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National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS)

"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 (nonmilitary) Service could reach every social demographic within the U.S."
Recommendations from the Selective Service System to the NCMNPS, December 2017 (released 31 January 2019 in response to my FOIA requests)

[The NCMNPS has recommended that draft registration be extended to young women as well as young men. See my summary and analysis of the report and this joint statement by antidraft organizations.]

redacted slide from DOD briefing


Recommendations from the Pentagon to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service on how to execute a draft (redacted version released in response to my FOIA requests)

SSS contingency plans to register women for the draft
Contingency plans to register women for the draft (from presentation to the National Commission on Military Service by the Selective Service System, released by the NCMNPS in response to my FOIA requests. Additional records about these plans were released by the Selective Service System in respoonse to a FOIA request by GovernmentAttic.org)

Introduction

As sabre-rattling and escalation of US military conflict prompted fears that all-out war with Iran might lead to activation of the Selective Service System's contingency plans for a military draft, the stage is being set for the most serious consideration by Congress since 1980 of the future of the Selective Service System (SSS), draft registration, and military conscription.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments 4 March 2020 in New Orleans on the government's appeal of the U.S. District Court declaratory judgment in National Coalition for Men v. SSS that the current male-only draft registration requirement is unconstitutional. A decision on the appeal could be announced at any time. If the District Court's ruling is upheld, as seems likely, it will force Congress either to accept a court-ordered end to draft registration for men, try to expand draft registration to women as well as men, or replace the current registration scheme with some alternate contingency plan for conscription applicable equally to women and men.

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS), which was created in response to this judicial pressure for Congressional action, releases its final report and legislative recommendations on 25 March 2020. The law establishing the Commission, as amended a year later to extend the deadlines for appointment of members of the Commission and completion of the Commission's work, required the Commission to release its final report by 20 March 2020. But the Commission planned, even before the coronavirus epidemic, to ignore this statutory deadline.

Members of the Commission are scheduled to present their recommendations at a Senate Subcommittee hearing to be held as soon as Congress resumes consdiering normal business, and at a public event in Washington, DC, on 25 June 2020. The dates for these events are subject to change, but the Commission's report will be released on the Commission's Web site and sent to Congress on 25 March 2020, and will be considered by Congress sometime in 2020 or at the latest 2021.

For the first time in decades, a Federal commission has studied and is making recommendations to Congress on whether draft registration should be ended or extended to women as well as men; whether there should be a draft of people with medical, foreign language, cyber/IT, STEM, or other special skills regardless of age or gender; whether a draft would be "feasible" (it wouldn't, because so many people haven't registered with the Selective Service System, have moved without notifying the SSS, and/or would resist if drafted); whether the government should require all young people to do compulsory civilian or military "national service"; and related issues.

Meanwhile, on 19 December 2019 - pre-empting the Congressional agenda on Selective Service ahead of the NCMNPS report - U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced H.R. 5492, a bipartisan bill "To repeal the Military Selective Service Act, and thereby terminate the registration requirements of such Act and eliminate... the Selective Service System."

The Commission took comments from the public and held public hearings and closed-door invitation-only consultations and meetings during 2018 and 2019.

The next step will be for Congress to take up the issue. Congress is under no legal obligation and has no deadline to consider the recommendations made by the NCMNPS. But if Congress does nothing, draft registration is likely to be ended before long by court order. So Congress is likely to consider both the Commission's recommendations, which have been introduced in Congress as H.R. 6415, and the alternative of H.R. 5492 to abolish the Selective Service System, either later in 2020 or at the latest in 2021.

Despite many problems with the Commission's secretive and stage-managed process, the debate that will follow the Commision's recommendations is by far our best opportunity in decades to get Congress to end draft registration and contingency planning for a draft. A bill has already been introduced in Congress to abolish the Selective Service System. The Commission is only advisory, so it's time to urge your Senators and Representative in Congress to enact H.R. 5492 or similar legislation to end draft registration.

The Commission held informal public events across the US in 2018 (I attended those in Denver, Boston, Nashua, and Los Angeles), released an interim report in January 2019 (more about the interim report and my analysis of its errors of omission and commission), and held formal hearings with invited witnesses including two days of hearings in April 2019 on whether Selective Service registration should be ended, extended to women, modified in some other way, or replaced. (I testified on 25 April 2019 as the only invited draft resistance witness.) The Commission releases its final report and recommendations on 25 March 2020. Congress will probably consider the Commision's recommendations and hold its first substantive debate on the military draft and draft registration since 1980 after the 2020 elections, most likely in 2021.

Read more on this page and at the links below about the Commission, what the Commission recommended, what we should recommend to Congress, and information about the Commission's activities obtained through my Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

What is this Commission? Why was it appointed? Why now?

Why a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service?

In late 2015, Commander-In-Chief Obama ordered all military assignments opened to women. That order undercut, and probably eliminated, the legal argument that had been used since 1980 to justify requiring only men, but not women, to register for the draft.

That gave members of Congress four options, none of which most of them wanted to take responsibility for, in the run-up to the 2016 elections:

  1. Do nothing and wait for courts to invalidate the requirement for men to register for the draft;
  2. Repeal the requirement for men to register, and abolish the Selective Service System (and risk being attacked as peaceniks);
  3. Extend the requirement to register for the draft to women as well as men (and risk being attacked by both feminists and sexists); or
  4. Rescind or override the decision opening all military combat assignments to women (the option preferred by some pro-war, pro-draft sexists)

After elaborate bi-partisan machinations, Congress chose Door Number One ("Do Nothing"). Perhaps members of Congress thought that would allow them to point the finger of "blame" at the courts, and away from themselves, if draft registration was ended. More likely they just wanted to punt this political hot potato past the 2016 elections. The Obama Administration debated what to do but decided to take no official position until after the 2016 elections.

To provide further political cover for delaying its decision, Congress voted in late 2016 to establish a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service "to conduct a review of the military selective service process (commonly referred to as 'the draft')." The Commision was required to report back to Congress with recommendations for legislation by March 2020.

On 22 February 2019, before the Commission had completed its review, a Federal court found -- as had been expected -- that the current Selective Service registration requirement is unconstitutional. That ruling has been appealed, but it still puts additional pressure on the Commission and on Congress to make a decsion rahter than allowing it to be made, messily and piecemeal, by the courts. (More on this court decision and what it means.)

Who are the members of the Commission?

The act establishing the Commission (the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017) was signed into law by President Obama on 23 December 2016. In accordance with this law, 3 of the 11 members of the Commission were appointed by President Obama during his final days in office. The other 8 members were appointed by members of Congress, one each by the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and the ranking majority and minority party members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

Appointments to the Commission were supposed to be made within 90 days of its creation, but it appears that many were not and were therefore invalid. It's unclear whether there was confusion, uncertainty, or internal disagreement regarding these appointments, whether it proved difficult to find people able and willing to serve on the Commission, or whether making appointments fell through the cracks in the confusion of the Presidential transition period.

Seats on the Commission that were not filled by the 90-day deadline were, by law, supposed to remain vacant for the life of the Commission. It's unclear whether the members of Congress responsible for appointing members of the Commission simply ignored the law, whether appointments were made in secret long before they were announced, or whether appointments were back-dated to pretend to comply with the law.

Two years later later, a provision was enacted as part of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019 that changed the official "establishment date" of the Commission to 19 September 2017, presumably in an attempt to retroactively legitimate the late appointments to the Commission. I mentioned the obvious invalidity of the late appointments to the General Counsel of the Commission at its meeting in Boston on 9 May 2018. Two weeks later, the provision in the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019 changing the "establishment date" of the Commission was added to the pending bill during a closed-door markup session by the Senate Armed Services Committee on 23-24 May 2018.

Individual members of the Commission may have had different agendas, just as those appointing them may have had.

All three of President Obama's appointees to the Commission are women military veterans, one of them transgendered, suggesting that Obama's primary goal for his appointments was to make sure that whatever the Commission recommends, it won't recommend rolling back the opening of all military combat assignments to women.

The appointments to the Commission by Congressional leaders have a mix of backgrounds in the military, in the Selective Service System, and in civilian "service" including the Peace Corps. Although the Commission is nominally a civilian entity, Brigadier General Joe Heck, U.S. Army Reserve, was elected Chairman by the members of the Commission. (Brig. Genl. Heck is also a medical doctor and a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Nevada. Like many former members of Congress, he earns his living as a lobbyist.)

Some members of the Commission have spoken and written publicly about how they see the role of the Commission (one member cited favorably to the example of "service" set by that inspiring leader, Richard Nixon). But they have done so as individuals, not on behalf of the Commission as a whole. We don't know what has been discussed or what differences of opinion exist between members of the Commission.

At least one member of the Commisison, Alan Khazei, is running for Congress in 2020 (as a Democrat in Massachusetts) while serving as a member of the Commission. As a Congressional candidate, Khazei has not yet stated whether he supports ending draft registration or extending it to woemen, or whether he supports compulsory national service.

What did the Commsion say in its final report in March 2020?

On 25 March 2020 the NCMNPS), after a three-year charade of stage-managed and largely one-sided public events paralleled by closed-door meetings and negotiations among the members of the Commission, released its final report, recommending that Congress amend the Military Selective Service Act to require that young women, as well as young men, register for the draft when they reach 18 years of age, and inform the Selective Service System each time they change their address until their 26th birthday. See this summary and excerpts from the portions of the report related to the military draft and the Selective Service System.

In my testimony to the NCMNPS in April 2019, I told the Commissioners, "Any proposal that includes a compulsory element is a naïve fantasy unless it includes a credible enforcement plan and budget which has been endorsed by the Department of Justice and subjected to public and expert scrutiny."

The Commission's recommendations with respect to Selective Service registration are just such a naïve fantasy, completely unfeasible and with no foundation in research or reality. The Commission kept its head firmly in the sand, carefully avoiding any inquiry into whether or how the current (unenforced and widely violated) registration requirement for men, much less an expanded registration requirement applicable also to women, could be enforced.

There's no mention at all in the report's 255 pages of compliance or noncompliance with draft registration. There's been no audit of the registration database since 1982, and the Commission didn't conduct or ask for one.

The Department of Justice is, and would remain, responsible for enforcement of the registration requirement. But nobody has been prosecuted for nonregistration since 1986, and since then, as I pointed out in my testimony, "the Department of Justice -- conspicuously absent from the witness list for these hearings -- has made neither any estimate of the numbers of violators nor any plan or budget for how to identify, investigate, find, arrest, prosecute, or incarcerate them."

The preliminary report the NCMNPS received from the Department of Justice didn't mention enforcement, and the Commission didn't bother to follow up with the DoJ about the omission. The Commission never met with the DoJ, and didn't call any witnesses from the DoJ to testify at its hearings. When Commission staff convened an inter-agency working group of representatives from 25 other agencies and departments to consult on possible recommendations, the DoJ wasn't invited. The Commissioners went to extreme lengths to avoid asking any questions about compliance, noncompliance, enforcement, or feasibility -- because they knew that even cursory research into these questions would make clear that draft registration of men has failed, and that trying to register women would be even more of a failure.

According to a statement from peace and antidraft organizations and activists, including antiwar feminists:

The issue is not whether women should have to register for the draft, but whether the government should be planning or preparing to draft anyone.

Congress should end draft registration for all, not try to expand it to young women as well as young men.

H.R. 5492 would end the current contingency planning for a future draft as well as draft registration, and would end all sanctions against those who didn't register. That's the appropriate choice for Congress and the American public.

The NCMNPS was directed by Congress to consider the "feasibility" of any draft. But registering or drafting women would not be feasible in the face of the likely widespread noncompliance. Women and men will join in resistance to any attempt to expand draft registration, or plans for a draft, to women.

Draft registration for men failed: criminal enforcement had to be abandoned decades ago in the face of pervasive noncompliance. Even the former Director of the Selective Service System testified to the NCMNPS that the current Selective Service System database is "less than useless" as the basis for a draft. Trying to draft women or get them to register to be drafted would be even more of a fiasco.

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. Even more women than men would resist if the government tried to draft them.

What will happen next?

All of the the Commission's legislative recommendations, including expansion of draft registration to women, were introduced in Congress on 27 March 2020 as H.R. 6415, the "Inspire to Serve Act of 2020". Congress is under no legal obligation and has no deadline to consider the recommendations made today by the NCMNPS. But if Congress does nothing, draft registration is likely to be ended before long by court order. So Congress is likely to consider both the Commission's recommendations and the alternative of H.R. 5492 either later in 2020 or at the latest in 2021.

A public forum in Washington, DC, planned by the NCMNPS has been postponed, but you can still register to receive updates when it is rescheduled. A Senate hearing on the NCMNPS report has also been postponed. Only members of the NCMNPS, and not any of its critics or those with other views, were invited to testify at the Senate hearing, but the ranking member of the parallel House Committee suggested in a statement after being briefed by mmebers of the NCMNPS that he may want to hear from at least some of the Commission's critics during House hearings.

The issue isn't likely to come to head in Congress for months, but it's important to start mobilizing opposition and raising awareness now that this debate is going to happen. The government doesn't readily admit failure or acknowledge that the willingness of the people to comply with its orders places limits on what it can do. The decisive factor is likely to be whether, when the time comes for Congress to vote on whether to end draft registraiton or extend it to women, members of Congress see sufficient visible evidence that young women -- as young men have done, but probably in even larger numbers -- will resist if the government tries to draft them or get them to register to e drafted, and that many older people will support them in that resistance.

The bill to enact the Commission recommendations, H.R. 6415, and/or the alternative of H.R. 5492, could be considered on their own, or incorporated into a larger bill such as the annual 2020 or 2021 omnibus National Defense Authorization Act (which was the bill used to create the NCMNPS in 2016).

The self-imposed Business Rules initially adopted by the Commission (which were among the records released in response to my FOIA requests) required a super-majority of votes by eight of the eleven members of the Commision for any final legislative recommendations. There are 4 Republican Congressional appointees on the Commission, 4 Democratic Congressional appointees, and 3 lame-duck appointees of President Obama. So requiring 8 votes for any recommendation precluded a straight party-line vote. But those "Business Rules" could be changed at any time by majority vote of the Commission.

NCMNPS records released in response to my FOIA requests (many of which requests remain unanswered) suggest that the NCMNPS initially focused on the possibility of compulsory national service. But more recent statements by members of the NCMNPS imply that the Commissioners have been persuaded that any expanded compulsory service scheme would be too strongly opposed, and perhaps also too expensive, to be politically viable.

The Commission was created as an excuse for delay by Congress in deciding whether to end draft registration or try to extend it to women, to try to find a political compromise to evade or soften the political reaction to this dllemna, and to provide political cover to members of Congress when they eventually vote on this issue. Evrything the Commission has done has reflected this agenda, incluidng its final report. It's an exercise in propaganda and spin, intended to shape public debate, rather than a genuine policy study.

During the hearing at which I testified, Brig. Genl. Joe Heck, Chair of the NCMNPS, asked me what I would do if "we're in a Red Dawn scenario, we're being attacked through both Canada and Mexico," and there aren't enough volunteers to defend the U.S. Pentagon officials and other witnesses at the hearings were unable to come up with any plausible scenario for when a draft might be needed. But they argued for continuing draft registration and contingency planning for activation of a draft, as an "insurance policy" (i.e. to facilitate and make it easier to reinstate a draft), as a "lead generation" tool for military recruiters, as a symbol of the duty of the individual to serve the state, and as a tool to "channel" young people into roles and tasks - civilian and/or military - that the government decides will best serve its interests. As the Veterans for Peace said in a resolution calling for the repeal of the Military Selective Service Act adopted by a vote of its membership in 2012, draft registration "aids the government in its instrumentation of war".

Those who supported expanding draft registration to women told the NCMNPS that doing so would more fully integrate women into the military and the system of war-making. But as the feminist antiwar organization CODEPINK said in a statement submitted to the NCMNPS, "Women's equality will not be achieved by including women in a draft system. It is irresponsible for the fight for women's rights to seek equal moral injury, equal PTSD, equal brain injury, equal suicide rates, equal lost limbs, or equal violent tendencies that military veterans suffer from. When it comes to the military, women's equality is better served by ending draft registration for everyone."

In an interview in October 2018, Brigadier General Joe Heck, the Chair of the Commission, said:

The final report ... will say, yes or no, we need the Selective Service System and, yes or no, we recommend women register.... We've also looked at potential alternative databases, where individuals can be identified without having to maintain the Selective Service registration system.... The bigger question that we want to answer first is whether or not we even need the Selective Service System... Or does the Selective Service System itself need to be morphed into something that's more universal, like a Serve America system, where you can register for any... service, whether it's military, national, public...

The emphasis in the publicity for the Commission's public events and its selection of invited speakers at those events was almost entirely on voluntary rather than compulsory service. While there has been some mention of possible "modifications" to the Selective Service System, there has been little mention of the specific "modifications" that the Commission has been directed to study: registration of women for a possible draft, and conscription of men and women of all ages with special skills needed by the military, including, but not limited to, health care, foreign language, cyber/IT, and STEM skills.

There's no mention on the Commission's Web site of a possible special-skills draft or the occupations that Congress specifically suggested might be targeted for it.

The comment cards distributed at the Commission's public events asked what could be done to "increase participation in military... service by individuals with critical skills," but didn't mention that the Commission is required to consider and report on the desirability and feasibility of conscription as a means of "increasing participation" by such individuals, or the specific categories of skills Congress directed the Commission to consider including in such a special-skills draft. None of the panelists invited to speak at the Commission's public events in 2018 were been invited to discuss conscription of women or people with special skills. Even when the Commission posted an article on Medium about military roles for people with STEM skills, it didn't mention the possibility of conscripting these people.

The Commission may have decided to recommend against a special-skills draft because of the objections to this option raised by the Pentagon. In its official report and recommendations to the Commission, the Department of Defense was silent on whether a general draft would be enforceable, but said this about a special-skills draft:

It is important to note that any mass mobilization process in which only those with critical skills are subject to draft will be pilloried as inequitable and unfair. Efforts to evade would be commonplace, and -- given that the information on which the draft would rely could be obtained only through voluntary disclosure --- more often than not, successful.

Some of the people who were invited to speak as panelists at the Commission's first round of public events in 2018 weren't told that the Commission was tasked by Congress with studying the draft and compulsory service. Several told us privately that they felt used by the Commission. The agendas and one-sided speaker lists appear to have been planned to create the fake appearance of a "consensus" in favor of requiring military or civilian "national service" from all young people.

Despite claims that, "The Commission seeks to learn more about why people serve and why people may choose not to serve," and that "The Commission is committed to... Listening to the public and learn[ing] from those who serve and do not serve," all of the invited witnesses at all of the Commission's public events throughout the country in 2018 were invited as promoters of voluntarily and/or compulsory service. Nobody has been invited to speak to the Commission about the reasons people might not serve, or might not want to serve, in the military.

In an informal report on its first year of work in November 2018, the Commission claimed that, "the Commission... met with experts and stakeholders who study and work across all parts of our mandate." But that's not true: there had been no engagement by the Commission with any experts on, or stakeholders from, the resistance to conscription, or the issues that will be faced in trying to enforce any expanded draft registration or compulsory service mandate.

Some of those reasons were discussed in testimony to the Commission at its meeting in Los Angeles from the Santa Barbara Meeting of Friends (Quakers): "The barriers to military service may include serving in undeclared, unconstitutional military actions, loss of freedom, loss of educational opportunities, health, family, personal necessities, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Moral Injury, Military Sexual Assault, and violation of personal life philosophies."

The Commission has tried to create a stage-managed and incomplete narrative about compulsory military service that focuses exclusively on the aspect of "service" and elides those of "compulsion" and "militarism". This was perhaps most clear at the Commission's public event in Memphis, which was held at the National Civil Rights Museum on the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Commission tried to claim for itself the legacy of "service" of Dr. King, despite his support for draft resisters and other nonviolent direct action against the draft and his advocacy of conscientious objection to military "service". Here's what Dr. King had to say about compulsory military service:

My views on the draft are very clear. I'm against it, and I think the sooner our country does away with the draft, the better it will be for everybody....

As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation's role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. [sustained applause] I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. [applause] Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. [applause] These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

The law establishing the Commission required the heads of several Cabinet-level departments including the Department of Justice (DOJ) to submit reports and recommendations to inform the Commission in its deliberations. Presumably, the Department of Justice was included because it is responsible for enforcing (or choosing not to enforce) the current draft registration law, and would be responsible for enforcement of any new conscription or compulsory service law. However, rather than discussing the DOJ's responsibility for enforcing criminal laws, the DOJ report to the NCMNPS (pp. 96-97 of this PDF) stated that, "The Department's primary interaction with the military selective service process is in ascertaining registration among covered individuals who are selected for employment with DOJ."

The DOJ reported to the Commission that, "During FY 2015, 146,997 names of suspected violators were provided to the DOJ." But the DOJ said nothing about what, if any, action it took to investigate or prosecute any of those people, none of whom were actually indicted and, so far as we can tell, none of whom were even investigated. The DOJ also said nothing about any projections of likely noncompliance or any plans, preparations, or budget estimate for enforcing a draft or compulsory service scheme. The DOJ doesn't want to talk about whether a draft or compulsory service scheme would be enforceable -- an issue it has ignored.

According to a presentation by one of the Commissioners to state legislators in August 2019, the Commission staff has hosted meetings of an interagency working group of 25 other Federal agencies to provide input and feedback on the Commission's recommendations. But a Commission staff member the Department of Justice has neither been invited to, nor participated in the interagency working group. This lack of interest in the DOJ as the enforcement agency for Selective Sesrvice is indicative of the Commission's lack of interest in investigating whether its recommendations are "feasible".

As I told the Commission:

Any proposal that includes a compulsory element is a naïve fantasy unless it includes a credible enforcement plan and budget which has been endorsed by the Department of Justice and subjected to public and expert scrutiny.

If this Commission is considering recommending continuing or expanding the current Selective Service registration requirement, or replacing it with any new system of compulsory registration and/or service, you should schedule an additional formal hearing devoted to the issues of compliance, noncompliance, and enforcement, at which a representative of the Department of Justice is called to testify regarding enforcement history, plans, and budgets.

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?

And as I also noted in my statement to the Commission:

According to the responses of the NCMNPS to my FOIA requests, the NCMNPS has neither met with the Department of Justice nor received any report, plan, or budget from the Department of Justice for the enforcement of the current draft registration requirement or any alternatives. No witness at any of the NCMNPS public events to date has presented any enforcement proposal, plan, or budget. The NCMNPS has declined to disclose whether its staff or contractors have produced any assessment of past, present, or likely future compliance or any enforcement plan or budget for the current draft registration requirement or any of the compulsory alternatives being considered by the NCMNPS.

In spite of the low profile given to the issues of draft registration, the draft, and compulsory civilian or non-military service in the Commission's publicity about its public events, witnesses at Commission events I attended included people who have refused to register for the draft (including at least 4 of the 20 people who were prosecuted for publicly refusing to register in the 1980s, before mass noncompliance forced the government to abandon prosecution of nonregistrants), people who had refused induction into the military during the US war in Vietnam, people who have done civilian alternative service under government supervision as conscientious objectors to military "service", military veterans and military family members against war and conscription, and other supporters of draft resistance.

What did anti-draft activists say to this Commission?

The Commission asked for public comments regarding the draft, draft registration, and compulsory national "service".

Here's what I said in my written statements and in-person testimony at Commission events in 2018 and 2019.

I think the most important thing for the Commission to have heard is that people subject to draft registration, and people who would be subject to a draft (including women, older health care workers and people with other specialized skills who might be subject to a modified or expanded draft) would refuse to go, and that other people would support them in their resistance.

Whether or not the Commission agrees with the reasons people don't and won't comply with registration or a draft, the Commission needs to realize that a draft is not "feasible" because so many people would not comply, and because noncompliance would render it unenforceable.

Whatever the Commission recommends, Congress should enact legislation to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System.

That's the lesson of the last 40 years of failure of draft registration. Congress, like the Commission, needs to heed that lesson.

The Commission may recommend ending draft registration, in preference to trying to expand registration to young women as well as young men. But that will still leave millions of men who didn't register for the draft in the past subject to lifetime state and Federal civil and adminstrative sanctions including ineligibility for Federal jobs, naturalization as U.S. citizens, and other Federal and state programs. It's important to make full and unconditional amnesty for all past nonregistrants part of the terms of the upcoming Congressional debate.

As I pointed out to the NCMNPS:

Every U.S. war in which conscription has been used has been followed by public debate and agitation - sometimes prolonged and often acrimonious - about how to deal with those who resisted or violated the draft law while it was in effect. After each such war - the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the U.S. war in Indochina - there has eventually been some sort of formal or informal pardon, amnesty, commutation of sentence, early release from prison, or other official action to mitigate some of the penalties imposed on draft and war resisters during the war and while the draft was in use. Some of the most heated debate over how to respond to resistance by the "Vietnam generation" concerned how to treat resisters after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam and the draft was ended. Military and draft resisters and exiles continued to be subject not only to the risk of criminal prosecution but to administrative and immigration sanctions. Two incomplete "amnesties" left penalties in effect for some resisters, and a legacy of bitterness. The Commission should foresee, and you should point out to Congress and the President, that another - and probably much more prolonged - such controversy can be anticipated if the Selective Service registration requirement is ended without ending and explicitly foreclosing all state and Federal sanctions for past nonregistration.... Extended, complex, and costly Federal litigation would of course be inevitable.... Litigation over state sanctions for past nonregistration would likely be even more prolonged and burdensome..., and even less likely to produce consistent outcomes or meaningful closure.

I and other anti-draft activists and organizations asked the Commission to recommend that Congress:

  1. Repeal criminal penalties for nonregistration and Presidential authority to order draft registration;
  2. Repeal all Federal civil and administrative sanctions and disqualifications for past nonregistration; and
  3. Preempt all state sanctions and disqualifications for past nonregistration.

A bi-partisan bill to acoomplish this, H.R. 5492, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2019, just before the close of the Commision's public comment period. Both one of the sponsors of H.R. 5492, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, and anti-draft activists have asked the Commsion to recommend that Congress enact H.R. 5492 or similar legislation.

More is at stake than draft registration or the draft itself. As I concluded my statement to the Commission at its formal hearing on Selective Service:

I could easily have dodged the draft by quietly staying home. I could have registered just before my 26th birthday, minimizing the amount of time during which I would have been at risk of being drafted, and preserved lifelong eligibility for Federal and state programs. That remains the easiest and safest course of action for those who don't want to be drafted, and I fully respect, support, and commend all those who have made that choice. Even after I was convicted of refusing to register, I could have avoided prison camp if I had been willing to do "service" work that was politically acceptable to the sentencing judge.

I resisted draft registration, and I persisted in that resistance, not because I wanted to opt out of personal participation in war, but because I wanted to prevent a draft and, by doing so, to limit the ability of the U.S. to wage war. With millions of others who have defied the law, we have succeeded in making draft registration unenforceable and a draft unfeasible.

It's time to admit that, like it or not, draft registration has failed, and should be ended entirely, and to begin to deal with the implications of that fact for military policy.

This Commission's final question is whether draft registration or a draft are "needed". The implication seems to be that if a draft might be needed, draft registration should be retained. But that's getting it backwards. The failure of draft registration should make clear that a draft would not be enforceable or feasible, even as a fallback. If the Selective Service System is an insurance policy, it is one backed by an underwriter that has been insolvent for decades. If U.S. military plans or commitments to endless wars around the world might require a draft, but a draft would not be feasible, that is a reason to scale back U.S. military activities.

The issue will next be taken up by Congress. Members of Congress need to hear from men who didn't register for the draft when they were supposed to do so, men who registered but have moved without telling the Selective Service System their new address, men who are registered but would refuse to go if they were drafted, parents who would tear up any induction order that came for their son or daughter (shifting the risk of prosecution from their children to themselves), and women who would refuse to sign up if draft registration is extended to women.

To the extent that the Commission recommends some form of compulsory national service, Congress will need to be reminded of the contradictions between compulsion or coercion and any positive notion of "service". As I said directly to the Commission in my testimony at its hearing in Denver in April 2018, "Compulsory service is, by definition, slavery." Others made similar statements to the Commission. Teaching people to equate service with submission amounts to teaching them obedience. But we have enough people who are willing to obey orders unquestioningly. We need more people who question authority and who are willing to disobey illegal and immoral orders.


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