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Selective Service: Do We Need It?

House of Rep.

The US hasn’t had a draft since 1973. The last time a draft bill was introduced before Congress was in 2003 during the Iraqi War. It was unanimously defeated. Even its author voted against it. So why are men denied government jobs or college loans because they neglected or refused to register with the Selective Service System?

The function of the Selective Service is just to collect names. It serves no other purpose. It doesn’t provide names to military recruiters or provide recruitment information to registrants. It does provide severe penalties for none compliance.

Failing to register through negligence or intention can ban men from government jobs, college loans and even college. What is really amazing is that this life sentence is irrevocable.

After his 26th birthday a man that has not registered cannot decide, under any fine or penalty, to register. The only way of removing this “stigma” is to enlist in the military. It’s hard to imagine any “crime” where the “defendant” has so little recourse to justice!

You can neglect to pay your taxes, pay a penalty, and become Secretary of the Treasury, but make a mistake with the Selective Service System and your future prospects are dim. Of course, Selective Service laws discriminate against the poor.

The Selective Service could charge the defendant with a crime with a sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine but it does not. If it did the defendant would have “standing” before a court of law.

An obvious defense would be to challenge the constitutionality of a law that only applies to men. Some of the consequences of this gender discrimination are really wacky.

For example, hermaphrodite men that were born girls are exempted and prohibited from registration. Women born boys must register.  Obama promises to remedy gender discrimination by including women in the Act.

A common mistake made by unregistered young men is believing that enlistment in the military is registration. Men serving in the military or who have received an honorable discharge are exempted from registration. Trying to enlist and then being rejected doesn’t count.

While Selective Services’ only task is to collect names, it’s less than perfect. It constantly screws up names and Social Security numbers. People who process application forms have seen this so often that they usually grant the applicant the benefit of the doubt.  This certainly penalizes honesty!

The pentagon does not want a draft. The all-volunteer army has been a success. It was created during the height of the Cold War and has shown that it can meet any demand better than a conscripted force.

Congressperson Charles Rangel (D-NY15) introduced a draft bill because he opposed the Iraqi War and the disproportional representation of the poor among the troops. He believed that a draft bill might arouse affluent parents.

Conscription was once pitched as egalitarian. This is a myth. Colin Powell in his autobiography (My American Journey) complains about the unfairness of the draft. He notes how the exemption of the sons of the affluent and the well connected hurt the morale of the troops in Vietnam. Ironically, he ended up working for the same affluent and well connected.

I think that there are better ways to achieve Rangel’s objective.  Raise military pay, benefits, and qualifications making the military more attractive to highly skilled individuals that want to make the military their career. Increase educational funding for everyone.

Many enlist because that is the only way they can afford an education. This is a form of coercion. Do we want solders that, once educated, are looking for the exit? I think we want individuals in the military that chose it as a career.

Educational funding is the tax payers’ best return-on-investment. It beats paying out to failing banks and defunct auto plants.

Some believe that Selective Service is the gateway to compulsory national service. This is the subject of my next post.

Photo Credit: US Government

Written by Fred Etcheverry

Fred Etcheverry lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife Elsa. He is a freelance high-tech B2B (Business-to-Business) copywriter usually for clients in the nearby Silicon Valley. He is also an engineering consultant and teaches courses in industry and college on computers and electronics. When he is doing none of the above, he swims in the Monterey Bay, hikes in the Santa Cruz redwood forests, visits his adult children, or goes to art galleries, plays and operas with Elsa and friends.

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  1. It’s simple. It’s a requirement of SERVICE to your COUNTRY. If you’re never called upon, thank your lucky stars. Your father however DIDN’T have that luxury — he was most likely cannon fodder in Vietnam.

    If you don’t want to register, fine. Don’t. Just don’t complain about the consequences. Compliance a SMALL PRICE TO PAY for living in the country of the FREE.

  2. We certainly have the right to complain about a law that is capricious, ineffective and counterproductive. Congressperson Ron Paul (R-TX) argues that money spent on Selective Service is wasted and would be better spent on VA benefits. As my article explained, a draft is not the issue. We have an all-volunteer army. Many democracies have adopted an all-volunteer army similar to the US model or are considering it. Countries with all-volunteer armies include: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ice Land, India, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, UK, and the US.

    Thanks for your comment.

    • The question is not whether Congress, the Pentagon, or the President “want” a draft, or believe it is “necessary” as a last resort. The question is whether a draft is possible or enforceable. I’m doing a research paper on the affects of the draft and the purpose of its resumption in 1980 and I still can’t find a reason for the Congress to pass the bill that reinstates the draft. Any ideas?

  3. So why sign up? and why the harsh penalties? They must really want people to register. I still dont get it . Threatining people with imprisonment and $250,000 fines for not signing up, without letting us know what we are signing up for, sounds pretty f*cked up.

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