Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has reiterated her call to force young women to register for a military draft, even as President Trump’s provocation of a new war in the Middle East has caused panic among draft-age Americans and their loved ones.
Pingree, who represents Maine’s relatively liberal, southern Congressional district, cheered last February when a federal judge in Texas ruled that the male-only draft is unconstitutional. “Of course it should be both male and female,” Pingree told a Maine Public radio reporter last winter. “We fought hard for women to serve in combat positions, and we should expect that any law would apply to both of the sexes.”
Earlier this month, when news broke that Trump had assassinated Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani at an Iraqi airport, hashtags like #WWIII and #WorldWarThreeDraft trended on Twitter, and the website of the Selective Service System (SSS), which handles draft registration, crashed under a crush of online traffic.
Last week, a Pingree spokeswoman told Mainer her boss continues to support what would essentially constitute a doubling of the scope of the draft, potentially forcing millions of teenage girls to choose between the prospect of combat — under commander-in-chief Trump — and the threat of prison as they approach their 18th birthday. “The Congresswoman’s position has long been that as long as we have the Selective Service system, there should be equality and women should have to register as men do when they turn 18,” Victoria Bonney, Pingree’s communications director, wrote via e-mail.
Under current law, all men between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register with the SSS, and failure to do so can land you in the slammer for up to five years and carry a $250,000 fine. It can also impose a lifetime ban on federal employment, student financial aid and other public benefits.
According to USA Today, the SSS “referred 112,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to the Justice Department for possible prosecution” in 2018, but the paper also noted that only 20 people have been charged with failure to register, and 14 convicted, since the draft was reinstated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“I have actually supported bills in the past to have a draft so that we don’t continually try to just attempt to staff our army with less than a cross-section of America,” Pingree told Maine Public’s Mal Leary last year. In 2016, Republican Congressmen Duncan Hunter, of California, and Ryan Zinke, of Montana, introduced the “Draft America’s Daughters Act” to expand the draft to include women, who were officially deemed fit to serve in all combat roles by the Pentagon the previous year.
Pingree’s call to compel women to kill and risk death for a Trump-initiated war drew sharp criticism from prominent Maine peace activist Bruce Gagnon. “Chellie Pingree’s concept of ‘women’s liberation’ appears to include them rushing off to war to fight for resource extraction corporations[’] profits,” Gagnon told Mainer via e-mail. “Nothing new there.”
Indeed, Pingree has consistently voted for massive military budgets, including spending plans providing billions more taxpayer dollars than the Pentagon has requested, despite the fact the U.S. military dwarfs those of China and Russia, and the fact the Department of Defense has, for decades, been unwilling or unable to properly audit its spending to identify waste and fraud, which may amount to trillions of dollars, The Nation reported last year. “These same politicians squeal about the lack of money for health care, education, environmental clean-up, fixing our broken infrastructure and more,” Gagnon said.
Last week, Pingree and fellow Democrat Jared Golden, who represents Maine’s other Congressional district, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper decrying reports that the Navy wants to buy fewer destroyers like those built in Maine by Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of corporate war profiteer General Dynamics. “We ask that you join the President and affirm support for the Congressionally mandated goal of a 355-ship Navy in order to promote our national security and to preserve the shipbuilding defense industrial base,” Pingree and Golden told Esper, a former lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon.
The ruling on the draft last winter, by U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, does not force the SSS to change its rules immediately, and the case is still subject to appeals. An 11-member study group, called the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, has been weighing changes to the draft, including the expansion Pingree is pushing, and is expected to release its report by this spring. Congress and the president would have to approve reactivation of the draft before young men or women could be conscripted for combat duty.
Golden’s office did not respond to a request for comment on his position regarding draft expansion, nor did representatives for Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King.
Bonney, Pingree’s spokeswoman, cited the Congresswoman’s recent call for votes on two bills that could limit Trump’s ability to launch a full-scale war with Iran. One would repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and the other would prohibit funding for “offensive military force against Iran without congressional authorization.”
“[W]e should use the power of the purse to stop this President from taking impulsive action to get us into another catastrophic war in the Middle East,” Pingree said in a Jan. 7 press release.
But as Gagnon observed, Pingree “recently voted along with the rest of the Maine congressional delegation [for a military-spending bill] that gave the Pentagon another $738 billion for endless war.”