Thursday, 16 January 2020

Should we be worried about a possible military draft?

Earlier this month, sabre-rattling and threats of further escalation of the war between the US and Iran led to widespread fear that the reinstatement of military conscription might be imminent. Those fears were reinforced by a wave of fake induction notices sent by text messaging to potential draftees’ cellphones.

Are fears of a new military draft justified? Was any of this a surprise? What can we learn from this episode?

The Selective Service System’s Web site reportedly crashed under a 450% increase in traffic, although the Director of the SSS, former Washington state legislator and Trump state campaign chair Don Benton, claimed in a later interview that it had still been responding to some inquiries, although slowly. If — which is supposedly designed specifically to be used in a crisis when the draft is activated — can’t handle even a five-fold spike in traffic, what does that say about SSS preparedness for an actual draft?

On January 3rd, my own Web site about the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance had over 50,000 unique visitors, about fifty times its daily norm. The most common search engine queries bringing visitors to my site included, “how to not get drafted”, “is there going to be a draft”, “will there be a draft”, and “how to get out of the draft”. Young men register for the draft becuase it is required in order to get Federal financial aid for college, or because in some states (although not in California) it is required in order to get a drivers license. But having registered with the Selective Service System doesn’t mean they are willing to fight anyone the government tells them to fight. They don’t want to be drafted, and they will try to find ways to avoid being drafted.

The fake induction notice text messages should have been no surprise. I predicted them in my testimony (video clip from C-SPAN, transcript, more info) before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS) in April 2019:

Ms. Debra Wada [Vice-Chair of the NCMNPS for Selective Service issues]: Mr. Hasbrouck, yesterday the director of Selective Service testified that they also collect now phone numbers and email addresses. So, the question or the concern that you had about getting the right mailing address, is that sort of alleviated in some way or does that not have any impact at all?

Mr. Edward Hasbrouck: It would not have any meaningful impact at all. The only use of the registration database is to deliver an induction notice. The criteria of success is, when you send out a certified letter to that address, either does the person report for induction or do you get back a signature on the return receipt matching a registration record that provides sufficient evidence to prosecute the person if they don’t show up for induction. I would not think that you would find a U.S. attorney who would be prepared to go into court and try and convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that somebody was guilty of willful refusal to report for induction on the basis of, “We sent him a text message,” or, “We made a phone call,” or, “We sent him an e-mail.”

In the event of an actual draft, you would have millions of hoax and fraud and scam and identity theft fake induction notices going out by e-mail and text messages and all of those other means, and people presumably being told [by the government] that the only ones that are meaningful are the certified letters. And on the other side, the first message people would get [from opponents of the draft] would be, “If you don’t want to be drafted, don’t sign for any certified letters from the Selective Service. Wait until they send the FBI door-to-door to round you up.” Which is why you would end up having to use FBI agents as press gangs, which is exactly what proved so costly back in the 1980s that the Department of Justice in 1988 decided that this was a waste of effort, too resource intensive, and that they weren’t going to even try to investigate or prosecute any of these cases anymore.

The Selective Service System would have to rely on the U.S. Postal Service to verifiably deliver induction notices. Other means of communication such as text messages, phonbe calls, and e-mail messages are unverifiable and easily spoofed, as was already obvious and as last week’s events make clear. But because so many young adults change their addresses without notifying the Selective Service System, most cetrtified letters sent to draftees would be returned as undeliverable. It’s because the Selective Service System’s database lacks the accruate address information that would be needed to verifiably deliver induction notices — the sole purpose for which the database is maintained — that even the former Director of the Selective Service System, Bernie Rostker, told the NCMNPS last April that draft registration should be ended: “The current system of registration is ineffective and frankly less than useless. It does not provide a comprehensive nor an accurate database upon which to implement conscription.” Rostker isn’t alone among conservative, pro-military critics of draft registratrion: This week the Orange County Register editorialized, “Abolish the Selective Service System… It’s time to end Selective Service registration.”

In an interview late last month, the Chair of the NCMNPS, Army Reserve Brigadier General Joe Heck, talked about wanting to change the registration process to make registrants more aware that, when they register with the Selective service System, they are making a commitment to go into the military if they are ordered to do so. But this week, when the threat of war made registrants think about whether they might be drafted, government officials reversed course. Both Selective Service Director Benton and NCMNPS Vice-Chair for Selective Service issues Debra Wada claimed that no serious consdieration was being given to activating a draft.

In reality, however, contingency planning and preparation for a draft (either a general draft of young men or a draft of health care workers or other people with special skills, including older men and women) is the sole reason for the existence of the Selective Service System. And whether to bring back the draft, in one form or another, is exactly what Ms. Wada and the other members of the NCMNPS have been ordered by Congress to consider:

The Commission shall consider — (1) the need for a military selective service process, including the continuing need for a mechanism to draft large numbers of replacement combat troops;

The NCMNPS has remained secretive about its deliberations and what it may recommend in its public report this March, and has recently revised the estimated date for its response to several of my year-old FOIA requests to 1 March 2020. Government and military officials and representatives of pro-war think tanks were unable, under questioning by the NCMNPS, to come up with any scenarios for the sort of war that would require a draft. Yet they called on the NCMNPS to recommend continuation of Selective Service registration and contingency planning and preparedness for a draft. As I discuss in an article in the current issue of Fifth Estate magazine, their arguments for continuation of draft registration show why it matters and why it’s so important to end it.

Meanwhile, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has tentatively decided to hold oral argument on the government’s appeal of the District Court decision last year that the current requirement for men but not women to register for the draft is unconstitutional the week of March 2, 2020, probably in New Orleans, with the exact time and date to be set later. If Congress does nothing, and the Court of Appeals upholds the District Court decision (as seems likely), registration will be ended by court order, but the lifetime penalties for past nonregistration may continue.

As long as Selective Service registration and contingency planning for a military draft continue, young people, health care workers, and others with skills wanted by the military are right to be worried about being drafted. Congress will consider the recommendations of the NCMNPS and related pending legislation later this year after or in 2021. Tell Congress to repeal the Military Selective Service Act and end draft registration.

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 16 January 2020, 07:04 ( 7:04 AM)

"Stop calling: Nation has no good reason to keep draft registration" (Editorial, Brownsville [TX] Herald, 19 January 2020):

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 19 January 2020, 18:34 ( 6:34 PM)

I think a potential draft could/would be fought and viewed as a massive human rights violation in this day and age. It would be interesting to see the push and pull in comparison to the protests in the 60s/70s.

Posted by: Michael Osei, 4 February 2020, 19:21 ( 7:21 PM)
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