The talk radio station I listen to daily sometimes runs a PSA about Selective Service. It starts out by saying all the things that a man is able to do when he turns 18, finally turning its attention to Selective Service. If you do not file with the Selective Service System, the PSA warns, you will not be able to vote or hold a government job (as well as, but not included in the ad: Risking your citizenship and not being able to obtain student aid or Pell Grants). All these threats are listed for those unwilling to along with the government’s plan for your life.
I am adamantly opposed to Selective Service. It is conscription registration — in simple terms, a draft registration. According to the Selective Service System website, the names and addresses of over 15 million men were on file at the end of 2008. Since 2008, my name was added to that list when I went to get my driver’s license this past summer — begrudgingly. I told the women at the BMV that Selective Service was wrong and basically amounted to a dormant draft, and she agreed with me.
The history of the draft must be considered as well. The first impromptu drafts were the militia system of the colonies which were later adapted by the Continental Congress in order to fill the ranks of the Continental Army — which often was very ineffective and failed to fill the ranks. In the War of 1812, James Madison attempted to create a national draft of 40,000 men, albeit unsuccessfully, and the proposal was blasted in a speech by Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster. In the War between the States, both the South and North passed ineffective conscription laws which met with many riots and much violence (of the 2.1 million Union troops mobilized during the war, 2% were draftees, and 6% paid substitutes — owing to the unpopularity of the draft and the willingness of men to volunteer). The substitution system allowed a man’s family could pay for someone else to serve in his stead if they were rich enough. Able-bodied Mark Twain resisted the conscription spending the war as a secretary to the governor of the Nevada Territory, and then as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada. In 1864, he moved to San Francisco, California and took up work as a journalist to keep out of the war.
The Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed by Congress on May 18th, 1917. This was an essential part of building up the American empire at a time when Woodrow Wilson was wreaking havoc in office. The 16th Amendment (income taxation) and 17th Amendment (popular election of senators) were both ratified in the first half of 1913, and the Federal Reserve Act had been passed and signed into law by Woodrow Wilson in the latter half of 1913 — all changes that have significantly shaped this country for the worse. The Selective Service Act of 1917 was another one — basically a dormant draft, collecting information on those eligible and then when needed, calling them to “serve.” This act was discontinued in 1920. Yet, conscription would again rear its ugly head in 1940 with the passage of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, on September 16th, 1940. This act was the first peace-time draft in U.S. history. It at first conscripted males 21 to 36 for a period of 12 months, but was later adapted to males aged 18 to 45 for a military service period of 18 months. With the declaration of war, the period was lengthened to last the duration of the war plus a six-month service in the Organized Reserves. This act was what conscripted the men who fought and served during the Second World War.
During the Vietnam War, the draft did not go over well, with many protests and riots occurring around the United States that only built up in number as the war continued, often in conjunction with anti-war rallies. It is estimated that as many 100,000 military-age males fled the country to avoid the draft. In 1973, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced that all U.S. armed forces would become volunteer only.
The current Selective Service System law that is utilized today started out as The Selective Service Act of 1948, but the most recent name, bestowed upon it in 1971, is The Military Selective Service Act. According to this law, all males 18 years and older have to register for Selective Service. All males between the ages of 19 to 26 are eligible to be drafted for a service requirement of 21 months.
There is, however, a check to conscription — though it still requires some sort of service to the government regardless of your own plans concerning your life. Men can opt to become Conscientious Objectors for military non-combat service (1-AO) or Conscientious Objectors for non-military community service (1-O).
My objections to Selective Service start at the legal level. Despite Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, nothing in the Constitution allows a draft or Selective Service. Many of the Founders never intended a standing army and viewed that as a facilitation of tyranny. In fact, the 13th Amendment — ratified after the War between the States — says the following (emphasis added):
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Selective service sounds a lot like involuntary servitude to me, or at least registration for it. The last time I checked, all of the draftees from the day the 13th Amendment was ratified to today were not duly convicted or being punished for crime.
Daniel Webster even questioned the Constitutionality of the draft in his address to the House on December 9th 1814, denouncing President Madison’s proposed draft of 40,000 men (emphasis added):
Is this the real character of our Constitution? No, sir, indeed it is not…. Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden, which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and baleful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty?
My other objections are moral, realistic, and personal. It is wrong to force people to serve something they do not believe in or care about. Volunteer armies are comprised of motivated men and women who have the ambition to achieve goals and have their heart in the mission.
My personal reasons — which could also be considered by others as their personal reasons — are more simple. I should be able to decide how to schedule my own life, ambitions, plan, and calling. If I want to serve in the military, I will. I do not need a coercive government telling me that I have to do so and so because they say.
Hopefully, we can stop the hawkish drums of war currently beating for conflict in Iran and Yemen — on top of the endless engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan — or else, I and over 15 million other military aged men have the possibility of being sent unwilling to more quagmires that are a drain on lives, money, and infrastructure.
For further reading on this subject, see this great piece, entitled Is Conscription Slavery?Published in