Why do some people resist the draft?
We support all those who resist the draft, draft registration, "Selective Service", the expansion of draft registration to women, the "Health Care Personnel Delivery System" (medical draft), or compulsory national service. We support you in your acts of resistance, regardless of your motives.
Most draft-age people who visit this site already know they don't want to be drafted, and are looking for practical information and advice about how to avoid the draft. But since others sometimes ask, "Why do you resist?", or "Why do you resist draft registration, when there is no draft?", here are some of our reasons, and the events and thinking behind them:
Draft resistance is a diverse movement and a largely spontaneous grassroots phenomenon, not an organization with an agreed-upon ideology. There are many equally good and sufficient reasons why different people resist draft registration. I have my own reasons for having refused to register for the draft and for believing that it's time to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System. (The US government put me in prison for refusing to agree to fight on the side of the people who would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Do I need to say more about why I refused?) But as I said, your motives may vary.
Military conscription under the "Selective Service System" in the USA would enslave some people (but not others), to fight, try to kill, and perhaps be killed by other people. Some people oppose this system because we oppose slavery. Some people oppose this system because we oppose war, or because we oppose the particular wars for which a draft might be used. Some people oppose this system because we oppose the ways that people are or would likely be selected (on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnicity, class, education, etc.). Some people oppose the Selective Service System for all or some combination of these reasons, and/or for other reasons.
Countering military recruiting, supporting and encouraging resistance within the military, opposing the hiring of mercenaries and the outsourcing of war-making to private contractors, and draft resistance can all be part of a nonviolent "people power" strategy to stop war by depriving the military of warriors.
It's the government that bears the burden of justifying its demands on our bodies and our lives, not us who should have to explain why we question authority or ignore illegitimate orders. Times have changed. These are not the 1960's, and this is not the Vietnam War. Today's young people have grown up long after Watergate and the US war in Vietnam, in an era in which it is taken for granted that the U.S. government doesn't nececessarily act in the best interests of its subjects, much less the interests of humanity.
Some people don't understand why anyone would resist conscription at the point of registration, rather than waiting until they were drafted. "It's just registration, not a draft" they say. But the purpose of draft registration is to prepare the administrative infrastructure and the minds of potential soldiers for conscription and war.
In early 1980, when President Carter had just proposed to resume draft registration, the Princeton University student newspaper, whose editorial board was chaired by current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, endorsed an "anti-registration, anti-draft, anti-war" rally in these terms:
[M]yopic and over-sensitive "national pride" precludes the thoughtful search for alternatives to an unnecessary draft registration. At today's noon rally ... Princeton students can demonstrate that they view [draft] registration as a dangerous and unacceptable method of settling our current problems.
Some have argued that registration can be separated from the possibility of draft and of war.... We do not believe this is so. The threat of a military force is implicit in draft registration.
At stake is not simply the adoption of Carter's proposal -- although it is, in itself, something we deeply oppose. After all, the rally is not just for the 19- and 20-year-olds recently pinpointed for registration. We should also demonstrate against the proposal because it is a manifestation of a growing militarism in which politically motivated bravado plays too large a part.
We urge all students to attend the anti-registration rally ... today. By showing concern, we can impress upon our leaders our opposition to their unreasonable, militarist policies.
In recent years, there have been periodic calls for a return to military conscription in the USA. Some people have argued that more people would oppose war if they feared that they or their family members might be drafted.
Asked about this during a conversation about war with David Swanson in San Francisco on Memorial Day, 2016, Daniel Ellsberg had this to say (at 1:25:25 of video):
Despite the fact that the draft did account for large rallies, it also was essential to a large war. And I think that if we got the draft back, in other words if we started drafting people we'd have a much larger military, and I believe that we would -- dangerous and wrongful as it is for us to be operating with special forces in many, many countries around the world -- if we were operating with brigades and divisions.... then what'll go with that is a hell of a lot more bombing than you've seen yet. With the American troops would come bombing of the local country on a vastly greater scale.... The fact is that the overall scale would be enormously greater. A draft, I'm afraid, would facilitate that. That's one lesson from Vietnam.
(This is not a Web site about the war in Vietnam, or about the resistance to it, but I can't help mentioning David Harris' brilliant book, "Our War: What We Did In Vietnam and What It Did to Us"; John Bach's extraordinary unpublished collection of letters from prison, submitted as his undergraduate honors thesis when he returned to college after his imprisonment, and available for reading in the special collections section of the Wesleyan University library in Middletown, CT; the documentary film about the most famous draft resister of that (and perhaps any) time, The Trials of Muhammad Ali; and the documentary film about the organized Resistance currently in production, The Boys Who Said No. These are only the tip of the iceberg of the literature of the Resistance. Resisters came from many backgrounds, and have contextualized their resistance within circles some of which have only small areas of intersection.)
Others have advocated a draft, explicitly or implicitly, as part of various compulsory "national service" schemes, or have suggested that a draft would be more fair than the "poverty draft" relied on by recruiters for the present "volunteer" military.
Some politicians speak of "universal service." This amounts to the same thing, of course: No such scheme could or would be "universal" unless it was compulsory, with penalties for non-participation. Compelled or coerced labor is conscription, not voluntary service, regardless of the purpose for which people are conscripted or the work they are forced to do. Work for the military is "service" neither to our interests nor to those of humanity. We urge these politicians to make clear that their calls for public and community service are calls for genuine volunteerism (not the "volunteerism" of the current economically-coerced "volunteer" military) and to dissociate voluntary service proposals from any form of legal or financial coercion or linkage with military enlistment or military training.
Representative Rangel, the sponsor of the most recent proposal for military conscription to be voted on (and voted down) by Congress, has said that "I don't see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft." But, like a substantial majority of the American people, we support neither the present war(s) nor the draft. A draft would be "needed" for the same reason that military recruiters are having difficulty meeting their quotas: because a war is so unpopular that the people are unwilling to fight it, even when lured by bribes (enlistment bonuses), lies, and recruiter fraud. Rather than find ways to force the unwilling to fight unpopular wars, we should find ways to end or withdraw from those wars.
That bills to reinstate a military draft continue to be introduced regularly in Congress, even if they have received little overt support in recent years, shows the importance of continued resistance to draft registration, and continued readiness -- by young people, health care workers, and all pacifists and other peace activists, particularly those who believe in the power of the people as exercised through nonviolent direct action -- to resist any attempt to reinstate a draft.
We share Rep. Rangel's concern for the racist targetting of poor people and people of color -- those with the fewest other options -- by military recruiters. It is a dramatic sign of social failure that, for many people, joining the armed forces seems like the only path to financial security, personal growth, empowerment, and a sense of self-worth and belonging to a community. But poor people, people of color, and undocumented immigrants are also those who are least likely to have registetred for the draft, according to surveys commissioned by the Selective Service System.
We urge Rep. Rangel, President Obama, and others concerned with these problems, to focus their attention on investigation and oversight of recruiting practices, and on creating alternatives to the military and to militarism (such as non-military vocational, violence reduction, and conflict resolution training, with financing that doesn't leave participants saddled with debt), rather than on trying to enlarge the pool of those subject to the abuses of the military.
Rep. Rangel, and others, also have suggested that a threat to conscript the children of members of Congress and other older people of wealth and power would induce them to take action to stop the war(s), out of fear for their children's lives. As pacifists, we reject this argument completely: It is tantamount to arguing that we should use the children of the rich as human shields against war, or that we should kidnap the children of people in power, hold them hostage, and ransom them for peace. And it would impose on potential draftees the burden of their elders' errors in making war -- which is unfair, ageist, and speaks directly to the ageism (of a draft enacted by all ages, but which imposes obligations exclusively on the young) that is one of the reasons that a draft of young people is wrong in the first place. The same goes for the argument that a draft would mobilize people to speak out against war(s). Yes, many people -- both those subject to the draft and others such as their families and loved ones -- would oppose any attempt to reinstate a draft. But it would make no sense for us to support a draft now, in order to encourage others to oppose it later. Rather, we encourage all those who oppose the draft to speak out, and to express their opposition to the draft in their actions, now, as early in the conscription process as possible.
Today, draft registration resistance, and the inevitable intensified resistance to any renewed draft, are not mere "protest". They have proven to be an effective nonviolent tactic of direct action that has rendered draft registration unenforceable and would prevent any draft from being effective or enforceable.
Both Democrats and Republican leaders in Congress have claimed that there is no chance that they will enact a draft. But they have continued to authorize, fund, and maintain draft registration, the Selective Service System, and contingency planning for both a general draft and activation of the Health Care Personnel Delivery System.
Fortunately, the question is not whether Congress, the Pentagon, or the President "want" a draft, or believe it is "necessary" as a last resort. When the "subjects" will not submit or carry out orders, the desires of "leaders" become irrelevant. The question is whether a draft is possible or enforceable, and the clear answer provided by decades of continuing massive noncompliance with Selective Service registration is, "No". A draft is simply not possible. It will be resisted, and it will be unenforceable.
The power to make that decision on whether there will be a draft rests with the people, not the Congress. This is a statement of fact, supported by history, not a threat: Young people won't go, and the government can't make them. We urge Congress, the Pentagon, and the President to recognize the impossibility of a draft, and to curtail their war plans accordingly. The draft is not an "option" for the US government, even as a last resort.
We congratulate those who have been subject to draft registration for their steadfast, spontaneous, courageous, and continuing defiance of the government's unsuccessful campaigns of lies, empty threats, show trials, and intimidation to try to scare them into compliance.
We urge health care workers, and others with special skills in particular demand by the military, to take encouragement from the successful resistance to reinstatement of a general draft, and to educate themselves and their communities, organize, speak out publicly, and prepare to resist any activation of the Health Care Personnel Delivery System or any other form of special skills draft. As with a general draft, there is safety, solidarity, and effectiveness in numbers, openness, and organization. Polls suggest that many health care workers would actively avoid being drafted, whether through legal or illegal means. We welcome and encourage that inclination towards resistance, which we believe would make a medical or special skills draft as unenforceable as a general draft.
We urge potential soldiers to reject both the carrot and the stick of military recruiting and conscription, and to refuse to be enlisted or to be inducted into any branch of the military or to work for the military as mercenaries or contractors.
Whether or not they have registered, we promise them our support and solidarity in their continued and enhanced resistance to any move to authorize or activate a draft or extend draft registration to additional categories of people -- whether that resistance takes the form of refusing to register, refusing to notify the Selective Service System of address changes, refusing to report for induction, refusing to be inducted, refusing to report for military duty, desertion, mutiny, refusing orders within the military, fraternization with the "enemy", or seeking sanctuary or asylum in other countries from participation in the military, participation in crimes against humanity, and participation in crimes against the laws of war.