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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)

[More information will be posted here as soon as the final report of the NCMNPS is released on 25 March 2020. See these notes on what I think the NCMNPS is likely to recommend, and this speech by the Chair of the NCMNPS about what it has been considering. I am available for comment on the issues raised by the NCMNPS and its report, both before and after the release of the report.]

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


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 has scheduled oral argument on March 4, 2020, at Tulane University Law School 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. If upheld, as seems likely, this ruling 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 Service1 (NCMNPS), which was created in response to this judicial pressure for Congressional action, has concluded its public comment period2, public hearings, and closed-door meetings with invited stakeholders (including, near the end of this two-year process, a conference call with war resisters and conscientious objectors), and is scheduled5 to release its final report and legislative recommendations on its Web site on 25 March 2020 and at an event in Washington, DC, the next day. 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 piublic hearings and closed-door invitation-only consultations and meetings during 2018 and 2019. That public comment period has ended. (The deadline for comments published in the Federal Register was 30 September 2018, but after that deadline the Commission posted a new FAQ on its Web site stating that, "The Commission ... will accept comments until December 31, 2019.")

The next step will be for the Commission to release its final report and recommendations. The Commission has announced that it will publish its final report and recommendations on Wednesday, 25 March 2020, followed by a media event ito promote the report and its recommendations on in Washington, DC, on Thursday, 26 Macrh 2020. Congress is likely to take up the issue in late 2020 (after the elections) or more likely 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 will release 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 is likely to recommend, what we should recommend to Congress, and information about the Commission's activities obtained through my 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 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')."

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.)

The law establishing the Commisioon, as later amended, requires the Commision to report its recommendations to Congress and the President by March 2020. The law also requires the Commision to make its recommendations public, although the Commision's deliberations have been kept secret.

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 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, a Republican former member of Congress from Nevada, was elected Chairman by the members of the Commission.

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.

How did the Commission operate? What happened at its meetings and events?

The Commission was established 23 December 2016 through provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017. The Commission was originally required to report back to the President and Congress with its recommendations within 30 months of its establishment, i.e. by 23 June 2019. Two years later, in August 2018, Congress included a provision in the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019 that changed the official "establishment date" of the Commission from December 2016 to September 2017. This had the effect of changing the deadline for the Commission's report from June 2019 to March 2020 -- at which time its recommendations can either be ignored, used, or abused to score points in campaigns for the 2020 elections.

The Commissioners are temporary part-time Federal employees of the NCMNPS. They have been meeting monthly since September 2017, typically for a 2-3 day session either at the Pentagon, the Commission's offices nearby in Arlington, VA, or at other locations throughout the country in conjunction with site visits.

The Commission's events have been carefully stage-managed, with nominal opportuntities for public comment but most time devoted to presentations by Commission members and invited panelists. Members of the Commission had an initial media training session in January 2018 from a Vice President of Edelman Public Relations. Two consultants were later hired by the Commission to provide further media training to the members of the Commission at their December 2018 meeting. At their January 2019 closed meeting, the members of the Commission held a "mock hearing" to rehearse for their public hearings.

I attended four of the Commission's publicly advertised meetings in 2018, and have talked to opponents of the draft who attended others. (See my intial initial written response to the Commission's request for public comments, my comments at its events in Denver, Boston, and Nashua, and my report on the meeting in Los Angeles.) All of these events were small and informal, with perhaps 50 people in attendance at each, including Commission staff and invited witnesses and guests, mainly from voluntary "service" organizations. The first hour of each public session was devoted to presentations by Commission members and a panel of invited witnesses. For the second hour, members of the audience were allowed 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 got a chance to speak, except at the public event in Los Angeles where the Chair of the Commission called an end to the event rather than take an additional 10-15 minutes to hear from everyone who had raised their hand to speak.

Details of locations and times were disclosed only at the last minute. The Commission claims that "These meetings allowed folks to assemble from all over the country," but in fact they were held on too short notice for that to be feasible for those who didn't happen to live near one of the meeting locations. The Commission adopted a (secret) research plan for its staff, and solicited numerous closed-door briefings. But it wasn't until late 2019, at the very end of the Commission's deliberations, that any of the Commissioners met with any conscientious objectors or draft resisters.

In a disgraceful attempt to appropriate the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Commission held one of its public events in August 2018 at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraince Motel in Memphis, TN, on the site of Dr. King's assassination. Invoking a perverted re-writing of Dr. King's message to support compulsory "national service", the Chair of the Commission, Brigadier General Joe Heck, published an op-ed column on MLK Jr. Day in 2020 asking his readers to, "Think about Dr. King's words." But here's what Dr. King said about the military draft:

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. I'm very disturbed about the militaristic posture of our nation, and I think until we have a radical reordering of priorities in our country, we're going more and more to the depths -- and I should say to the doom -- that follows arrogance of power.

The Commission sought input from a variety of individuals and organizations, some of them with little or no apparent expertise to offer about the draft, draft registration, or compulsory service. In December 2018, for example, Tweets from the Commission revealed that members of the Commission had made a special, unannounced trip to Seattle to consult with Starbucks and Microsoft. Immediately after the release of the Commission's interim report in January 2019, members of the Commission held "discussions and listening sessions" with 27 non-governmental organizations -- not including any anti-war organizations.

Among other issues, the Commission is 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." The Commission held one closed-door meeting with STEM students at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Memphis. But this was an invitation-only meeting, disclosed only after the fact. The Commission's only meeting with health care workers was a "faith-Based conversation", also disclosed only after the fact, at the Congregational Health Network in Memphis.

Although the law creating the Commission provides that Commission meetings are to be open to the public unless a member of the Commission objects, or classified information is to be discussed, the redacted minutes I have received in response to my FOIA requests reveal that Commission members have unanimously agreed to close almost all of their meetings to the public and the press. Even Commission staff members have been excluded from many of the Commission's meetings.

The Commission's first formal hearing, on 21 February 2019, covered "universal service". Of course this "universal" service will be only for young people. The casual conflation of "universal" with "compulsory only for young people" reflects the Commission's profound and unexamined ageism. Any such system would have to have a compulsory element, and thus an enforcement mechanism, in order to be universal, and the staff memo on issues and policy options to be discusssed at this hearing includes the following:

Ideas on how mandatory service could be structured have been proposed many times over the past several decades, with primary considerations including ensuring compliance and effective programming. Punishments or sanctions for failing to meet a service requirement could range from ineligibility for government benefits or employment to fines or imprisonment. Whatever means are in place to encourage compliance, a well-structured mandatory service program would require a system to monitor participation.

No witnesses were invited to discuss the issues of compliance, enforcement, or feasibility of compulsory national service.

The only discussion of compliance, enforcement, or feasibility -- i.e. of resistance to conscription as distinct from protest, or legal options for Conscientious Objectors within the system -- occured during two days of formal public hearings on the future of Selective Service in Washington, DC, on 24-25 April 2019.

On 24 April 2019, Dr. Bernard Rostker, a former director of the Selective Service System, testified that that the database of registrants has become so hopelessly incomplete and inaccurate that it is "less than useless" and couldn't be used for a military draft that could be enforced or would stand up to due process and fairness challenges, and that it can and should be shut down entirely rather than trying to expand it to women.

I testified as part of an invited panel of expert witnesses on 25 April 2019 on "Expanding Selective Service registration to all Americans", i.e. whether draft registration should be ended entirely or extended to young women as well as young men. (Links to my testimony and more information about this hearing.)

These two days of hearings (agendas and witness lists) covered both whether draft registration should be ended or continued, and if it is continued, whether it should be extended to women.

At a press conference to announce the release of the Commission's Interim Report on 23 January 2019 (video archive: part 1, part 2) and its plans for formal hearings, Brig. General Heck said, "We are also taking public comment as we go on our hearing tour. We will reserve a portion of that time to collect public comment in person at those hearings." But only a limited amount of time was allocated to uninvited witnesses selected by lot from those who checked in and got tickets before the start of each hearing. Members of the public whose tickets were chosen were allowed two minutes each to speak to the Commission.

What did the Commission say in its Interim Report in January 2019?

The Commission released an interim report on Wednesday, 23 January 2019. See this blog post for some of the errors of omission and commission in the interim report and some key points to keep in mind as you read the interim report and/or news stories about it, such as this one in USA Today in which I was quoted.

What is the Commission likely to recommend in its final report in March 2020?

Members of the Commision have given little public indication of what the Commision will recommend, but by far the most detailed discussion of possible recommendations being considered by the Commission with respect to the Selective Service System is this speech by Brig. Genl. Heck to a military audience in September 2019 (one of many records of Commission meetings and events disclosed only in response to my FOIA requests. I am available to discuss the Commission's likely recommendations, and will post more information here as soon as the final report of the is released.

The Commission has announced that it will publish its final report and recommendations on Wednesday, 25 March 2020, followed by a media event ito promote the report and its recommendations on in Washington, DC, on Thursday, 26 March 2020.

Sometime after it receives the NCMNPS report and recommendations in March 2020, Congress will take up the issue of whether to end draft registration or try to extend it to young women as well as young men. I expect that debate will wait until after the elections, in late 2020 or perhaps more likely 2021. But Congress can't dodge the issue much longer than that without being overtaken by the courts.

Both a bill to enact the Commission recommendations and H.R. 5492 could be considered on their own, or incorporated into a larger bill such as one implementing recommendations of the NCMNPS (which would probably also contain additional funding for voluntary national service programs along with proposals related to the SSS) or the annual 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) require 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 precludes a straight party-line vote. But those "Business Rules" could be changed at any time by majority vote of the Commission. And there could be one or more concurring or dissenting minority reports by Commission members.

NCMNPS records released in response to my FOIA requests (many of which 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.

It remains unclear what the NCMNPS will recommend. 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."

My guess, based on the questions asked during the NCMNPS hearings and the most recent records released by the NCMNPS, is that the NCMNPS may recommend ending the current draft registration program, but keeping the SSS to provide updated contingency plans for an "on demand" conscription system not based on prior registration, and some (voluntary but "incentivized") new secondary inactive reserve scheme.

This would likely mean eliminating the current criminal penalties for nonregistration, at least during times when inductions aren't being ordered, but would likely leave in place both Federal and state administrative sanctions for past nonregistration. This is why it's so important for H.R. 5492 to have been introduced and to be considered by Congress as a better alternative to whatever the NCMNPS recommends, even if the NCMNPS recommendations include an end to draft registration.

Any new contingency plans for conscription recommended by the NCMNPS are likely to include women as well as men. Despite partisan differences, a majority of the Commissioners probably believe - perhaps correctly - that women won't object too much to being included in contingency planning for a draft, as long as they aren't now registered or required to do anything.

The Commissioners may see retaining the Selective Service System and perhaps a "voluntary" registration program as providing political cover for finally ending the current failed and unenforceable registraiton scheme. The Commission may also assume, perhaps correctly, that if women aren't required to register for the draft, fewer of them will protest being included in contingency planning for military conscription. But including women in contingency plans for an "as needed" or "just in time" draft or draft registration would only postponing the reckoning: As I and others told the Commission, many women will resist if they are ever actually drafted. And as I also pointed out to the Commission, "decriminalizing" nonregistration would not, in itself, eliminate the lifetime Federal and state civil and administrative sanctions for nonregistration. That would require additional "preemption" provisions such as those included in H.R. 5492.

If ongoing Selective Service registration were ended, that would make induction orders difficult or impossible to deliver provably or to enforce. There is no other Federal database that has sufficiently accurate and comprehensive address information that it could be relied on to deliver induction notices or to provide a basis for prosecution of those who don't report for induction after being sent a notice. Except for people who are under court supervision for having been convicted of a crime, and men between the ages of 18 and 26 who are required to inform the Selective Service System each time the change their addresss, U.S. citizens are free to change addresses without immediately notifying any Federal agency.

Sexist pro-war opponents of drafting women or allowing women in combat have argued that the Commission was created and appointed in order to provide political cover for the expansion of draft registration to women. But that's not at all clear, especially given the way the debate in Congress in 2016 on whether to expand draft registration to women crossed party lines. It may be easier for the Commission to agree to recommend a compulsory "national service" program with both military and civilian components , or contingency planning for conscription that isn't based on registration by potential draftees, than to recommend expanding a purely military draft registration program to women or abandoning all preparations for a draft.

The positions advocated for by the Bipartisan Policy Center -- a think tank including many former members of Congress and Federal officials that reflects some of the the bipartisan Congressional "consensus" that led to the creation of the NCMNPS -- may give a clue to the Commissioners' initial thinking. In March 2017, the BPC released a lengthy report on military personnel issues -- probably begun in 2016 before the NCMNPS was created -- recommending that draft registration be extended to women instead of men. By October 2018, a former member of Congress and BPC fellow was calling (possibly as a stalking horse for the NCMNPS or some of its members) for a compulsory national service requirement, not just registration with the Selective service System, for all young people.

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 goals of the interim report appear to have been to (a) test the public reaction to policy options including those being most actively considered for the Commission's recommendations, and (b) shape public debate by giving a limited menu of options between which to choose, and factors on which to base that choice -- not including the likelihood of resistance or the difficulty of enforcement of compulsory "service", issues on whihc the Commission has yet to conduct research or invite testimony.

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. 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 ask what could be done to "increase participation in military... service by individuals with critical skills," but don'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 Commision 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 already 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 have been invited to speak as panelists at the Commission's public events haven't been told that the Commission is tasked by Congress with studying the draft and compulsory service. Several have 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's still 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 focus 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 nonviolent direct action against the draft and his advocacy of conscientious objection to military "service":

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.

One focus of the Commission's initial interest appeared to be a compulsory "national service" requirement with both military and civilian components. The Commission solicited and received closed-door briefings on the draft, draft registration, and compulsory "service", but none of these appear to have addressed the issues of compliance, enforcement, or whether a draft or compulsory service would be "feasible".

The fragmentary records I have received from the Commission in response to my FOIA requests show that the Commission has solicited and received written and verbal (closed-door) briefings from invited witnesses and reviewed published articles concerning the draft, draft registration, a special skills draft, and compulsory national "service".

The author of an article entitled, "Why We Still Need the Draft", which was distributed to the members of the Commission, was invited to give a closed-door briefing in which she, "argued for preserving the selective service system in case of mass mobilization, and urged the Commission to consider ways in which the nation might conscript individuals with unique skills, such as financial analysts or software engineers." During another closed-door briefing by a retired military officer who was invited to tell the Commission why he supports reinstating the draft, members of the Commission asked about how to "sell" the idea of military conscription to a reluctant American public. But there's been little or no mention of this aspect of the Commission's private agenda in the publicity for its public events.

None of the academic experts consulted by the Commision has had any expertise in the history of draft resistance, compliance, or enforcement, and nobody raised these issues in the Commission's closed-door roundtable with invited academic "thought leaders".

At the Commission's October 2018 meeting, the Commission held a closed-door "panel on mandatory national service". According to an article published later by one of the invited participants, a Libertarian anti-draft law professor, "The panel consisted of several legal scholars speaking with divergent viewpoints on the issue, which we understood as focusing on mandatory civilian service, not just the military kind..... I was told that the Commission does not currently plan to publicize an audio or transcript of the panel."

Later public statements by members of the Commision, however, including comments by the Chair of the Commission at a symposium on national service at the Brrokings Institution on 10 October 2019, suggest that the Commissioners eventually realized that compulsory nationals service is a complete political non-starter.

Much of the rest of Commission's October 2018 meeting was devoted to "a closed deliberation to discuss the Selective Service System, focusing on whether all Americans should be required to register", i.e. whether the current requirement for young men to register should be extended to young women. According to the redacted minutes released a month later, a law professor with a background as a military judge was invited to facilitate this discussion. The perceived need to invite an outside facilitator to mediate among the Commissioners suggests that the Commission was still strongly divided on this issue, and had not yet decided whether to recommend that draft registration be ended for all, kept unchanged, expanded to women, or replaced with something different.

Just after that meeting, an op-ed was published in The Hill which which appears to be a trial balloon for at least some of the Commissioners who support a compulsory national service program for all young people. It describes a proposal remarkably similar to the compulsory national service legislation proposed (unsuccessfully) by Rep. Pete McCloskey in the late 1970's and early 1980s. (After his release from prison, draft resister David Harris ran for Congress against McCloskey in 1976.)

As part of its next set of meetings, in November 2018, the Commissioners held a closed-door meeting at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington with representatives of several foreign governmentsto discuss their compulsory service requirements.

The law establishing the Commission required several 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.

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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