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Refuse to Register. No Registrar. Conscripcion No.

The Draft, Draft Registration, Draft Resistance, and "Selective Service"

FAQs on military conscription and compulsory national service from the National Resistance Committee and Resistance News

"The choice is not between male-only draft registration and expanding registration to women. The real choice is whether to expand registration to women or to end it entirely. This is a choice about militarism, not a choice about gender equality.

"Expanding draft registration to women would bring about a semblance of equality in war (although women in the military would likely still be subject to disproportionate sexual harassment and abuse). Ending draft registration would bring about real equality in peace and freedom."

[Joint letter from opponents of draft registration to Congressional leaders, 11 March 2021]

"If a war is worth fighting, Congress will vote to declare it and people will volunteer."

[Statement by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on introducing the Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021 (S. 1139 and H.R. 2509) along with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), 14 April 2021]

Decades of quiet and spontaneous but widespread and sustained noncompliance by young men in the U.S. with the requirement to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday, and to and to report within 10 days each time they change their address until their 26th birthday, have rendered the registration database less than useless for an actual draft.

The success of draft registration resistance in preventing a draft is one of the most significant ongoing victories of nonviolent direct action against war and for youth liberation. But that victory remains incomplete.

The U.S. government has never acknowledged the failure of draft registration. Instead, it continues to pretend that a draft based on the current registration database is a feasible policy option. The preceived availability of the draft as a "fallback" option enables the planning of larger, longer, and less popular wars -- without the need to consider whether people will be willing to fight those wars. Draft registration resistance has, since 1980, prevented a draft, and continues to do so. But the real victory of young draft resisters and their older allies will be when the U.S. government is forced to admit that a draft is not an option because young people won't submit voluntarily to being drafted, and can't be forced to submit, and begins to acknowledge popular support and willingness to fight as a constraint on what would otherwise continue to be planning for endless, unlimited, unpopular wars.

Soon young women might face the same choices -- and have the same power to prevent a draft and constrain war-making -- that young men have had since 1980. In 2020, a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has recommended that draft registration be extended to young women as well as young men. That recommendation has been endorsed by President Biden, and both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees endorsed legislation to expand the Military Seelctive Service Act to apply to women as well as men. That provision was removed from the final version of the 2020 National Defense [sic] Authorization Act, but the debate is not over. Proposals to expand draft registraton to women, or to repeal the MSSA and end draft registration entirely, are likely to be considered again by Congress in 2022 or 2023.

We want to hear from women who plan not to register with the Selective Service System. We can publish your resistance statement, with your name or anonymously. You can reach us at resisters@hasbrouck.org. Your statements will help encourage and empower others. Here are more anti-draft organizations and actions you can take.

"Congress should end draft registration for all, not try to expand it to young women as well as young men," a group of activists who oppose the draft said in a joint statement on Tuesday. It added, "Even more women than men would resist if the government tried to draft them."

["Women Should Have to Register for Military Draft, Too, Commission Tells Congress", by Sarah Mervosh and John Ismay, New York Times, 24 March 2020]

Nine groups of anti-war activists panned the blue ribbon commission's recommendation that everyone of draft age sign up with the Selective Service. "Making contingency plans for a draft that would include women would be an exercise in self-delusion by the Selective Service System and military planners," the groups write in a statement. "Even more women than men would resist if the government tried to draft them."

["Commission Issues Verdict: Women, Like Men, Should Have To Sign Up For Draft", by David Welna, NPR News, 25 March 2020]

Don't Register!

  1. What's the status of the military draft and draft registration?
  2. How will the draft affect me?
  3. I don't want to be drafted. What should I do?
  4. Will women be drafted? Will women be required to register for the draft?
  5. What was the "National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service" (NCMNPS)?
  6. What's wrong with the draft and draft registration?
  7. Background to the current status of the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance
  8. Anti-draft resources:
"A modern-day draft, if marketed carefully and cleverly, could foster patriotism via the investment of every family in the nation. A greater involvement of the population to include National Service could reach every social demographic within the U.S." (Recommendations from the Selective Service System to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, December 2017)

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Resist the Draft
[Front ranks of the West Coast mobilization against draft registration on Market St. in San Francisco, 22 March 1980. Photo by Chris Booth for Resistance News.]

What's the status of the military draft and draft registration?

Leaflet: What's happening with women and draft registration ("Selective Service)? (PDF)

There's been a lot of talk about the draft lately, and in Congress is moving toward expanding the current requirement for young men to register and report their addresses to the Selective Service System to include young women as well. Congress is likely to approve this change in the law in late 2021 or early 2022, and women born in 2005 and after will probably be required to register for the draft when they turn 18, starting in 2023.

But most of the public discussion of this issue has been by people unfamiliar with the history of the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance since the end of the Vietnam-era draft in 1975. 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 admit.

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 a national commission appointed by Congress and the President has recommended that Congress should try to extend draft registration to women. President Biden and some Congressional leaders have endorsed this naive and unrealistic proposal for political rather than military reasons:

"When asked about the political feasibility of a large-scale mobilization, one SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee] staff member responded that SSS [Selective Service System] is kept around largely for political reasons, but no one realistically thinks it will be used.... He remarked that the draft is currently designed to replace large numbers of infantry overseas; however, such numbers are not likely to be needed in the future and the current lead time for training and skills development for various occupations needed to fight modern wars makes the SSS model less practical....

"Given the 2016 decision to open all military occupations and, from their perspective, the most realistic use of mobilization was more along the lines of a skills draft, minority [Democratic Party] staff expressed strongly that any update to SSS which did not include female registration would have little chance of passage."

[Internal NCMNPS staff notes from meeting with Senate Armed Service Commiteee (SASC) staff, 1 October 2018, released by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) after the expiration of the NCMNPS]

Internal records released in response to my Freedom Of Information Act requests show that Congressional staff told the National Commission that (1) draft registration is being maintained for political, not military, reasons, and as a lead generator for military recruiters, and (2) Democratic Party members of the Senate Armed Services Committee would not support any package of legislation recommended by the Commission unless it included expanding draft registration to young women as well as young men. The Commission took those marching orders to heart, and never seriously considered ending draft registration entirely.

But Congress has a choice: It has before it bills either to expand draft registration to women, or to end draft registration entirely.

As I told the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service when i was invited to testify at one of their hearings in April 2019, "Any proposal that includes a compulsory element is a naïve fantasy unless it includes a credible enforcement plan and budget."

Anyone who thinks they can wave their cheerleader's baton and magically make every 18-25 year old woman in the USA sign up to kill or be killed on command ignores both the lessons of the history of draft registration since 1980 and the likelihood of massive resistance by young women.

Feminists Say: Stop The Draft

Massive, spontaneous, unorganized, and continuing grassroots noncompliance has rendered draft registration of men unenforceable since the resumption of draft registration (after a five-year 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.

I asked the members of the National Commission, "How much are you prepared to spend, and how much of a police state are you prepared to set up, to round up the millions of current draft registration law violators or enforce a draft?" I got no answer, but Congress and the public need to demand one.

Anti-war and anti-draft activists are not alone in telling the National Commission and Congress that draft registration has failed. Even the former director of the Selective Service System who manages the start-up of the current registration system in 1980 has testified that the current registration database is "less than useless" and the Congress should end draft registration and repeal the Military Selective Service Act, rather than trying to expand it to young women as well as young men.

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.

Whereas, the Selective Service Act requires male U.S. citizens between 18 and 25 years to register with the U.S. government for potential military service, aids the government in its instrumentation of war; Therefore Be It Resolved that Veterans For Peace calls on the government of the United States to immediately revoke the Selective Service Act.
[Resolution approved by vote of the membership of Veterans for Peace, 2012]

We oppose both the draft and draft registration, for women or for men. We support legislation 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.

There many reasons to oppose the draft, draft registration, and other planning and preparations for a draft such as contingency planning for the Health Care Personnel Delivery System (conscription of health care workers).

Some older people conceptualize opposition to the draft as an effort to protect young people against being drafted. But I think that this framing of the issue is rooted in unconscious ageism, and should be reversed: it is young people who, by their noncompliance with draft registration, have prevented a draft and thereby limited the U.S. government's ability to wage war and protected all of us, including older people, from even wider wars. There have been wars without a draft, but it is the perceived availability of the draft as the ultimate fallback that enables politicans and military officers to plan for endless, unlimited wars. Without a draft, war planning and warmaking is limited to wars that people can be induced to "volunteer" to fight.

The success of resistance to draft registration -- not lobbying, not protest, but noncompliance on a massive scale, spontaneous, almost entirely unorganized, and continued by cohort after cohort of young people for four decades -- has been one of the greatest (although almost entirely unrecognized) victories of nonviolent mass direct action in the Reagan years and after. But the full potential benefit of that victory by young people in protecting us all from war will not be realized until draft registration is ended, the Selective Service System and its cointingency planning for conscription is abolished, and -- most important of all -- there is public acknowledgement and recognition by politicians that a draft is not an option because it would be so widely resisted as to be unenforceable. Only then will military planning begin to be limited by the unavailability of the draft, even as a last resort.

Selective Service death's head with mushroom cloud

This Web site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck, and incorporates material by others first published by the National Resistance Committee and in Resistance News. I have credited all contributors who wanted to be named; others have chosen to remain anonymous. I take responsibility for all content on this site, with gratitude for my comrades in resistance including the members of the Mass Open Resistance and Resistance News collectives, and with special appreciation for the support of my mentors, allies, and inspirations from older generations including (but certainly not limited to) Fred Moore, Eric Weinberger, John Bach, Dave Dellinger, David Harris, Chuck Matthei, Joffre Stewart, Karl Meyer, Benjie Hiller, John Rossen, Josh Standig, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.

Photo of Edward Hasbrouck by Ellen ShubPhoto of Edward Hasbrouck by Wendy M. Grossman
Photo of Edward Hasbrouck from C-SPAN video
[Above left: Edward Hasbrouck in front of the Federal courthouse in Boston before being sentenced for refusing to register for the draft, 14 January 1983. Photo © Ellen Shub. All rights reserved. Above right: At a conference in Brussels, Belgium, 25 January 2017. Photo by Wendy M. Grossman. Below: Testifying before the National Commission on Military, National, and Pubic Service, Washington, DC, 25 April 2019. Photo from C-SPAN video.]

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