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

Don't Register for War.

For the first time in decades, a Federal commission is holding open-mike public hearings throughout the USA and soliciting written submissions from the public (extended through 30 September 2018) 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 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); and related issues.

Despite some problems, this is by far your best and most open opportunity in decades to tell the Federal government to end draft registration.

Read on for more about the Commission, talking points for testimony and/or written submissions to the Commission, and information about the Commission's public and closed-door activities obtained through Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

What is happening with this Commission? Why is it happening now? What can we do about it?

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 three 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); or
  3. Extend the requirement to register for the draft to women as well as men (and risk being attacked by both feminists and 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 into the Clinton or Trump Administration.

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 Commission is required to solicit and consider public comments, and to report back to the President and Congress with its recommendations by March 2020 -- at which time its recommendations can either be ignored, used, or abused to score points in 2020 election campaigns.

The act establishing the Commission 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.

What should we say to this Commission?

The Commission wants to know what we think about the draft, draft registration, and compulsory national "service".

I think the most important thing for the Commission to hear is that people subject to draft registration, and people who would be subject to a draft (including older health care workers and people with other specialized skills who might be subject to an 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 be brought to realize that a draft is not "feasible" because so many people would not comply, and because noncompliance would render it unenforceable. The Commission can and should recommend that Congress enact legislation to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System.

That's the lesson of the last 38 years of failure of draft registration. We need to teach that lesson to the National Commission on Service.

The Commission needs 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.

The Commission is also supposed to report on, "the feasibility... of modifying the military selective service process in order to obtain for military, national, and public service individuals with skills (such as medical, dental, and nursing skills, language skills, cyber skills, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills) for which the Nation has a critical need, without regard to age or sex." So the Commission needs to hear from people in all of these occupational categories who would refuse to be drafted.

To the extent that the Commission is considering some form of compulsory service, it needs to be reminded of the contradictions between comulsion or coercion and any positive notion of "service". As I said directly to the Commisison in my testimony at its hearing in Denver in April 2018, "Compulsory service is, by definition, slavery." Others have 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 ilegal and immoral orders.

How does the Commission operate? What happens at its meetings and events?

I've attended three of the Commission's publicly advertised meetings, and have talked to opponents of the draft who attended others. All of these events have been small and informal, with perhaps 50 people in attendance at each, including Commission staff and invited witnesses and guests, mainly from voluntary "service" organizations. There has been no way toi sign up in advance to testify. The first hour of each 2-hour "public" session has been devoted to presentations by Commission members and a panel of invited witnesses. For the second hour, members of the audience have been called on by show of hands to speak for up to 2 minutes each. So far as I know, everyone who showed up and wanted to testify at one of these events has gotten a chance to speak. If time was left over after everyone wishing to speak had done so, those wanting more time were given a second chance to speak for an additional 2 minutes each.

To date, only a few of the Commission's meetings and events have been publicly advertised or disclosed in advance, and details of locations and times have been disclosed only at the last minute. The Commission has adopted a (secret) research plan for its staff, and has solicited and received numerous closed-door briefings. Even Commision stafff members have been excluded from many of the Commisison's meetings. Some members of the Commision 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 Commision as a whole. We don't know what has been discussed or what differences of opinion exist between members of the Commission.

The emphasis in the publicity for the Commission's public events and its selection of invited speakers at those events has been almost entirely on voluntary rather than compulsory service. The focus of the Commssion's interest appears to be a compulsory "national service" requirement with both military and civilian components. While the Commission has solicited and received some closed-door briefings on the draft, draft registration, and compulsory "service", none of these appear to have addressed the issues of compliance, enforcement, or whether a draft or compulsory service would be "feasible".

In spite of the low profile given to the issues of draft registration, the draft, and compulsory "service" in the Commiasison's publicity about its events, witnesses at the Commisison hearings I have attended have included people who have refused to register for the draft (including at least 3 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, conscientious objectors to military "service", military veterans against war and con scription, and other supporters of dracft resistance.

NCMNPS records released in response to my FOIA request:

Those few meetings the Commision has chosen to designate as "public" have been open and informal, as noted above, although the extremely short notice given toi the public about the locations and times of these events has made it extremely difficult for interested members of the public from outside these few sites to arrange to attend. The Commision has provided as little information as the law allows about all of nthe rest of its activities, including who it has met with behind closed doors, what briefings it has requested and received, and the research it has commissioned.

Federal "advisory" committees are required to deliberate in a fish bowl, but the NCMNPS was created as an "independent agency" with its members as minimally-paid part-time Federal employees, rather than an advisory committee. This allows the Commission to carry our many of its activities behind closed doors, and it appears to be intent on doing so to the maximum extent allowed by law. The Commission's records are subject to the Freedom Of Information Act, although with the usual exemptions in that law. I have made a FOIA request for the Commission's records of its meetings and events, and I plan to make follow-up requests periodically for newly-created records.

All of the Commission records released in response to my request are posted below.

This page will be updated as more Commisison records are released. If you receive records from the NCMNPS is response to your own FOIA requests, please share them for posting here.

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