Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

Draft Rosie!

Rosie the Riveter wasn't drafted to do her essential work during World War II. If she had been, she would have collected a pension and some praise. And the women who served as pilots during the country's greatest conflict definitely would have been better off if the Air Force had demanded their services, rather than accepting them as volunteers.

For women to be truly treated as equals by the military, they need to be equally vulnerable to conscription, should the draft ever be reinstated.

The contributions of women of "the greatest generation" received renewed recognition in Washington this week, with the arrival of 31 women who manufactured aircraft alongside the original "Rosie" at the Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

It took 70 years, and the intervention of Michigan congresswomen Debbie Dingell and Candice Miller, for these civilian women to receive the honor regularly bestowed on military veterans: a free trip to D.C. to see the World War II Memorial.

Another stop on "the Rosies'" sightseeing itinerary was the Women in Military Service For America Memorial, where the more than 1,000 Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) are given their full due for their 60 million miles flown and 38 lives lost during the war. But not everyone is willing to accord the pilots the recognition they deserve, including ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery.

A 1977 law (sponsored by Cokie's mother, Lindy Boggs) granted the pilots retroactive veteran status, and funerals at Arlington followed. But last year, the acting secretary of the Army declared that there was a technical problem in the law, and cut off the WASPs' access to the cemetery.

On the same day that "the Rosies" came to town, the House unanimously passed a bill reversing that decision; now the Senate must act. Leading the charge to reinstate the pilots' privileges was Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally, herself the first female Air Force fighter pilot to fly in combat, who reacted furiously to the acting secretary's insistence that it would require an act of Congress to reverse the decision.

The pilots would have been spared that indignity if they had been fully accepted in the military in the first place. And, as our fighting women have explained for decades, to be fully accepted, women must be eligible for combat. They finally won that battle last December when Defense Secretary Ash Carter declared that all combat jobs, with no exceptions, would be open to women. What follows naturally from that decision is that young women turning 18 in this country, just like young men, should register for the draft.

When draft registration was reinstated in 1980, Congress defeated an amendment to include women in noncombat roles. Some men, arguing that mandatory registration for males amounted to sex discrimination against them, brought suit against the government.

Their claim was rejected in a Supreme Court decision stating that only men could engage in combat, and the point of registration was the availability of names to call up to fight.

Over the years, various proposals to register women have been introduced, insisting that the court ruling no longer applies to the modern military. But in every case, they were rejected based on the argument that women are not in ground combat, and therefore there's no need for them to register.

That all changed with Carter's announcement. Since then, two generals have testified before the Senate that they support the requirement that women register, but the civilians in command of the military fell back on the wishy-washy need to "discuss" the matter further. They, of course, are worried about a political backlash.

And that backlash is what two House Republicans are trying to provoke with their mischievous Draft America's Daughters Act, hoping to spark a debate that would result in revoking the secretary's decision to allow women in combat.

As it is now, disabled males, illegal immigrants and men recently released from mental institutions or jail are all required to register for the draft. So are women who were born as men. (But not men who were born as women.) Able-bodied young women can watch their brothers sign up while they sit home.

That's not just bad for the military in case there's ever a need for a draft; it's also bad for the women of America.

Baby girls with "don't draft me" signs around their necks were deployed by demonstrators against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. We've learned since then that women seeking equality in the military -- or anyplace else -- should instead shout, "Draft me!"

Only then will the men see them as true equals. Just ask the WASPs, or maybe Rosie the Riveter.

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