Conscription in the United States
compulsory military service
) has been employed several times, usually during war
but also during the nominal peace of the Cold
. The United States discontinued the draft in 1973, moving to an
all-volunteer military force,
thus there is currently no mandatory conscription.
However, the Selective Service
remains in place as a contingency plan
; men between the ages of
18 and 25 are required to register so that a draft can be readily
In colonial times
, the Thirteen Colonies
used a militia
system for local defense.
For long-term operations, conscription was occasionally used when
volunteers or paid substitutes were insufficient to raise the
needed manpower. During the American Revolutionary War
states sometimes drafted men for militia duty or to fill state
units, but the
central government did not have the authority to conscript.
President James Madison
attempted to create a national draft during the War of 1812
The United States first employed national conscription during the
American Civil War
. The vast
majority of troops were volunteers, however; of the 2,100,000 Union
soldiers, about 2% were draftees, and another 6% were paid
substitutes. Resistance to the draft touched off the New York Draft Riots
in July 1863. The
Jefferson Davis proposed the first conscription act on March 28th,
1862, and the act was passed into law the next month; resistance
was both widespread and violent, with comparisons made between
conscription and slavery. Both sides permitted conscripts to hire
substitutes. In the Union, many states and cities offered bounties
and bonuses for enlistment. They also arranged to take credit
against their quota for freed slaves who enlisted.
World War I
The Conscription Act of 1917 was passed in June, only months after
Congress declared war in April. It came along with the Espionage Act of 1917
which had a
section that punished the publification of "false" information,
inciting desertion or mutiny and obstructing conscription. It was
used broadly under the "bad tendency" test to punish opposition to
conscription and the war generally.Conscientious objection
were allowed for the Amish
of the Brethren
only. All other religious and political
objectors were forced to participate. Under the Act, conscripts
were inducted by the Army immediately and then evaluated, with some
being discharged only at that point, in contrast to later draft
board systems of evaluation first. Thus, conscientious objectors
who the Army did not discharge had to serve and were subject to
military justice for refusing. A great number of conscripts were
court-martialed by the Army for offenses such as refusing to wear
uniforms, bear arms, perform basic duties or submit to military
authority in general. The offense was usually thus insubordination
which carried harsh
punishment. For acts such as refusing to peel potatoes,
convicted objectors were often given long sentences of twenty years
in Fort Leavenworth. Hutterites
although very similar to Amish
, were not
exempted for a few cases, with four men being sent to Leavenworth,
at which two died from abuse. Molokans
Russian pacifist sect, were also jailed en masse and suffered
terribly, having previously experienced such treatment in Russia.
Political objectors also suffered military justice.Conscription was
unpopular from many sectors at the start, with many activists
jailed for "obstructing the recruitment or enlistment service." The
most famous was Eugene Debs
, head of the
American Socialist Party. Thus federal prisoners were incarcerated
close by the military prison at Leavenworth
Federal Prison, as well.Sacco
, along with other anarchists, went to Mexico so
they would not be registered or inducted by the Army. Vigilante
groups tracked down draft dodgers aggressively, in one case
blocking off a street in New York City, going through shops and
theatres looking for young men without draft cards. Members of the
Industrial Workers of
especially suffered as they largely refused
conscription, along with other political radicals and ordinary
pacifists. Almost 300,000 men evaded the draft, mainly through
moving and not leaving a forwarding address. This number, in fact,
had risen to 350,000 in World War II.
World War II
The military birthed the modern draft mechanism in 1926 and built
it based on military needs despite an era of pacifism. Working
where Congress would not, it gathered a cadre of officers for its
nascent Joint Army-Navy Selective Service Committee, most of whom
were commissioned based on social standing rather than military
experience. This effort did not receive congressionally approved
funding until 1934 when Major Lewis
was assigned to the
organization. The passage of a conscription act was opposed by
some, including Dorothy Day
and George Barry O'Toole
, who were
concerned that such conscription would not provide adequate
protection for the rights of conscientious objectors
much of Hershey's work was codified into law with the Selective
Training and Service Act (STSA) of 1940.
President Roosevelt's signing of the STSA on September 16, 1940
began the first peacetime draft in the United States. It also
established the Selective Service System as an independent agency
responsible for identifying and inducting young men into military
service. Roosevelt named Hershey to head the Selective Service on
July 31, 1941 where he remained until removed by President Richard Nixon
in 1969. This preparatory act
came when other preparations, such as increased training and
equipment production, had not yet been approved. Nevertheless, it
served as the basis for the conscription programs that would
continue to the present. The act set a cap of 900,000 men to be in
training at any given time and limited military service to 12
months. An amendment increased this to 18 months in 1941. Later
legislation amended the act to require all men from 18 to 65 to
register with those aged 18 to 45 being immediately liable for
induction. Service commitments for inductees were set at the length
of the war plus six months. As manpower need increased during World
War II, draftees were inducted into the Marine Corps
as well as the
By 1942, the SSS moved away from administrative selection by its
more than 4,000 local boards to a system of lottery selection.
Rather than filling quotas by local selection, the boards now
ensured proper processing of men selected by the lottery. This
facilitated the massive requirement of up to 200,000 men per month
and would remain the standard for the length of the war. The WWII
draft operated from 1940 until 1947 when its legislative
authorization expired without further extension by Congress. During
this time, more than 10 million men had been inducted into military
service. With the expiration, no inductions occurred in 1947.
However, the SSS remainedintact.
Protests also arose against the World War II-era draft. Most of the
violent events occurred in the northern states where
African-Americans protested the injustice of the draft in the face
of segregation and other civil rights abuses. The young Nation of
Islam was at the forefront, with many Black Muslims jailed for
refusing the draft, and their leader Elijah Muhammed
was sentenced to federal
prison for inciting draft resistance. Some Socialists
and Communists also opposed support for the war until Germany attacked the Soviet Union
the more than 72,000 men registering as conscientious objectors
(CO), nearly 52,000 received CO status. Of these, over 25,000
entered the military in noncombatant roles, another 12,000 went to
civilian work camps, and nearly 6,000 went to prison. Draft evasion
only accounted for about 4% of the total inducted. About 373,000
alleged evaders were investigated with just over 16,000 being
The second peacetime draft began with passage of the Selective
Service Act in 1948 after the STSA expired. The new law required
all men, ages 18 to 26, to register. It also created the system for
the "Doctor Draft" aimed at inducting health professionals into
military service. Unless otherwise exempted or deferred, these men
could be called for up to 21 months of active duty and five years
of reserve duty service. Congress further tweaked this act in 1950
although the post-World War II surplus of military manpower left
little need for draft calls until Truman’s declaration of national
emergency in December 1950. Only 20,348 men were inducted in 1948
and only 9,781 in 1949.
Cold War and Korean War
Between the Korean War
's outbreak in June
1950 and 1953, however, Selective Service inducted 1,529,539 men.
Another 1.3 million volunteered. Most joined the Navy and Air
Force. Congress passed the Universal Military Training and Service
Act in 1951 to meet the demands of the war. It lowered the
induction age to 18½ and extended active-duty service commitments
to 24 months. Despite the early combat failures and later stalemate
in Korea, the draft has been credited by some as playing a vital
role in turning the tide of war. A February 1953 Gallup Poll showed
70 percent of Americans surveyed felt the SSS handled the draft
fairly. Notably, the demographic including all draft age men (males
21 to 29) reported 64 percent believed the draft to be fair.
To increase equity in the system, President Dwight D. Eisenhower
signed an executive order on
July 11, 1953 that ended the paternity deferment for married men.
In large part, the change in the draft served the purposes of the
burgeoning Cold War. From a program that had just barely passed
Congressional muster during the fearful prelude to World War II, a
more robust draft continued as fears now focused on the Soviet
threat. Nevertheless, some dissenting voices in Congress continued
to appeal to the history of voluntary American military service as
preferable for a democracy.
The United States breathed easier with the Korean Armistice in
1953; however, technology brought new promises and threats. U.S.
air and nuclear power fueled the Eisenhower doctrine of "massive
retaliation." This strategy demanded more machinesand fewer foot
soldiers, so the draft slipped to the back burner. However, the
head of the SSS, Maj. Gen. Hershey, urged caution fearing the
conflict looming in Vietnam. In May 1953, he told his state
directors to do everything possible to keep SSSalive in order to
meet upcoming needs.
Following the Armistice, Congress passed the Reserve Forces Act of
1955 with the aim of improving National Guard and federal reserve
readiness while also constraining its use by the president. Towards
this end, it mandated a six-year servicecommitment, in a
combination of reserve and active duty time, for every line
military member regardless of their means of entry. Meanwhile, the
SSS kept itself alive by devising and managing a complex system of
deferments for a swelling pool of candidatesduring a period of
shrinking requirements. The greatest challenge to the draft came
not from protestors but rather lobbyists seeking additional
deferments for their constituency groups such as scientists and
Government leaders felt the potential for a draft was a critical
element in maintaining a constant flow of volunteers. On numerous
occasions Gen. Hershey told Congress for every man drafted, three
or four more were scared into volunteering. Assuming his assessment
was accurate, this would mean over 11 million men volunteered for
service because of the draft between January 1954 and April
The policy of using the draft as a club to force "voluntary"
enlistment was unique in U.S. history. Previous drafts had not
aimed at encouraging individuals to sign up in order to gain
preferential placement or less dangerous postings. However, the
incrementalbuildup of Vietnam without a clear threat to the country
bolstered this. Some estimates suggest conscription encompassed
almost one-third of all eligible men during the period of 1965-69.
This group represented those without exemption or resources to
avoid military service. During the active combat phase, the
possibility of avoiding combat by selecting their service and
military specialty led as many as four out of 11 million eligible
men to enlist. The military relied upon this draft-induced
volunteerism to make its quotas, especially the Army, which
accounted for nearly 95 percent of all inductees during Vietnam.
Forexample, defense recruiting reports show 34% of the recruits in
1964 up to 50% in 1970 indicated they joined to avoid adverse
the draft. . These rates dwindled to 24% in
1972 and 15% in 1973 after the change to a lottery system.
Accounting for other factors, it can be argued up to 60 percent of
those who served throughout the Vietnam Conflict did so directly or
indirectly because of the draft.
In addition, deferments provided an incentive for men to follow
pursuits considered useful to the state. This process, known as
channeling, helped push men into educational, occupational, and
family choices they might not otherwise havepursued. Undergraduate
degrees were valued. Graduate work had varying value over time,
though technical and religious training received near constant
support. War industry support in the form of teaching, research, or
skilled labor also received deferredor exempt status. Finally,
marriage and family were exempted because of its positive societal
consequences. This included using presidential orders to extend
exemptions again to fathers and others. Channeling was also seen as
a means of preempting the early loss of the country’s “best and
brightest” who had historically joined and died early in war.
In the only extended period of military conscription of U.S. males
during a major peacetime period, the draft continued on a more
limited basis during the late 1950s and early 1960s. While a far
smaller percentage of eligible males were conscripted compared to
war periods, draftees by law served in the Army for two years.
and Willie Mays
were two of the most famous people
drafted during this period.
Public protests in the United States were few during the Korean
War. However, the percentage of CO exemptions for inductees grew to
1.5% compared to a rate of just .5% in the past two wars. The
Justice Department also investigated more than 80,000draft evasion
President Kennedy's decision to send military troops to Vietnam as
"advisors" was a signal that Selective Service Director Lewis B. Hershey
needed to visit the Oval Office.
From that visit emerged two wishes of JFK with regard to
conscription. The first was that the names of married men with
children should occupy the very bottom of the callup list. Just
above them should be the names of men who are married. This
Presidential policy, however, was not to be formally encoded into
Selective Service Status. Men who fit into these categories became
known as Kennedy Husbands. When President Lyndon Johnson decided to
rescind this Kennedy policy, all across the country there was a
last minute rush to the altar by thousands of couples.
Many early rank and file anti-conscription protesters had been
allied with the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy. The
completion in 1963 of a Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty left a mass
of undirected youth in search of a cause. Syndicated cartoonist Al
Capp portrayed them as S.W.I.N.E, students wildly indignant about
nearly everything. The catalyst for protest reconnection was the
1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
Consequently, there was some opposition to the draft even before
the major U.S. involvement in the Vietnam
began. The large cohort of Baby
who became eligible for military service during the
Vietnam War also meant a steep increase in the number of exemptions
and deferments, especially for college and graduate students. This
was the source of considerable resentment among poor and working
class young men, who could not afford a college education.
As U.S. troop strength in Vietnam increased, more young men were
drafted for service there, and many of those still at home sought
means of avoiding the draft. For those seeking a relatively safer
alternative to the Army
, Marine Corps
, or the Air Force
, the Coast Guard
was an option
(provided one could meet the more stringent enlistment standards).
Since only a handful of National Guard and Reserve units were sent
to Vietnam, enlistment in the Guard or the Reserves became a
favored means of draft avoidance. Vocations to the ministry and the
rabbinate soared, because divinity students were exempt from the
draft. Doctors and draft board members found themselves being
pressured by relatives or family friends to exempt potential
Some conscientious objectors objected to the war based on the
theory of Just War
. One of these, Stephen Spiro
, was convicted of avoiding the
draft, but given a suspended sentence of five years. He was later
pardoned by President Gerald Ford
According to the Veteran's Administration, 9.2 million men served
in the military between 1964 and 1975. Nearly 3.5 million men
served in the Vietnam theater of operations. From a pool of
approximately 27 million, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for
military service during the Vietnam era. It has also been credited
with "encouraging" many of the 8.7 million "volunteers" to join
rather than risk being drafted.
Of the nearly 16 million men not engaged in active military
service, 96% were exempted (typically because of jobs including
other military service), deferred (usually for educational
reasons), or disqualified (usually for physical and mental
deficiencies but also for criminal records to include draft
violations). Draft offenders in the last category numbered nearly
500,000 but less than 10,000 were convicted or imprisoned for draft
violations. Finally, as many as 100,000 draft eligible males fled
End of conscription
During the 1968 presidential
, Richard Nixon
on a promise to end the draft. He had first become interested in
the idea of an all-volunteer army during his time out of office,
based upon a paper by Professor Martin Anderson of Columbia University
. Nixon also saw
ending the draft as an effective way to undermine the anti-Vietnam
war movement, since he believed affluent youths would stop
protesting the war once their own possibility of having to fight in
it was gone. There was opposition to the all-volunteer notion from
both the Department of Defense and Congress, so Nixon took no
immediate action towards ending the draft early in his
Instead, the Gates Commission was formed, headed by Thomas S. Gates, Jr.
, a former Secretary of
Defense in the Eisenhower
. Gates initially opposed the all-volunteer army
idea, but changed his mind during the course of the 15-member
commission's work. The Gates Commission issued its report in
February 1970, describing how adequate military strength could be
maintained without having conscription. The existing draft law was
expiring at the end of June 1971, but the Department of Defense and
Nixon administration decided the draft needed to continue for at
least some time. In February 1971, the administration requested of
Congress a two-year extension of the draft, to June 1973.
opponents of the war wanted to reduce this to a one-year extension,
or eliminate the draft altogether, or tie the draft renewal to a
timetable for troop withdrawal from Vietnam; Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska took the
most forceful approach, trying to filibuster the draft renewal legislation, shut
down conscription, and directly force an end to the war.
Senators supporting Nixon's war efforts supported the bill, even
though some had qualms about ending the draft. After a prolonged
battle in the Senate, in September 1971 cloture
was achieved over the filibuster and the
draft renewal bill was approved. Meanwhile, military pay was
increased as an incentive to attract volunteers, and television
advertising for the U.S. Army began. With the end of active U.S.
ground participation in Vietnam, December 1972 saw the last men
conscripted, who reported for duty in June 1973.In 1973, the
Selective Service randomly selected 25 numbers or birthdays in case
the draft was extended.
Post-1980 draft registration
In 1980, Congress re-instated the requirement that young men
register with the Selective
. At that time it was required that all males,
born on or after January 1, 1960 register with the Selective
Service System. The Selective Service System describes its mission
as "...to serve the emergency manpower needs of the Military by
conscripting untrained manpower, or personnel with professional
health care skills, if directed by Congress and the President in a
national crisis." Registration forms are available either online
or at any U.S. Post Office
The Selective Service registration form states that failure to
register is a felony
punishable by up to five
years imprisonment or a $250,000 fine. In practice, no one has been
prosecuted for failure to comply with draft registration since
1986, in part because prosecutions of draft resisters proved
counter-productive for the government, and in part because of the
difficulty of proving that noncompliance with the law was "knowing
and willful." Many people do not register at all, register late, or
change addresses without notifying the Selective Service System.
Not registering can (technically) also lead to loss of federal
employment, sometimes after the registration window has already
passed. However, only a few of such cases have been reported so
Health Care Personnel Delivery System
On December 1, 1989, Congress ordered the Selective Service System
to put in place a system capable of drafting "persons qualified for
practice or employment in a health care and professional
occupation", if such a special-skills draft should be ordered by
Congress. In response, Selective Service published plans for the
"Health Care Personnel Delivery System " (HCPDS) in 1989 and has
had them ready ever since. The concept underwent a preliminary
field exercise in Fiscal Year 1998, followed by a more extensive
nationwide readiness exercise in Fiscal Year 1999. The HCPDS plans
include women and men ages 20–54 in 57 different job categories. As
of May 2003, the Defense Department has said the most likely form
of draft is a special skills draft, probably of health care
the Supreme Court ruled that the World War I draft did not violate
the United States
Constitution. Arver v. United States
, 245 U.S. 366
(1918). The Court summarized the history of
conscription in England and in
colonial America, a history that it read as establishing that the
envisioned compulsory military service as a governmental
It held that the Constitution's grant to Congress of
the powers to declare war and to create standing armies included
the power to mandate conscription. It rejected arguments based on
states' rights, the Thirteenth
, and other provisions of the Constitution.
Later, during the Vietnam War, a lower appellate court
concluded that the draft was constitutional. United States
, 387 F.2d 781 (7th Cir.), cert.
, 391 U.S. 936 (1968). (Justice William O. Douglas
, in voting to hear the appeal in
, agreed that the government had the authority to
employ conscription in wartime, but argued that the
constitutionality of a draft in the absence of a declaration of war
was an open question, which the Supreme Court should
During the World War I era, the Supreme Court allowed the
government great latitude in suppressing criticism of the draft.
Examples include Schenck
, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) and Gilbert v.
, 254 U.S. 325 (1920). In subsequent decades,
however, the Court has taken a much broader view of the extent to
which advocacy speech is protected by the First
. Thus, in 1971 the Court held it unconstitutional for
a state to punish a man who entered a county courthouse wearing a
jacket with the words "Fuck the Draft" visible on it. Cohen v. California
, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
Nevertheless, protesting the draft by the specific means of burning
a draft registration card can be constitutionally prohibited,
because of the government's interest in prohibiting the "nonspeech"
element involved in destroying the card. United States v. O'Brien
, 391 U.S. 367
In 1981, several men filed lawsuit in the case Rostker v. Goldberg
, alleging that the
Military Selective Service Act violates the Due Process Clause
of the Fifth
by requiring that men only and not also women
register with the Selective Service System. The Supreme Court
upheld the act, stating that Congress's "decision to exempt women
was not the accidental byproduct of a traditional way of thinking
about women," that "since women are excluded from combat service by
statute or military policy, men and women are simply not similarly
situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft, and
Congress' decision to authorize the registration of only men
therefore does not violate the Due Process Clause," and that "the
argument for registering women was based on considerations of
equity, but Congress was entitled, in the exercise of its
constitutional powers, to focus on the question of military need,
rather than 'equity.'" Objectors stated that the majority of
military-roles were non-combat-related, however.
According to the Selective Service System,
- A conscientious objector is one who is opposed to serving in
the armed forces and/or bearing arms on the grounds of moral or
- Beliefs which qualify a registrant for CO status may be
religious in nature, but don't have to be. Beliefs may be moral or
ethical; however, a man's reasons for not wanting to participate in
a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest.
In general, the man's lifestyle prior to making his claim must
reflect his current claims.
The Supreme Court has ruled in cases United States v.
(1965) and Welsh v. United States
(1970) that conscientious objection can be by non-religious beliefs
as well as religious beliefs; but it has also ruled in Gillette
v. United States
(1971) against objections to
specific wars as grounds for conscientious objection.
There is currently no mechanism to indicate that one is a
conscientious objector in the Selective Service system. According
to the SSS, after a person is drafted, he can claim Conscientious Objector
then justify it before the Local Board. This is criticized because
during the times of a draft, when the country is in emergency
conditions, there could be increased pressure for Local Boards to
be more harsh on conscientious objector claims.
There are two types of status for conscientious objectors. If a
person only objects to combat but not to service in the military,
then the person could be given noncombatant service in the military
without training of weapons
. If they object
to all military service, then they could be given "alternative service
" with a job
"deemed to make a meaningful contribution to the maintenance of the
national health, safety, and interest".
Selective Service reforms
The Selective Service System has maintained that they have
implemented several reforms that would make the draft more fair and
Some of the measures they have implemented include:
- Before and during the Vietnam War, a young man could get a
deferment by showing that he was a full-time student making
satisfactory progress towards a degree; now deferment only lasts to
the end of the semester. If the man is a senior he can defer until
the end of the academic year.
- The government has said that draft boards are now more
representative of the local communities in areas such as race and
- A lottery system would be used to determine the order of people
being called up. Previously the oldest men who were found eligible
for the draft would be taken first. In the new system, the men
called first would be those who are or will turn 20 in the calendar
year or those whose deferments will end in the calendar year. Each
year after the man will be placed on a lower priority status until
his liability ends.
Because there has been no draft since 1973, it remains to be seen
how any future drafts would be conducted.
Perception of the draft as unfair
Some people feel that the draft is fundamentally unfair (or illegal
in a way) because only males must register with the Selective
Service. Many masculists
as well as
hold this view. For example, the
, a feminist organization, passed a resolution in 1980
opposing males-only draft registration as discriminatory, and the
American Civil Liberties
Women's Rights Project provided aid to the plaintiff in
the Supreme Court case Rostker
in which the plaintiff unsuccessfully challenged males-only draft
registration. Congress retains the right to conscript women and
considered doing so during the Second World War.
Other discriminating factors regarding conscription include age,
with a preference for younger draftees, and residency, since only
those in the U.S. may be drafted.
The draft has been perceived by some as unfairly targeting the poor
and lower middle classes. Because of college deferments, children
of wealthy and upper middle class families that could afford to
send them to college could avoid the draft. The fact that President
had been attending college
during the time period in which conscription was active and
received a collegiate deferment caused controversy during his
campaigns and during his time in office. Similar controversy has
surrounded prominent figures in the Bush Administration
, such as
and Paul Wolfowitz
During the Vietnam War some children of wealthy families wished to
avoid a perception of avoiding military service. Those individuals
often signed up for the National Guard
, which at the
time seldom sent troops overseas. The fact that some were able to
use their family's connections to gain a position when spots in the
Guard were limited also led to a perception that the wealthy were
using the National Guard to ensure that their children were
assigned low-risk duty in the U.S. Much as President Clinton's
obtainment of a deferment based on his attendance of college caused
controversy, President George W.
service in the National Guard
during the Vietnam War also attracted
during his election campaigns.
During the Vietnam Era it was often quite easy for those with some
knowledge of the system (or from guidance by draft counselors and
draft attorneys) to avoid being drafted, or to defend prosecutions
by submitting themselves to induction after indictment, and then
being found disqualified. A simple route, widely publicized, was to
get a medical rejection. This was possible because the draft laws
after World War II mandated that the medical standards for
conscription should not be less stringent than they were during the
war. However, advances in diagnostic medicine lead to a much larger
pool of young men being subject to disqualification. (Homosexuality
was also a disqualifying
condition, although most men did not wish to assert this status
during that era.) Men who received induction notices could often
manipulate where they were examined by showing up at induction
centers far away from their actual residences on the mandated date
for examination (either for a pre-induction physical or the
induction physical examination). It was advantageous to be examined
in induction centers adjacent to heavily populated metropolitan
areas, where it often was not worth the Army's time to dispute
One scene in a film that accurately captures the chaotic situation
in the lower Manhattan draft center where people slipped through
the cracks is in "Alice's
." In this case the young man was rejected for having
a criminal record (for littering). Conversely the poor and
uneducated were often conscripted without any understanding of how
to escape the system. However, many law schools, notably Harvard
University, had draft counseling centers where law students
helped young men in poorer areas assert their rights and seek
exemptions from induction.
U.S. Representative Charles Rangel
argued in 2004 that poor men were far more apt to enlist for
military service. He called for a reinstatement of the draft to
ensure service in the Iraq War
equally among the rich and poor. After the November 2006 elections,
Rangel again suggested the draft be renewed, this time because he
thought it was less likely that a democracy with conscription would
engage in pre-emptive wars such as the current American military
involvement in Iraq.
The provisions for conscientious objection to the draft have also
been viewed as unfairly discriminatory, favoring religious
objection over non-religious objection. Alternative mandatory
service can assuage objections based on peace and non-violence but
does nothing for those whose objections arise from strongly held
convictions about freedom.
Conscription controversies since 2003
No attempt to reinstate conscription, since the effort to enforce
Selective Service registration law was abandoned in 1986, has been
able to attract much support in the legislature or among the
public. However since early 2003, when the Iraq War appeared
imminent, there have been attempts through legislation
and through campaign rhetoric
to begin a new public conversation on the topic.
congressmen (Charles Rangel of New
York, James McDermott of Washington, John Conyers of
Michigan, John Lewis of Georgia, Pete Stark of California, Neil Abercrombie
of Hawaii) introduced
would draft both men and women into either military or civilian
government service, should there be a draft in the future.
majority leadership suddenly considered the bill, nine months after
its introduction, without a report from the Armed Services
(to which it had been referred), and just one month
prior to the 2004 presidential and
. The Republican leadership used an
that would have required a two-thirds vote
for passage of the bill. The
bill was defeated on October 5, 2004, with two members voting for
it and 402 members voting against.
In 2004 the platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties
opposed military conscription, but neither party moved to end draft
registration. John Kerry
in one debate
criticized Bush's policies, "You've got stop-loss policies
so people can't get out
when they were supposed to. You've got a backdoor draft right
This statement was in reference to the Department of Defense use of
"stop-loss" orders, which have extended the Active Duty periods of
some military personnel. All enlistees, upon entering the service,
volunteer for a minimum eight-year Military Service Obligation
(MSO). This MSO is split between a minimum active duty period,
followed by a reserve period where enlistees may be called back to
active duty for the remainder of the eight years. Some of these
active duty extensions have been for as long as two years. The
Pentagon stated that as of August 24, 2004, 20,000 soldiers,
sailors, airmen, and Marines had been affected. As of January 31,
2006 it has been reported that more than 50,000 soldiers and
reservists had been affected.
Despite arguments by defense leaders that they had no interest in
reinstituting the draft, Representative Neil Abercrombie's (D-HI)
inclusion of a DOD memo in the Congressional Record which detailed
a meeting by senior leaders signalled renewed interest. Though the
conclusion of the meeting memo did not call for a reinstatement of
the draft, it did suggest Selective Service Act modifications to
include registration by women and self-reporting of critical skills
that could serve to meetmilitary, homeland defense, and
humanitarian needs. This hinted at more targeted draft options
being considered, perhaps like that of the “Doctor Draft” that
began in the 1950s to provide nearly 66% of the medical
professionals need by the Army in Korea. Once created this manpower
tool continued to be through 1972. The meeting memo gave DOD’s
primary reason for opposing a draft as matters of cost
effectiveness and efficiency. Draftees with less than two years
retention were said to be a drain on military resources without
providing much commensurate benefit.
Mentions of the draft during the presidential campaign led to a
resurgence of anti-draft and draft resistance organizing. One poll
of young voters in October 2004 found that 29% would resist if
In November 2006, Representative Charles Rangel again called for
the draft to be reinstated.Speaker of
the House Nancy Pelosi
On December 19, 2006, President George
announced that he was
considering sending more troops to Iraq. The next day, the
Selective Service System's director for operations and chief
information officer, Scott Campbell, announced plans for a
"readiness exercise" to test the system's operations in 2009, for
the first time since 1998.
December 21, 2006, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, when asked by
a reporter whether the draft should be reinstated to make the
military more equal, said, "I think that our society would benefit
from that, yes sir."
Nicholson proceeded to relate his
experience as a company commander in an infantry unit which brought
together soldiers of different socioeconomic backgrounds and
education levels, noting that the draft "does bring people from all
quarters of our society together in the common purpose of serving."
Nicholson later issued a statement saying he does not support
reinstating the draft.
10, 2007, with National Public
Radio on "All Things Considered," Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, National Security Adviser to the President
and Congress for all matters pertaining to the United States Military efforts in
Iraq and Afghanistan, expressed support for a draft to alleviate the
stress on the Army's all-volunteer force.
He cited the fact
that repeated deployments place much strain upon one soldier's
family and himself which, in turn, can affect retention.
A similar bill to Rangel's 2003 one was introduced in 2007, called
National Service Act of 2007
(H.R. 393), but it has not
received a hearing or been scheduled for consideration.
Conscription has been used nationally only to provide men to the
military. The most common form of compulsory civilian service in
the U.S. is the much shorter obligation of jury duty
Mandatory public service of a non-military nature is required as
part of the high school curriculum in many school districts across
the nation. Since 1992, the state of Maryland has required a total of 75 hours of
"developmentally appropriate service-learning activities" over the
course of grades 6 through 12.
Each county in the state of
Maryland makes its own requirement for the amount of community
service a student has to complete to graduate from high
Mandatory full-time service on a national scale has been proposed
many times and was backed by, for example, Dwight D. Eisenhower
. Recent proposals have been
modeled after the Americorps
necessarily much larger in scale when made mandatory. Robert Litan
of the Brookings Institution
estimates the cost for a program of one year for all high school
graduates at $25 billion.
The Selective Service (and the draft) in the United States is not
limited to citizens. Howard Stringer
was drafted in 1965, six weeks after arriving from his native
Britain. Today, non-citizen males of appropriate age in the United
States, who are permanent residents
(holders of Green Cards), seasonal agricultural workers, refugees
, parolees, asylees, and even illegal immigrants
are required to register with the Selective Service System. Refusal
to do so is grounds for denial of a future citizenship application.
In addition, immigrants who seek to naturalize
as citizens must, as part of the
Oath of Citizenship, swear to the following:
... that I will bear arms on behalf of the United
States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant
service in the armed forces of the United States when required by
the law; that I will perform work of national importance under
civilian direction when required by the law;
The USCIS website also states however:
In some cases, USCIS allows the oath to be taken
without the clauses:
". . .that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when
required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the
Armed Forces of the United States when required by law...."
Non-citizens who serve in the United States military enjoy several
naturalization benefits which are unavailable to non-citizens who
do not, such as a waiver of application fees. Permanent resident
aliens who die while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces may be
naturalized posthumously, which may be beneficial to surviving
- John W. Chambers, II, ed. in chief, The Oxford Companion to
American Military History (Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN
- Chambers, The Oxford Companion to American Military
- Escott, Paul. Military Necessity: Civil-Military Relations in
the Confederacy. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International,
- Morris, Brett. (2006). The Effects of the Draft on US Presidential
Approval Ratings during the Vietnam War, 1954-1975 ,
Doctoral dissertation, University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa).
- Flynn, G. (1985). Lewis B. Hershey, Mr. Selective
Service. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- Clifford, J., & Spencer, S. (1986). First Peacetime
Draft. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
- Selective Service System. (2003, May 27). Induction
Statistics. In Inductions (by year) from World War I Through the
End of the Draft (1973). Retrieved May 5, 2009.
- Chambers, J. (1987). To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to
Modern America. New York: Free Press.
- Hershey, L. (1960). Outline of Historical Background of
Selective Service and Chronology. (Available from Selective
Service System, 1724 F Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20435
- Selective Service System. (1953). Selective Service under the
1948 Act extended (212278-53-7). Washington, DC: U.S. Government
- Gallup, G. (1972). The Gallup Poll: Public opinion, 1935-1971
(Vol. 2). New York: Random House.
- Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Selective
Service System. (2004, February 19). Fast facts. In Effects of Marriage and Fatherhood on Draft
Eligibility. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
- Gilliam, R. (1982). The Peacetime Draft: Voluntarism to
Coercion. In M. Anderson (Ed.), The Military Draft: Selected
Readings on Conscription (pp. 97-116). Stanford, Calif.:
Hoover Institution Press. (Original work published 1968)
- O'Sullivan, J. & A. Meckler. (Eds.). (1974). The Draft
and Its Enemies: A Documentary History. Urbana, Ill.:
University of Illinois Press.
- Hershey, 1953
- House Committee on Appropriations Hearings, 1958.
- Chambers, J. (ed), 1987
- Flynn, G. (2000). The Draft, 1940-1973. Lawrence, KS:
University of Kansas Press.
- Useem, M. (1973). Conscription, Protest and Social
Conflict: The Life and Death of a Draft Resistance Movement.
New York: Wiley.
- Oi, W. (1982). The Economic Cost of the Draft. In M. Anderson
(Ed.), The Military Draft: Selected Readings on
Conscription (pp. 317-346). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution
- Angrist, J. (1991). The Draft Lottery and Voluntary Enlistment
in the Vietnam Era. Journal of the American Statistical
Association, 86(415), 584-595.
- Binkin, M., & Johnston, J. (1973), All-volunteer Armed
Forces: Progress, Problems, and Prospects, report by the Brookings
Institution prepared for the Senate Armed Services Committee, 93rd
Congress, First Session. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing
- Siu, H. (2004). The fiscal role of conscription in the U.S.
World War II. Unpublished manuscript.
- Useem, 1973
- Marmion, H. (1968). Selective Service: Conflict and
Compromise. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
- Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, 2004
- Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, The nation's
manpower revolution, 88th Cong., 2817 (1963) (testimony of Lewis B.
- Chambers, 1987
- Kohn, S. (1986). Jailed for Peace: The History of American
Draft Law Violations, 1658-1985. Westport, CT: Greenwood
- Chambers, J. (Ed.). (1999). The Oxford Companion to
American Military History.
- Reeves, T. & Hess, K. (1970). The End of the
Draft. New York: Random House.
- pp. 396–397.
- pp. 264–266.
- pp. 40–41.
- Selective Service
- What Happens if I Don't Register?
- Prosecutions of Draft Registration Resisters
- Bill to ease Selective Service requirement stalled
about Health Care Workers and the Draft
- Proposed Health care personnel delivery System
(HCPDS), 54 Federal Register, 33644-33654, August 15,
- Roger A. Lalich, Health care personnel delivery System: Another
Draft?(archived from the original on 2007-07-10).
- Arver v. United States, 245 U.S. 366
- Holmes v. United States, 391 U.S. 936
- Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47
- Gilbert v. Minnesota
- Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15
- United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367
- Rostker v. Goldberg, Cornell Law School,
retrieved 26 December 2006.
- Selective Service System: Fast Facts
- United States v. Seeger
- Welsh v. United States
- Gillette v. United States
- Prosecutions of Draft Registration Resisters
- AlterNet: War on Iraq: Firing Back
- Stop-loss used to retain 50,000 troops |
- Congressional Record. 108th Cong., 2d sess., 2004. Vol. 150,
No. 130: E1938.
- Salyer, J. (1954, April 26). Training of medical officers. In
Medical Science Publication 4, Recent Advances in Medicine and Surgery (19-30
April 1954): Based on Professional medical experiences in Japan and
Korea 1950-1953 (chap.2). Retrieved May 5, 2009.
Registration, Draft Resistance, the Military Draft, and the Medical
Draft in the USA
- Newsweek Poll: Youth Vote Shows Bush, Kerry
Neck-and-Neck (47% for Kerry, 45% for Bush); But Kerry's Lead Grows
Among Likely Voters (52% to 42%)
- CNN November 2006
- abc7.com: U.S. Testing National Draft Readiness
- VA Head: Draft Beneficial to Society, Veterans
Affairs Secretary Says Military Draft Beneficial, but He Doesn't
Support It - CBS News
- FOXNews.com - Bush War Adviser Supports Considering
a Military Draft - Politics | Republican Party | Democratic Party |
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(archived from the original on 2008-01-14).
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CITIZENSHIP, July 30, 2003, The Brookings Institution.
(archived from the original on 2006-03-05).
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buys Tinseltown dream." The Independent, 18 September
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Independent, 21 March 2005.
Service System - Who Must Register
- USCIS Home Page
- The ABC’s of Immigration: Military Service - March 29,
- Halstead, Fred. GIs Speak out against the War: The Case of
the Ft. Jackson 8. 128 pages. New York: Pathfinder