Back in the 1980s, the US government put me and eight other then-young men in prison for refusing to agree to fight on the side of the people who would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Now members of Congress are talking about possibly extending draft registration to women.
Are they smoking crack? Anyone who thinks they can wave their wand or their cheerleader's baton and magically make every 18-25 year old woman in the USA march down to the Post Office and sign up to kill or die on command is lost in a naive and anachronistic military fantasy-land. They ignore both the lessons of the history of draft registration since 1980 and the likelihood of massive resistance by young women.
Massive, spontaneous, unorganized grassroots noncompliance has rendered draft registration of men unenforceable since its resumption (after a brief post-Vietnam hiatus) in 1980, despite a brief and unsuccessful (for the government round of show trials in the 1980s. Noncompliance will render any attempt to get women to register equally unenforceable. Women can (and some do) fight. But women also can (and many will) resist. There is certainly no reason to think that young women will be more willing to agree to be drafted than young men have been.
Proponents of draft registration need to face the facts, and recognize that, whether they like it or not, draft registration has failed. It's long past time to end draft registration entirely and abolish the Selective Service System.
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Since 1980, all male US citizens and most other male US residents have been required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday, and notify the SSS each time they change their residence until their 26th birthday. Draft registration is one of the ways that all young men (and possibly soon young women as well) have to interact with the military and think about their relationship to military “service”.
The Selective Service System includes:
The SSS maintains and regularly tests contingency plans for a general "cannon fodder" draft of young men (based on the current SSS list of registrants) and/or a separate Health Care Personnel Delivery System, like the "doctor draft" during some previous U.S. wars, of men and women up to age 44 in 57 medical and related occupations (based on professional licensing lists). These plans could be activated at any time that Congress decides to reinstate either or both forms of a draft.
Few young men comply fully with the draft registration law. Knowing and willful refusal to comply is a crime, but nobody has been prosecuted since 1986. To convict anyone of draft resistance, the government would have to prove that they knew they were required to register. This would be difficult unless someone has told the government, or said publicly, that they are deliberately refusing to register. In practice, there is no penalty for late registration, as long as you register before your 26th birthday, and no attempt at all to enforce the address change notice requirement. Many, perhaps most, induction notices sent to the addresses in SSS records would be undeliverable, or would be delivered to registrants' parents' homes (or former homes), rather than to the intended draftees.
Most young men who register with the SSS do so only when it is required as a condition of some other Federal or state government program. Men who haven’t register for the draft are ineligible for Federal student financial aid, Federal jobs, and some other Federal benefits. In some states, men of draft age are required to register with the SSS in order to obtain a driver's license, or are automatically registered with the SSS (sometimes without even realizing it) when they get a driver's license. Male immigrants of draft age must register with the SSS before they can be naturalized as U.S. citizens.
In 1981, the Supreme Court upheld requiring only men and not women to register for a draft. The court based its decision on deference to the military policy which, at that time, excluded women from combat assignments. Now that this policy has changed, it is likely that continued registration of men but not women will be found unconstitutional. Congress will soon have to decide whether to expand draft draft registration to young women as well as young men, or to end draft registration entirely.
Lawsuits against male-only draft registration are working their way through the courts. Meanwhile, Congress is conducting its most serious debate about the draft and draft registration in many years. Different bills have been introduced in Congress that would extend draft registration to women, end draft registration entirely and abolish the SSS, or attempt to restore the previous exclusion of women from military combat assignments and preserve male-only draft registration. Any of these bills could be taken up for debate and vote at any time, possibly with little further warning.
In 2016, as Congress debates whether to extend draft registration to women or end draft registration entirely, the draft and draft registration, for both women and men, are bipartisan issues. Bills to extend draft registration to women have been introduced by both Democrats (H.R. 1509) and Republicans (H.R. 4478), and questions about whether women should be required to register have been asked in both Democratic and Republican Presidential primary debates.
Some Republican candidates have said that draft registration should be extended to women, others that it should be retained for men only. As a member of the House in 1994, Bernie Sanders voted to end draft registration. Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton have said during the 2016 campaign that they support the "all-volunteer" military and oppose a draft. But so far as I have been able to determine, neither Sanders, Clinton, nor Donald Trump has said what they would do about draft registration for men or for women, or propose that Congress do, if they are elected.
H.R. 4523, a bill to end draft registration entirely, abolish the Selective Service System, and repeal the Federal "Solomon Amendments" linking draft registration to Federal student aid, job training, and other programs has also been introduced in the House by a bipartisan group of sponsors. So far as I know, no Presidential candidate from either major party has endorsed H.R. 4523 or said that they would support ending draft registration.
If Congress takes no action, Federal courts are likely to rule that the current requirement for men but not women to register is unconstitutional, and prohibit enforcement of that male-only requirement. One of the lawsuits challenging male-only draft registration was reinstated by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on 19 February 2016, and further hearings in that case will be heard in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles within the next few months.
We oppose both the draft and draft registration, for women or for men. We support legislation such as H.R. 4523 to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System; we support continued resistance to draft registration as long as it remains the law; and we support resistance to any attempt to reinstate the draft or compulsory national service.
We support all those who resist the draft, draft registration, "Selective Service", the "Health Care Personnel Delivery System" (medical draft), or compulsory national service. We support you in your acts of resistance, regardless of your motives.
But since we are often asked, "Why do you resist?", or "Why do you resist draft registration, when there is no draft?", here are some of our reasons, and the events and thinking behind them:
Draft resistance is a diverse movement and a largely spontaneous grassroots phenomenon, not an organization with an agreed-upon ideology. There are many equally good and sufficient reasons why different people resist draft registration. I have my own reasons for having refused to register for the draft and for believing that it's time to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System. (The US government put me in prison for refusing to agree to fight on the side of the people who would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Do I need to say more about why I refused?) But as I said, your motives may vary.
Military conscription under the "Selective Service System" in the USA would enslave some people (but not others), to fight, try to kill, and perhaps be killed by other people. Some people oppose this system because we oppose slavery. Some people oppose this system because we oppose war, or because we oppose the particular wars for which a draft might be used. Some people oppose this system because we oppose the ways that people are or would likely be selected (on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, education, etc.). Some people oppose the Selective Service System for all or some combination of these reasons, and/or for other reasons.
In recent years, there have been periodic calls for a return to military conscription in the U.S.A. Some have advocated a draft, explicitly or implicitly, as part of various compulsory "national service" schemes. Others have argued that a draft would be more fair than the "poverty draft" relied on by recruiters for the present "volunteer" military, or that more people would oppose war if they feared that they or their family members might be drafted.
Some politicians speak of "universal service." This amounts to the same thing, of course: No such scheme could or would be "universal" unless it was compulsory, with penalties for non-participation. Compelled or coerced labor is conscription, not voluntary service, regardless of the purpose for which people are conscripted or the work they are forced to do. Work for the military is "service" neither to our interests nor to those of humanity. We urge these politicians to make clear that their calls for public and community service are calls for genuine volunteerism (not the "volunteerism" of the current economically-coerced "volunteer" military) and to dissociate voluntary service proposals from any form of legal or financial coercion or linkage with military enlistment or military training.
Representative Rangel, the sponsor of the most recent proposal for military conscription to be voted on (and voted down) by Congress, has said that "I don't see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft." But, like a substantial majority of the American people, we support neither the present war(s) nor the draft. A draft would be "needed" for the same reason that military recruiters are having difficulty meeting their quotas: because a war is so unpopular that the people are unwilling to fight it, even when lured by bribes (enlistment bonuses), lies, and recruiter fraud. Rather than find ways to force the unwilling to fight unpopular wars, we should find ways to end or withdraw from those wars.
That bills to reinstate a military draft continue to be introduced regularly in Congress, even if they have received little overt support in recent years, shows the importance of continued resistance to draft registration, and continued readiness -- by young people, health care workers, and all pacifists and other peace activists, particularly those who believe in the power of the people as exercised through nonviolent direct action -- to resist any attempt to reinstate a draft.
We share Rep. Rangel's concern for the racist targetting of poor people and people of color -- those with the fewest other options -- by military recruiters. It is a dramatic sign of social failure that, for many people, joining the armed forces seems like the only path to financial security, personal growth, empowerment, and a sense of self-worth and belonging to a community. But poor people, people of color, and undocumented immigrants are also those who are least likely to have registetred for the draft, according to surveys commissioned by the Selective Service System.
We urge Rep. Rangel, President Obama, and others concerned with these problems, to focus their attention on investigation and oversight of recruiting practices, and on creating alternatives to the military and to militarism (such as non-military vocational, violence reduction, and conflict resolution training, with financing that doesn't leave participants saddled with debt), rather than on trying to enlarge the pool of those subject to the abuses of the military.
Rep. Rangel, and others, also have suggested that a threat to conscript the children of members of Congress and other older people of wealth and power would induce them to take action to stop the war(s), out of fear for their children's lives. As pacifists, we reject this argument completely: It is tantamount to arguing that we should use the children of the rich as human shields against war, or that we should kidnap the children of people in power, hold them hostage, and ransom them for peace. And it would impose on potential draftees the burden of their elders' errors in making war -- which is unfair, ageist, and speaks directly to the ageism (of a draft enacted by all ages, but which imposes obligations exclusively on the young) that is one of the reasons that a draft of young people is wrong in the first place. The same goes for the argument that a draft would mobilize people to speak out against war(s). Yes, many people -- both those subject to the draft and others such as their families and loved ones -- would oppose any attempt to reinstate a draft. But it would make no sense for us to support a draft now, in order to encourage others to oppose it later. Rather, we encourage all those who oppose the draft to speak out, and to express their opposition to the draft in their actions, now, as early in the conscription process as possible.
In response to Rep. Rangel's previous similar proposals, both Democrats and Republican leaders in Congress have claimed that there is no chance that they will enact a draft. But they have continued to authorize, fund, and maintain draft registration, the Selective Service System, and contingency planning for both a general draft and activation of the Health Care Personnel Delivery System. We urge Congress: (1) to repeal the Military Selective Service Act and Presidential authority to order draft registration, (2) to abolish the Selective Service System, and (3) to defund and forbid contingency planning by the military or any other Federal agency for any form of draft.
Times have changed. These are not the 1960's, and this is not the Vietnam War. Today's young people have grown up with the legacy of Watergate, in an era in which it is taken for granted that the government must justify to the people its demands on their lives.
(This is not a Web site about the war in Vietnam, or about the resistance to it, but I can't help mentioning David Harris' brilliant book, "Our War: What We Did In Vietnam and What It Did to Us"; John Bach's extraordinary unpublished collection of letters from prison, submitted as his undergraduate honors thesis when he returned to college after his imprisonment, and available for reading in the special collections section of the Wesleyan University library in Middletown, CT; the documentary film about the most famous draft resister of that (and perhaps any) time, The Trials of Muhammad Ali; and the documentary film about the organized Resistance currently in production, The Boys Who Said No. These are only the tip of the iceberg of the literature of the Resistance. Resisters came from many backgrounds, and have contextualized their resistance within circles some of which have only small areas of intersection.)
When draft registration was reinstated for young men in 1980, following a five-year hiatus, President Obama was in one of the first cohorts required to register. Obama later wrote about the campus anti-draft organization at Columbia for the student newspaper, and may have attended a talk about nonregistration given by my friend and comrade in draft resistance organizing, Matt Meyer, at a meeting organized by the Columbia Students Against Militarism in November 1982, at one of the peaks of publicity about prosecutions of nonregistrants.
President Obama says he registered, but the response by his peers was dramatically different than the response to the previous Vietnam-era draft and registration system had been. Opposition was immediate. Less than a month after President Carter proposed to resume draft registration, the Princeton University student newspaper, whose editorial board was chaired by current Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan, endorsed an "anti-registration, anti-draft, anti-war" rally in these terms:
[M]yopic and over-sensitive "national pride" precludes the thoughtful search for alternatives to an unnecessary draft registration. At today's noon rally ... Princeton students can demonstrate that they view [draft] registration as a dangerous and unacceptable method of settling our current problems.
Some have argued that registration can be separated from the possibility of draft and of war.... We do not believe this is so. The threat of a military force is implicit in draft registration.
At stake is not simply the adoption of Carter's proposal -- although it is, in itself, something we deeply oppose. After all, the rally is not just for the 19- and 20-year-olds recently pinpointed for registration. We should also demonstrate against the proposal because it is a manifestation of a growing militarism in which politically motivated bravado plays too large a part.
We urge all students to attend the anti-registration rally ... today. By showing concern, we can impress upon our leaders our opposition to their unreasonable, militarist policies.
More than a million potential draftees born in 1960 and 1961 opted out by boycotting the initial mass registration periods. The rate of compliance with draft registration declined after that, even when the government mounted well-publicized show trials of a few of the "most vocal" registration resisters, who it was able to single out and convict on the basis of their public statements (and after personally serving them with notice of another "final" chance to register without penalty).
The government's enforcement strategy was spelled out in a memo drafted by David J. Kline, Senior Legal Advisor in the Department of Justice, and sent over the signature of his boss, Lawrence Lippe, Chief of the General Litigation and Legal Advice Section of the Criminal Division of the DOJ, to Assistant Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen on 11 January 1982:
The total number of nonregistrants will doubtless remain very high when measured against the Department's prosecutive resources. However, an initial round of well-publicized, successful prosecutions should have a dramatic effect in further reducing the number of non-registrants....We first would have to accept the simple fact that, although some persons will be prosecuted, there will be others who are neither registered nor prosecuted. Nevertheless, such a policy, geared to present funding levels, might well yield sufficient general deterrence so that the Selective Service system receives sufficient registrations to maintain the credibility of the system.
The show trial backfired. Nonregistrants came to learn that only those who spoke out would be, or could be, prosecuted, and that the government was powerless to round up the millions of people who were violating the law. Mass nonviolent direct action provided, and continues to provide, safety in numbers for draft registration resisters.
There were also mass demonstrations and other nonviolent actions against the draft and draft registration, including marches and rally in Washington, DC, and San Francisco, CA, against draft registration by several tens of thousands of people on 22 March 1980, and a blockade of the headquarters of the Selective Service System in Washington, DC, on 18 October 1982. A nonregistrant who was later one of those prosecuted, Rusty Martin, was one of the speakers at the rally for nuclear disarmament in Central Park in New York City on 12 June 1982 by more than a million people -- the largest single political gathering in one place in U.S. history. There were demonstrations in hundreds of cities and towns throughout the U.S. in June 1982 in response to the first indictment of a nonregistrant, that of Ben Sasway in San Diego.
Throughout more than 30 years since then, resistance to draft registration has been sustained -- almost entirely by spontaneous individual action, and in the absence of any ongoing draft resistance organizing or propaganda -- at levels far exceeding the resistance to the draft at the peak of the American Wars in Vietnam and Indochina.
Unable to get young people to register voluntarily, the Selective Service System has tried to shift to a system of "passive" registration. At the urging of lobbyists for the Selective Service System, some states require young men to agree to be registered with the Selective Service System if they want obtain a state's license. Most of those who register in other states do so in order to qualify for student loans, government jobs, or job training, or in order to protect their immigration status and eligibility for U.S. citizenship. (All male U.S. residents are required to register for the draft, including non- citizens).
The shift from predominantly grant-based funding for higher education and vocational training in the 1960's and 1970's to predominantly loan-based funding in the 1980's and after roughly coincided with the reinstatement of draft registration, with which it has since been linked. It has served to channel loan recipients into needing higher-paying jobs to pay off their debts, and to make it more difficult for them to choose unpaid or underpaid public service work. This is a major reason why, despite the continued interest of young people in activism, it is harder for them to choose lower-income careers today than it was for those in the 1960's who typically graduated from college with minimal, if any, debt. In today's circumstances, few people who want to further their education feel they have much choice about whether to register for the draft (although they do have a choice, and we urge them to exercise that choice), and their registration is no indication of their willingness to be drafted. Many more people would resist if they were drafted than are willing to risk negative consequences (including forgoing Federal student loans) for resistance at the time of registration.
Almost no one complies with the legal requirement to notify the Selective Service System of address changes until a man reaches age 26. We presume that, like almost all his peers, President Obama himself violated this law, although he may have done so unknowingly, couldn't have been prosecuted without proof of knowledge of the law, and could no longer be prosecuted or penalized, even if he now admitted knowingly breaking the law, since the statute of limitations for either nonregistration or failure to report address changes expires on one's 31st birthday.
Most registrants have effectively "unregistered" by moving without telling the Selective Service System where they have gone, and most induction notices would end up in the dead letter office. That will make it even harder for the government to try to crack down on those who haven't registered, or who refuse to report for induction, since the government must prove to a jury that anyone accused of a draft law violation actually got a notice of what they were supposed to do (register, report address changes, or report for induction).
Today, draft registration resistance, and the inevitable intensified resistance to any renewed draft, are not mere "protest". They have proven to be an effective nonviolent tactic of direct action that has rendered draft registration unenforceable and would prevent any draft from being effective or enforceable.
The question is not whether Congress, the Pentagon, or the President "want" a draft, or believe it is "necessary" as a last resort. The question is whether a draft is possible or enforceable, and the clear answer provided by the history of more than 30 years of continuing massive noncompliance with Selective Service registration is, "No". A draft is simply not possible. It will be resisted, and it will be unenforceable.
The power to make that decision on whether there will be a draft rests with the people, not the Congress. This is a statement of fact, supported by history, not a threat: Young people won't go, and the government can't make them. We urge Congress, the Pentagon, and the President to recognize the impossibility of a draft, and to curtail their war plans accordingly. The draft is not an "option" for the US government, even as a last resort.
We congratulate those who have been subject to draft registration for their steadfast, spontaneous, courageous, and continuing defiance of the government's unsuccessful campaigns of lies, empty threats, show trials, and intimidation to try to scare them into compliance.
We urge health care workers, and others with special skills in particular demand by the military, to take encouragement from the successful resistance to reinstatement of a general draft, and to educate themselves and their communities, organize, speak out publicly, and prepare to resist any activation of the Health Care Personnel Delivery System or any other form of special skills draft. As with a general draft, there is safety, solidarity, and effectiveness in numbers, openness, and organization. Polls suggest that many health care workers would actively avoid being drafted, whether through legal or illegal means. We welcome and encourage that inclination towards resistance, which we believe would make a medical or special skills draft as unenforceable as a general draft.
We urge potential soldiers to reject both the carrot and the stick of military recruiting and conscription, and to refuse to be enlisted or to be inducted into any branch of the military or to work for the military as mercenaries or contractors.
Whether or not they have registered, we promise them our support and solidarity in their continued and enhanced resistance to any move to authorize or activate a draft or extend draft registration to additional categories of people -- whether that resistance takes the form of refusing to register, refusing to notify the Selective Service System of address changes, refusing to report for induction, refusing to be inducted, refusing to report for military duty, desertion, mutiny, refusing orders within the military, fraternization with the "enemy", or seeking sanctuary or asylum in other countries from participation in the military, participation in crimes against humanity, and participation in crimes against the laws of war.
[A somewhat shorter alternate version of this statement was adopted in June 2009 as the official position of the War Resisters League.]
There's been a lot of talk about the draft lately, but most of the recent reports have been written by people unfamiliar with the history of the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance during the 30+ years since the end of the Vietnam-era draft in the USA. This Web site will give you some of the facts that the Selective Service System won't tell you, that most reporters don't realize, and that most politicians don't want to acknowledge.
Draft registration in the USA was reinstated under President Carter in 1980, supposedly as part of the preparations for intervention by the USA in Afghanistan on the side of the Islamic fundamentalist warlords and mujahideen who were then fighting against the Soviet Union. The US government put me in prison for refusing to agree to fight on the side of the people who would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It's no wonder that people of my generation have no faith in the ability of the government of the USA to decide for us in which wars, or on which (if any) side, we should fight.
I was one of only 20 people prosecuted for draft resistance in the USA in the more than 35 years since the end of the Vietnam War draft and more than 30 years since the reinstatement of draft registration in 1980. Most of us were convicted, solely on the basis of our public statements (PDF) -- nonregistrants who kept quiet faced almost no real risk of prosecution, even then. I spent about 6 months in a Federal prison camp in 1983-1984.
(I was prosecuted by Robert Mueller, then a junior Assistant U.S. Attorney -- under then U.S. Attorney and later Governor William F. Weld, who also attended my trial to observe Mueller's performance in court -- and later the Director of the FBI. My case was Mueller's first high-profile trial, and my head was a significant early stepping stone in his political climb. While in prison, I was denounced as a yuppie in the pages of the New York Times by Rep. Gerald Solomon (sponsor of the laws denying Federal student aid, which I had never received anyway, to nonregistrants), for having taken the risk of speaking out about my resistance to the draft. Feel free to contact me directly if you want to talk to me about my choices and experiences, or the history of those prosecutions of draft resistance organizers.)
The brief wave of show trials of nonregistrants in 1982-1987 was explicitly intended to silence those like me whom the government considered the "most vocal" nonregistrants. Prosecutions served only to publicize and encourage the resistance (more than a million men defied or ignored the initial two start-up mass registration weeks for those born in 1960 and 1961), and any thought of further prosecutions was abandoned for good in 1988 when the Department of Justice refused to waste time investigating any more nonregistrants. Since then, the resistance has been almost completely spontaneous. As a grassroots movement of individual direct action, without leaders or organizations, it has also been almost entirely invisible. As a result, most recent reporting on the prospect of a draft has overlooked the significance of the ongoing resistance.
Since 1980, noncompliance with Selective Service registration and address update requirements has been sustained continuously at rates many times higher than the resistance at the peak of the Vietnam war or any earlier war or draft in the USA. Mass direct action (noncompliance with registration) has prevented, and continues to prevent, reinstatement of the draft, and has rendered registration completely unenforceable.
Some people dismiss the actions of millions of young people who have quietly ignored the requirement to register for the draft as presumably apolitical, insignificant, or "cowardly", or as draft "evasion" rather than draft "resistance". But such an analysis ignores the reality of political life and the risks of overt resistance for the poor people, people of color, and undocumented immigrants who make up the bulk of this ongoing but quiet resistance to draft registration.
The most detailed and explicit rebuttal to these erroneous assumptions about the significance of quiet resistance, the "hidden transcripts" of subaltern political thought and action, and their relationship with the "public transcripts" of overt resistance has been made by James C. Scott:
Much of the active political life of subordinate groups has been ignored because it takes place at a level we rarely recognize as political. To emphasize the enormity of what has been, by and large, disregarded, I want to distinguish between the open, declared forms of resistance, which attract most attention, and the disguised, low-profile undeclared resistance....
For many of the least privileged minorities and marginalized poor, open political action will hardly capture the bulk of political action.... The luxury of relatively safe, open political opposition is rare... So long as we confine our conception of the political to activity that is openly declared we are driven to conclude that subordinate groups essentially lack a political life.... To do so is to miss the immense terrain that lies between quiescence and [open] revolt and that, for better or worse, is the political environment of subject classes....
Each of the forms of disguised resistance... is the silent partner of a loud form of public resistance.
[Domination and the Arts of Resistance, Yale University Press, 1990, Chapter 7]
Desertion is quite different from an open mutiny that directly challenges military commanders. It makes no public claims, it issues no manifestos, it is exit rather than voice. And yet, once the extent of desertion becomes known, it constrains the ambitions of commanders, who know they may not be able to count on their conscripts.... Quiet, anonymous,... lawbreaking and disobedience may well be the historically preferred mode of political action for... subaltern classes, for whom open defiance is too dangerous.
[Two Cheers for Anarchism, Princeton University Press, 2012, Chapter 1]
Draft registration has failed, by any measure. Congress should repeal draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System. If it doesn't, the President could and should proclaim an end to draft registration. In the meantime, people potentially subject to the draft should continue to resist.
Most of those worried about their vulnerability to a draft are young men, and their friends and loved ones. But health care workers -- men and women of all ages -- are at much more imminent risk of a draft. According to one military doctor, writing in a 2004 medical journal article explaining Selective Service plans: "A physician draft is the most likely conscription into the military in the near future." Also in 2004, a Selective Service spokesperson said, "Talking to the manpower folks at the Department of Defense and others, what came up was that ... they thought that if we have any kind of a draft, it will probably be a special skills draft."
So the more immediate issue is not how soon the military might run short of cannon fodder, but how soon they might run short of doctors, nurses, and 57 other occupational categories of health care workers. The Selective Service plans for a Health Care Workers Personnel Delivery System (HCPDS) are quite different than those for a general draft, and could be implemented much more quickly than a general draft: health care workers would be drafted from professional licensing lists, eliminating the step of registration with Selective Service, and would be presumed already to be qualified. (Selective Service says that the HCPDS would, "Require minimal training for HCPDS draftees, because they are already skilled personnel.)
Most of the debate about the draft in recent years has been based on the assumption that whether there will be a draft will be up to Congress. But no matter what Congress or the Pentagon wants, a draft is possible only if would-be draftees are willing to comply voluntarily, or if the government has the power to enforce the draft. The clear evidence of the response to would-be draftees to registration over the last quarter century is that a draft would prompt such massive resistance that it could not be implemented without a police state, and maybe not even then.
According to the annual report of the Selective Service System, the SSS referred 146,997 names of suspected nonregistrants to the Department of Justice (DoJ) in Fiscal Year 2015. None of these nonregistrants were investigated or prosecuted by the DoJ.
In October 2004, the House of Representatives voted down a bill introduced by Rep. Rangel to immediately reinstate the draft. He reintroduced the same bill in 2007, although that time it didn't make it to a vote in the House. But just because Congress isn't voting for a general draft -- yet -- doesn't mean that both Republicans and Democrats won't vote for it (or at least for a special-purpose draft of health care workers) if and when their war policies lead them to a situation where they can't figure out any other way to get enough soldiers with specific skills. Tellingly, neither Republican nor Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (whose constituency in San Francisco has since 1991 declared itself a "sanctuary" for war resisters and forbidden local officials for cooperating in the enforcement of federal laws against war resistance), have yet tried to combine the vote against reinstatement of the draft the draft with any move to abolish the Selective Service System -- which is what they would do if they really were ruling out any future draft.
During the 2008 and 2012 Presidential campaigns, Barack Obama avoided taking any public position on Selective Service and the draft, or on how the national "service" he advocated could be "universal" without being compulsory. The day after his election, Obama's "Change.gov" Web site announced an agenda explicitly including compulsory national service for all high school and college students. That language was modified slightly a few days later, but Obama's first appointment, staff director Rahm Emanuel, has explicitly advocated mandatory Israeli-style universal (i.e. compulsory) national service including what he calls "basic training" for all young people in the USA. [More from my blog on Obama, McCain, and draft registration ("Selective Service").]
Although "Plan A" for Congress, the Pentagon, and probably the President is the poverty draft, "Plan B" for all of them remains conscription. For example, Rep. John Murtha, chair of the Subcommittee on Defense of the House Committee on Appropriations, said in late 2008 that "I voted against the all-volunteer army because I didn't think we could sustain a deployment in wartime without a draft.... We'll never be able to fight a conventional war where you have two fronts without a draft. You can't do it.... In a wartime, everybody ought to serve."
It's unclear how long they'll be able to rely on "volunteers". Enlistments and re-enlistments are falling short of the military's goals. Morale in the military is down. More and more soldiers are failing to report for active duty when called up, deserting, going AWOL, or requesting reassignment or discharge as conscientious objectors. "Stop-loss" measures to extend soldiers' terms are increasingly unpopular, and undercut recruiting. It's one thing to sign up for the National Guard or the reserves as a "weekend soldier", and something very different to sign up for 2 years in combat.
Only outsourcing and privatizing war-making to mercenaries and contractors (partly by using private "guards" and "security contractors" in combat roles, and partly by outsourcing non-combat support work to civilians, freeing a higher percentage of soldiers for combat) has enabled the military to continue the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this long, on this scale, without a draft.
There are many good reasons to resist the draft. Countering military recruiting, supporting and encouraging resistance within the military, opposing the hiring of mercenaries and the outsourcing of war-making to private contractors, and draft resistance can all be part of a nonviolent "people power" strategy to stop war by depriving the military of warriors.
Selective Service claims that compliance with draft registration exceeds 90 percent, but they count as "in compliance" every registration they receive, no matter how many years late and no matter whether they have current address information to draft the registrant. The majority of those subject to draft registration register late, often years after their prime draft eligibility, and almost none of them notify Selective Service when they move. The important measure of current compliance is, "For what percentage of would-be draftees in the prime ages does Selective Service have a current valid address, such that they could deliver an induction notice reliably?" Although Selective Service deliberately avoids researching this question, the likely figure is less than 50% -- far too low for a draft to be politically salable, or enforceable.
There has been no independent audit of compliance with draft registration since one by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in 1982, which resulted in a report entitled, with typical GAO understatement, "Failure Of Registrants To Report Address Changes Would Diminish Fairness Of Induction Processing". The most recent GAO report on Selective Service was in 2012, but it didn't attempt to investigate or verify compliance with registration. The GAO did, however, reiterate the belief of Selective Service System officials that at least 90% "compliance with registration is required for "fairness and equity" of a draft, while registrations were received for only 69% of 18-year old men. In its last previous report on Selective Service registration in 1996, the GAO had reported somewhat higher "compliance", but had noted the concern of the Selective Service System that compliance would be lower in time of war or national crisis. According to the GAO, "SSS officials stated that unless the mass registration program can achieve high levels of compliance (at least 90 percent of the targeted population), the fairness and equity of the ensuing draft could be called into question."
The most recent Selective Service "test exercises" have been for activation of the Health Care Personnel Delivery System, not for a draft based on the current registrations of young men. But when the SSS has conducted "tests" of its ability to carry out a general draft, it has assumed that all the test induction notices that weren't returned by the Post Office were successfully delivered to the potential draftees. That's absurd: in many cases, mail is still delivered to an old address even if the addressee has moved. That's especially true if other people with the same last name still live there, as is likely to be the case for many young people who registered at their parents' address, but who have since moved out.
The real question thus is not, "Will Congress enact a draft?", but, "Will would-be draftees submit to a draft?" The clear evidence is that they will not. As was the case during the first USA-Iraq war in 1989-1990, we still won't go (PDF). Draft resisters are often accused of being unrealistic, but those who believe that they have the power to impose a draft are deluding themselves and refusing to face the facts.
Selective Service assumes that all registrants are willing to report whenever and wherever they are called up, to fight and kill whomever they are told to kill. In reality, many registrants will resist if drafted. Others registered in the hope or expectation that they will qualify as conscientious objectors.
Many people registered only out of fear, and will report only if compelled to do so -- which will prove as impossible as compelling young men to register has proved. Others were registered involuntarily and essentially "passively", under state laws (passed in response to lobbying by Selective Service) that require draft-age applicants for state driver's licenses to consent to having their drivers-license information used to register them with the SSS. (California is the largest state without such a state law, although proposals for such a California law have been made repeatedly.) These people's registration status indicates nothing about their willingness to be drafted or the likelihood that they would resist a draft.
Still others have registered in order to qualify for Federal student loans, job training, government jobs, and other programs.
The safest course of action if you don't want to risk being drafted, but you also don't want to risk being penalized later in life for not having registered for the draft, is probably to wait until just before your 26th birthday, and register then.
In January 2009, a Federal District Court found that the so-called Solomon Amendment making draft registration a condition for Federal employment is an unconstitutional "bill of attainder" as applied to men 26 years or older, who are too old to be allowed to register. However, the District Court in an unusual step, reconsidered and reversed its decision in March 2010. That reversal was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011, and by the Supreme Court in 2012, with the Obama Administration steadfastly defending this provision of the Solomon Amendment. The District Court's reversal, and the decisions upholding it on appeal, were on purely procedurally grounds, leaving the Constitutionality of the law untested.
But whatever the courts decide about the Solomon Amendments for student aid and other programs, people who register solely in order to be able to afford to go to college, or to get or keep a job, can't be presumed to be willing to be drafted.
The ultimate decision on whether there will be a draft will be made by those who subject to an attempted draft, as they chose whether to comply. Should there be an attempt to reinstate the draft, I hope you find this information helpful in making those choices.
Latest updates from my blog:
When the Supreme Court upheld males-only draft registration in 1981, it based its decision on "deference" to the decisions of the Department of Defense and the Commander-In-Chief, at that time, not to assign women to any combat position. The facts underlying that Supreme Court decision have now changed with the announcement on 4 December 2015 that women in the military will be eligible for all combat jobs.
Several lawsuits again challenging males-only draft registration were filed as soon as the Pentagon announced that it would begin considering women for some combat positions in 2013. It's unclear which of these lawsuits, or which new one, will be the first one to be decided. But it's highly likely that males-only draft registration will be found unconstitutional. Such a court ruling would force Congress to choose whether to extend draft registration to women, or to let a court decision ending registration stand.
One of these lawsuits which had previously been dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, "National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System", was reinstated by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on 19 February 2016. This case is in the process of being "remanded" back to the District Court. The next procedural step could be more written briefing, or a written scheduling order from the District Court, or an in-person or telephone "status conference" in Los Angeles, any of which could occur in a couple of weeks to a couple of months.
Under current law, the courts can't order women to register. Nor can the President or the Pentagon, without action by Congress to change the law. So unless Congress extends the registration requirement to women, registration of men will have to end if courts find that it is illegally discriminatory. On the other hand, the current males-only draft registration could be ended by Presidential proclamation, by Congress, or by the Federal courts if they find that it is unconstitutional. On 27 April 2016, the House Armed Service Committee voted in favor of a proposal to amend the Military Selective Service Act to authorize the President to order women to register. That proposal is now working its way through Congress.
(Women are included in plans and preparations for a draft of health care workers. But the Selective Service Systems plans to rely on professional licensing lists as the basis for these induction orders, not to try to get doctors, nurses, and other medical workers to register. And nobody could actually be drafted under this or any other scheme without further action by Congress.)
Regardless of whether Congress or the President think that young women "should" be ready and willing to be drafted, the only realistic choice for Congress is not to extend draft registration to women, but to end it for all.
Congress could enact a law extending draft registration to women. But draft registration isn't self-implementing. Extending registration to women would require getting women to comply with the law, and enforcing the law if they don't do so voluntarily.
Is there any reason to think that young women would be more willing to sign up to be drafted than young men have been? I doubt it. When President Carter announced his proposal to reinstate draft registration in his State of the Union address in 1980, some of the strongest initial grassroots opposition came from women. Many women remained active in the resistance, including in the National Resistance Committee, even after the bill approved by Congress was narrowed to require only men to register, though the press tended to focus on male resisters.
A report on the anti-draft movement by the New York Times in August 1982 noted that, "Some feminist organizations are attracted to the issue. After many women's groups opposed President Carter's unsuccessful proposal for registration of women, they have tended to line up against the peacetime draft of men, too." (The same article noted reported that, "Some antidraft activists ... say ... that if thousands fail to respond, the Government will not be able to track them down. 'For every one of those who openly say, 'I'm not going to register,' there are probably 50 to 100 who are doing it privately,' said Fred Moore of the National Resistance Committee in San Francisco.")
Women have been among those health care workers most concerned about Women have been among those health care workers most concerned about Selective Service preparations for for a draft of doctors, nurses, and many other medical professionals, which would include women but would be based on professional licensing lists rather than on self-registration of potential draftees.
Women share many of men's reason not to register, and have other reasons of their own. Today, people of all ages and genders question why the U.S. is supporting the fundamentalist (and supremely sexist) monarchy in Saudi Arabia, or the dictatorship in Yemen, among others. There are both feminist and sexist arguments against subjecting women to the draft and draft registration.
As an example and detailed articulation of the anti-feminist case against requiring women to register for the draft, consider this statement (worth reading in its entirety) from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the the Southern Baptist Convention: "A military draft of women ... isn't just a military proposal; it's about an entire worldview built on the bankrupt ideology of egalitarianism.... Policy-makers are asking men to comply before a culture of emasculation by surrendering their innate gifting and their innate calling."
From a feminist perspective, "I wouldn't mind the privilege of being among the first women to burn their draft cards", Karen Lindsey said at an anti-draft rally in Boston in 1979 or 1980, before Congress decide to enact a draft registration requirement for men but not women. (Speech reprinted as "Women and the Draft" in Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence, New Society Publishers, 1982. The anthology attributes this to 15 September 1979, but I believe it was 2 February 1980.)
Extending draft registration to women will provoke at least as much resistance as did draft registration for men in 1980. It will force the government, once again, to choose whether to turn the country into a police state to round up all those who fail to register on demand, or to try (probably unsuccessfully) to terrorize them into compliance through show trials and incarceration of a few of the people seen as "leaders" of the resistance.
Draft registration of men has been a fiasco for the government since its resumption in 1980. But the government has never been able to find a face-saving way to end registration and shut down the Selective Service System without admitting that its scare tactics failed, or dealing with the implications of young people's insistence on making their own choices about which wars they are willing to fight.
The likelihood and imminence of a court ruling that males-only draft registration is now unconstitutional provides the perfect opportunity for Congress to end draft registration entirely.
Are you a young woman who is thinking about whether you would register for the draft, if draft registration is extended to women? Would you register? Would you speak out publicly about not registering? Is there anything we can do to support you? Have you written things about registration and the draft that you would like us to publish -- anonymously, pseudonymously, or in your real name -- or link to? Are there resources already published about this that you would like us to link to? Groups of women who are working on this together? Individual or collective "We Won't Go" statements? Are you working together with other young women who don't want to register, and/or other supporters? What can men, older people, and other organizations do to help you and other young women? Please suggest links, things you are doing that you want others to know about, or things you would like men and older people to do to help.
[Links to resources, news updates, and other information about women, the draft, and draft registration, including an index of material from Resistance News by and about women in the draft resistance movement. See also proposed legislation and lawsuits related to women, the draft, and draft registration.]
A lot of material (including two special sections on women and draft registration resistance) was published in Resistance News in the 1980s by and about women and the draft, including both feminist and other reasons for opposing the draft and draft registration, and about the role of women in the anti-draft movement at times when only men were required to register for the draft. I do not have the permission of all of the authors to post this material online, but can provide copies of some of them on request. Resistance News is archived by some libraries and archives. Contact me for back issues or copies for research or other fair use:
The National Resistance Committee (NRC) was formed in 1980 to oppose registration and the draft, and disbanded following the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
The stated goals of the National Resistance Committee were:
The National Resistance Committee was open to all draft resisters: pacifist and non-pacifist, religious and secular, ideological and individualistic, internationalist and isolationist, young and old, women and men, queer and straight and questioning (and, like me, confused), public and closeted, anarchist, communist, libertarian, patriotic, pagan, feminist, and of course many who didn't identify with any "ism". As a group potentially regarded by the government as a criminal conspiracy, the NRC had no formal structure or officers; its activities were carried out by local and national working collectives and individual activists. We were funded almost exclusively by small individual contributions, many of them anonymous and many of them from the same people who were doing the work.
Like other draft resistance groups, the NRC used as its symbols the rainbow of diversity and the Greek letter "omega" (as in the poster at the top of this page), which has been used since the 1960's as the symbol of the resistance to the draft. The omega is the symbol (in physics and electronics) of the unit of resistance, the "ohm", and also symbolizes the Buddhist chant for peace, "om".
From 1980 to 1987, the NRC published 25 issues of a newspaper, Resistance News, providing an open forum for all draft resisters. (Contact me if you are interested in obtaining one of the remaining sets of printed copies.) According to a statement published in each issue:
Gandhi's term for nonviolence was Satyagraha, which he defined as "truth force." The National Resistance Committee has no dogma, Gandhian or otherwise. But we agree with Gandhi that belief in nonviolence implies belief in the power of truth, and in the ability of people to discern it for themselves. Resistance News is devoted to the search for truth. We can only conduct that search, and permit others to do otherwise, if we print the most divergent opinions and encourage open discussion of controversy. Our editorial policy is to print what you write, edited only for length and only with your permission. If we can't afford to publish all your contributions (we couldn't this time [and we never could], we'll save them for the next issue. You are the resistance, and the news of the resistance is the news of your lives. Write to us about it.
Such a policy may seem commonplace today, when the Internet makes it possible and affordable to disseminate huge amounts of information, without the need for as much selectivity. But at the time, it was a radical position. We were using the Internet and other computer networks even in the early 1980's, but the Internet wasn't yet a medium of mass communication. Getting out the word required costly printing and mailing, and relatively few people were willing to pay, often out of their own pockets, to print and distribute the opinions of those they disagreed with, not just their own opinions.
There were, and are, many other organizations involved in draft resistance as well as other activities, organizations for draft resisters from specific religious or political groups, organizations working against the draft through means other than resistance, organizations supporting conscientious objectors within the draft and military system, draft and military counselors and organizations, and local draft resistance organizations.
But from 1980 through 1991, the National Resistance Committee was the only national organization in the USA dedicated exclusively to resisting draft registration and open to all draft resisters. As of 2005, it remains the only such organization to have existed in the USA since the last involuntary inductions into the military in the USA in 1973.
After the U.S. military was driven out of Vietnam in 1975, the antiwar movement -- including many forms of resistance -- forced an end to the draft. When draft registration was reinstated in 1980, massive resistance and the failure of the government's attempts at intimidation through show trials of registration resistance organizers (including myself and other participants in the National Resistance Committee, which was itself investigated and considered for possible prosecution as a criminal conspiracy) forced the government to abandon enforcement enforcement of the draft registration law, and no one has been prosecuted for draft or registration resistance since 1986. So we know that draft resistance has the power to stop the draft. But are we prepared to resist the next attempt to bring back the draft?
To every war, and to every draft, there has been, is, and will be resistance. Each generation has its own reasons to resist, and finds and forms its own organizations. I'm sure that new grassroots draft resistance groups and networks are already forming, even if I and other older draft resisters haven't yet heard about them.
I was involved with the NRC throughout its life, starting just about the time I left the University of Chicago in 1980. I moved to San Francisco in 1985 to take over as one of the editors of Resistance News when Fred Moore (whose historical significance I've written about in a separate article in AFSC's "Peacework" magazine) left on one of his extended peace walks.
As the custodian of many of the archives of the NRC and Resistance News (some of which are included in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection), as well as many of the archives of earlier draft resistance organizations that were passed on to us in the NRC, I'm trying to make some of these materials available, in updated form, to those who might not otherwise get this information and these points of view, and to new generations of draft resisters. These leaflets and other materials reflect the work and contributions of many people. Many members of the NRC's core collectives are still in touch with each other. If you are interested in making use of other draft resistance writings or graphics from our archives, or talking with people who were active in the draft resistance movement in the 1980's, please get in touch.
Please use, modify, and distribute these materials freely and widely, or use them to create your own, with your own ideas. I especially encourage draft and registration counselors to make material advocating draft resistance, like these leaflets, available to those they counsel, to explain the reasons people like us have chosen to resist registration and the draft, and why they might want to do so too. If you don't feel comfortable advocating draft resistance -- either because you don't want to take that legal risk, or because you don't feel it appropriate to encourage other people to take a risk you haven't taken yourself -- you can point people to this and other draft resistance advocacy.
This Web site is hosted in Canada, not in the USA. In Canada, the privacy of information concerning visitors to this Web site is protected by Canadian laws including the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Reproduction or distribution of this literature in the USA might be considered by some people, such as the Selective Service System and the Department of (in)Justice, to be illegal. On the other hand, both the draft itself, and the laws against advocating draft resistance or conspiring to resist the draft might be considered to be unconstitutional. And prosecutions for draft resistance advocacy or conspiracy have, historically been even rarer (none at all since the Vietnam War) and less successful than prosecutions for nonregistration. But past performance is no guarantee of future returns.
It's your life. Make your own decisions. If you'd like to talk to someone who has made some of the same choices -- in a different era, and in different circumstances, of course -- feel free to get in touch with me. I'm always available to talk to individuals or groups, and to do my best to put you in touch with others who can do likewise, about the draft, draft registration, draft resistance, and the choices I've made. I chose to resist, and while I've made many mistakes along the way, I have no regrets about that choice to resist registration and the draft, to refuse to register, to encourage others to do likewise, and to join together with others to carry on our resistance.
Edward Hasbrouck 1130 Treat Ave. San Francisco, CA 94110 USA +1-415-824-0214 email@example.com (GnuPG/PGP public key; more about e-mail encryption)
[This page and more, including printable versions of leaflets in PDF format, are at http://www.resisters.info and http://www.MedicalDraft.info. This Web site is published by Edward Hasbrouck, individually and not on behalf of any organization including any of the organizations linked to. I have drawn on contributions over many years by many other people, and I do not claim copyright in the contributions of others to this Web site, but I take full personal responsibility for it.]
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