were ineffective because women were never going to be called on to fight.
"Part of the way they hve diminished our effect is by keeping us on the sidelines," Smeal ads. "They continue to perpetuate the myth that we have no stake. Now they have taken away our voice of protest. We can't even say, 'Hell no, we won't go.'"
But Caldicott believes that the women's peace movement failed for a different reason: "We won the vote 50 years ago and did nothing with it. We can't blame men that we haven't used our power. It's really our fault."
Despite this ruling, Caldicott says, things are different now. The woman who talks with terrifying eloquence about doomsday believes that "we have learned to be powerful. We know that the men running the world embody only the killing principle. There's an urgency now that has never before occurred."
In this climate, my relief does not even last the afternoon. There is too little room for it in the midst of so much anxiety about the new militarism, the spread of nuclear bombs.
It is clear that in the courtroom, women lost one vigorous voice for peace, the sound of a might-be-soldier. Now it is more crucial than ever to increase the decibel level of the might-be victim.