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FAQ

What is the Selective Service System (SSS)?

How does the Draft work?

Is the Draft necessary for National Defense?

How Does The Draft Violate Your Freedom and Conscience?

How Does The Draft Violate Equality?

Why Does the Libertarian Party Oppose the Draft?

What are others saying about Selective Service?


What is the Selective Service System (SSS)?

Whether referred to as "Conscription," "The Draft," "Compulsory Service" or "Selective Service," the premise is the same. The Selective Service is a program that enables the government to force men to fight in wars. Anyone who has been drafted by the government is required to report for service wherever and whenever the government stipulates. Specialized drafts such as the Health Care Personnel Delivery System, which calls for the special conscription of doctors, nurses, medical technicians and those with certain other health care skills, is one such draft. In the event of an emergency in which the military's existing medical capability proved insufficient, the government would demand the registration of all male and female medical personnel between the ages of 20 and 45 into a special Selective Service System. Other such specialized plans may follow in the future depending on the need and circumstance. The result for those within the targeted fields is an astronomical increase in their chances of being drafted.

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How does the Draft work?

The law, as written in 1980, requires that all males register for a potential draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Failure to register is considered a serious offense, and the government has to date prosecuted 20 and punished 13 for its violation. Punishments of up to five years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine are only the beginning of your government's potential revenge.

Those exercizing their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by refusing to sign up for the draft will be ineligible for federal grants and loans, unable to attend state colleges, barred from government jobs, denied government job training and possibly refused a driver's license!1

Though the punishment seems extreme for those of us who are already Americans, immigrants who do not register for the draft by their 26th birthday fare much worse. Those who fail to sign up for the draft will be denied citizenship and possibly deported. Ironically, escaping some form of conscription at home is often the reason so many immigrants flee to the United States. Unfortunately for these aspiring Americans, they arrive to find they are subject to what is essentially the same program they had fled.

When you register, your name is added to the pool of candidates from which the government calls on draftees. During the draft the military’s ranks are filled on the basis of age. The government begins by calling on 20-year-old males to fill its quota. If the first round does not suffice, the draft then proceeds to the 21 - 25 age bracket. If after the first two stages of the draft there are still not enough soldiers, the Selective Service System first calls on 19 year-old males and then proceeds to the 18 year-old males to fill its quotas.2 Selection procedures have changed since Vietnam, but the final result has not. The Government ORDERS you to either fight and possibly die in conflict, or rot in prison.

Since the Vietnam War, draft rules for college students have also changed. Under present laws, college students who are unfortunate enough to be called on by the draft must quit school to serve in the military as soon as they finish the current semester. The government trumpets their ability to completely destroy someone’s educational goals as socially progressive, righting the past wrong of disproportionately requiring the poor and disadvantaged to serve in the military. Such attempts to legitimize the draft are absurd, for there will never be anything socially progressive or democratic about forcing someone into the military, regardless of the conscript’s background.

According to a poll taken by "Americans for Victory Over Terrorism," 37% of college students would evade a draft if called today, ensuring widespread social discontent on America's college campuses. "Americans for Victory Over Terrorism," led by the prominent conservative William Bennett, cites the inability of some students to name members of the Bush cabinet as proof that students have a fundamental lack of knowledge regarding, "...The virtues of American democracy...." The reality is that college students recognize that, "A compulsory draft... is far more typical of totalitarian nations... it is directly opposed to the principles of individual liberty." (Sen. Robert Taft)

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Is the Draft necessary for National Defense?

Over the past decade, the large-scale armies that had been the staple of national defense since the Napoleonic Wars have quickly become obsolete. The United States has been attempting to make deployment of its armed forces quick and efficient, focusing mainly on highly trained Special Forces rather than poorly trained conscripts. Following this plan, the Department of Defense issued a report in 1993 titled `A Review of the Continued Requirement for Draft Registration', which stated that, "...draft registration could be suspended without irreparable damage to national security,” because the needs of the military no longer require millions of poorly trained men to fight in large scale battles.

The War in Afghanistan provided further proof that there is no future for the conscripted grunt. In the 1980’s, Soviet conscripts suffered a miserable defeat at the hands of Afghanis, whose ability to maneuver quickly and hide made the Afghani soldiers undefeatable. The United States took into account the failed Soviet strategy of using conscripts, and entered Afghanistan with small groups of highly trained Special Forces. The success of the Special Forces in meeting their objectives allowed President George Bush to state in a March 13th press conference that, “The country shouldn't expect there to be a draft… the volunteer army is working." The military declared their operations in Afghanistan a success without ever having to call on one conscript.

After Afghanistan, nations around the world began the process of phasing out their antiquated conscription programs, citing the superiority of volunteer professional armies and inability to use conscripts with modern tactics. Belgium and the Netherlands abolished their drafts in the early 1990s, and conscription is currently being phased out in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal. Our closest ally, Britain, does not have a procedure for a draft, and has not for decades. Even Russia and Ukraine are eliminating conscription, leaving the United States virtually alone in retaining this Cold War relic. It seems that the only current use for the draft is the ability for the military to keep the names of people between the ages of 18-26 on a mass mailing/telemarketing list so that they can call potential recruits (read: all recent high school graduates) and mail them recruiting information. Though this is a bonus for the recruitment officer, it violates privacy rights by giving the military access to personal information without restrictions on its uses.

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How Does the Draft Violate Your Freedom and Conscience?

In the history of the United States, many statesmen have spoken out against the evils of the draft. The United States was built on the principles of freedom and independence of thought and action; however, conscription in the United States is slavery hiding behind the facade of patriotism. Daniel Webster, a brilliant and influential American Statesman of the 19th Century, brought to light the contradictions of a draft and a free society in a speech to the House of Representatives on December 9, 1814.

Where is it written in the Constitution? In what article is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, parents from their children, and compel them to fight in battles of any war in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? … Who will show me any Constitutional injunction which makes it the duty of the American people to surrender everything valuable in life, and even life itself, not when the safety of their country and its liberties may demand the sacrifice, but whenever the purposes of an ambitious and mischievous government may require it? The question is nothing less than whether the most essential rights of personal liberty shall be surrendered, and despotism embraced in its worst form.

A man’s freedom to interpret his government’s actions as just or evil- his ability to choose for himself the value of the cause and the price he is willing to pay- is negated by conscription. A citizen's right to oppose the government’s decision by refusing to enlist provides a necessary check on the government’s ability to wage unjustified wars. When Americans believe their cause is just and worthy, they vote by volunteering and supporting war efforts in huge numbers, making the forced enlistment of citizens unnecessary. Thus the only use for a draft is to permit the government to force its citizens to engage in groundless, evil and unjustified wars that they do not support. Even conscientious objectors are forced to enlist in the draft and support war by implication or face the consequences that the government will impose in punishment for their committment to peace. This is not freedom of thought or action, the draft is a function of a despotic state. Daniel Webster stated, “A free government with an uncontrolled power of military conscription is the most ridiculous and abominable contradiction and nonsense that ever entered into the head of man.” Almost 200 years later, Ronald Reagan echoed his sentiments: “A draft or draft registration destroys the very values that our society is committed to defending.”

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How Does The Draft Violate Equality?

The draft, which claims its justification in the belief that every American citizen must defend his liberty when called upon, begins drafting 20-26 year old men first. Do America's 20 year-old male youth have some exceptional duty to liberty that those only 10 years older do not. Should the young boys of America, many of whom have not yet formed some of the most basic perceptions and attitudes towards life, have a disporportionate responsibility to the nation. Should this impressionable group of boys be placed in a traumatic "kill or be killed" situation precisely at the time they are forming their basic attitudes toward life. The risk of death is significant, but even if he emerges without a single physical scar, the psychological scars may very well haunt him forever.

Though the young of America may face an undue burden in "defending the nation" in Saigon and Mogadishu, of this small segment of the population an even smaller segment is more thoroughly discriminated against. The policies and penalties for draft registration have the worst effect on poor, inner-city minorities and immigrants. SSS director Gil Coronado warns, "If we are not successful of reminding men in the inner cities about their registration obligation, especially minority and immigrant men, they ... will lose eligibility for college loans and grants, government jobs, job training, and for registration age immigrants, citizenship. Unless we are successful in achieving high registration compliance, America may be on the verge of creating a permanent underclass."

This system, that has been thoroughly disproven as a mode of preparing for war, that violates our basic freedoms and liberties, that forces a huge responsibility on a small segment of the population has the additional consequence of aiding poverty in America. Inner-city youth, already subject to the worst schools and the worst living standards within the United States, have the additional disadvantage of being barred from the services that the government provides. All for a program the Pentagon doesn't want and America doesn't need.

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Why Does the Libertarian Party Oppose the Draft?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the British were actively impressing Americans into service against their will and against their country. Jefferson’s immortal words held the implication that no man should ever hold power over another, regardless of title or class- rather those who hold title do so at the will of the people, and become servants to rather than rulers of the people. Conscription allows the government to rule by force the life of an American citizen, a concept that is wholly incompatible with democracy and free society.

Furthermore:

Because the draft violates our right to personal pursuit of happiness, conscience, privacy and free will;

Because the draft’s cost to taxpayers is in the excess of $25 Million annually in spite of the military’s claim that it is useless;

And because the draft has aided the destruction of urban America, and helped to ensure the continuance of poverty for years to come;

We believe that there is no other alternative to the immediate abolition of the draft. The Libertarian Party cannot tolerate such a horrendous abridgement of our liberty, let alone a policy whose sole product is waste and destruction. The uselessness of the draft in any legitimate sphere, and its injurious impact on our nation’s ideals and our communities has shown that conscription has outlived any dubious usefulness it had.

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What are others saying about Selective Service?

  • From the House Debate on Suspending Selective Service (July 27, 1995):
    • Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR): "Selective Service [is] a vestigial bureaucracy of the cold war...[F]rom the beginning there has been no military necessity for Selective Service and the registration, the roster report. Jimmy Carter's 1979 Director of Selective Service found that 8 to 10 days could be saved by registration, but that because of the bottleneck at the training facilities, not one troop would be delivered one day sooner to the battlefield...[P]atriotism does not come in a postcard, unless you have some bizarre Publisher's Clearing House view of what constitutes patriotism and Selective Service."
    • Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA): [P]ractically speaking, the draft and draft registration is a waste of scarce tax dollars... The draft itself will likely never serve our national security needs, especially in an era of high-tech weapons and computerized weapons systems...Speaking philosophically...a peacetime draft is totally inconsistent with our national tradition. Many of those who arrived on our shores and built this great land of liberty were escaping despotism, the despotism of their native lands, which more than anything else was signified by the tyranny of conscription. Only during the cold war was a peacetime conscription tolerated in the United States, and even then, after two decades, it was abandoned with the support of Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan... [I]t is long overdue that we quit wasting money on this anachronism which has nothing to do with the security of our country and everything to do with egos that are trying to prove a point in an argument that should have ended over 20 years ago... The strength of our country is in its love of liberty and freedom. Our military today represents that love of liberty because they are volunteers."
    • Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL): The Selective Service, as we know it today, was created by President Carter to respond to fears that regional conflicts of the Soviet Union would grow and lead to a superpower showdown. The national defense structure at that time had been gutted and allowed the volunteer Armed Forces to fall to dangerously low levels... [T]hat is not the case today. This Congress has made a commitment to a strong national defense. We intend to keep military personnel equipped and ready to fight...In almost 10 years of the Vietnam war, just under 2.5 million Americans were sent to the combat area; one of every four of those young Americans were drafted. In 10 years we did not send the number of volunteers that can be deployed from our shores today... [This] amendment will not leave the U.S. defense vulnerable. We have 3 million volunteers ready to fight."
    • Congressman Jack Metcalf (R-WA): "The opposition to this amendment argues that the Selective Service is a visible symbol of national security, a symbol that we need to protect. Well, $23 million is an awfully expensive symbol. The Department of Defense has stated, and I quote, `Peacetime draft registration could be suspended with no effect on military mobilization requirements.' I will repeat that. The Department of Defense: `Peacetime draft registration could be suspended with no effect on military mobilization requirements.'"
    • Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY): [W]e have lost sight of first principles. This country was founded on the spirit of liberty, that what we give to our country, we give voluntarily. The Peace Corps voluntary service is voluntary. The draft is not in the spirit of American liberty... For most of American history, we did not have it, and then we blessed ourselves as different from the tyrannies of Europe that had it... We would have plenty of time to prepare and to reinstitute a draft if some other nation began arming to match us with supposed danger. There is no danger that justifies this departure from our traditions of liberty."

  • The Pentagon:
    • "[Registration could be dropped with] no effect on military mobilization requirements, little effect on the time it would take to mobilize and no measurable effect on military recruitment... [S]uspending peacetime registration could be accomplished with limited risk to national security considering the low probability of the need for conscription." (Office of the Secretary of Defense, "Report to the President and Congress: A Review of the Continued Requirement for Draft Registration," December 1993, p.12)
    • "With reduced force levels combined with two decades of successful experience with raising and maintaining a volunteer force, improved Total Force policy, recent victorious wartime experiences, and the quality of active and reserve personnel, it is highly unlikely that we will have to reinstate the draft in the foreseeable future. Consequently, peacetime draft registration could be suspended without irreparable damage to national security." (p. iii.)
    • "While conscription is required to support an extended, large-scale conventional war, it would take months to expand the training base and accelerate equipment production rates to use the conscripts effectively. The Services would not be able to absorb a flood of inductees pumped into the training base. Moreover, with over one million trained members in Selected Reserve units, plus another 750,000 Individual Ready Reserve personnel, the capability already exists to augment the active forces substantially through the early days of a major conflict. By contrast, during the Korean Conflict it took over a year [of conscription] to expand the force by 1.8 million." (p. 12.)
    The Cato Institute:
    • "The highest form of service is rendered by those who serve voluntarily, not those who are forced, under pain of fine and imprisonment, to fill out a Selective Service card at their local post office... There is no higher calling than voluntarily defending one's family, neighborhood, and community. Signing up for an outdating list to serve as cannon fodder in an unnecessary war is another matter entirely." (Doug Bandow, "Draft Registration: The Politics of Institutional Immortality," Cato Policy Paper 214, August 15, 1994. P. 11. Bandow helped prepare the official report on draft registration for Reagan's Military Manpower Task Force.)

  • Other Comments:
    • Michael R. Allen: "Proponents of the draft continue to ignore their weakest point: namely, that wars which had the support of the American public would not require conscription but instead would have a full supply of eager volunteers. People not only own their own bodies, but a free society also grants people final say over government policy. War is an area where the voice of the people is very important, as their security is at stake. And where else can the people exercise their voice than in the decision on registering to serve. Denying this decision is in effect creating a government that does not respect the people's wishes, and instead dictates to them." ("Turning Eighteen in America: Thoughts on Conscription," Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 3, No 4, Jan. 25, 1999.)
    • Bill Galvin (Center on Conscience & War): "The privacy of more and more Americans is being compromised simply so the government can compile a list of those who might be draftable in an emergency that the pentagon expects will never happen."
    • Chris Lombardi (Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors): "Proponents of the draft call conscription an 'emergency response' and claim they're trying to call attention to the 'problem' [of declining recruitment/retention levels]. Perhaps the problem is that the military's still recruiting at Cold War levels, training for yesterday's failed wars, and abusing the personnel it does manage to enlist. Perhaps our young people understand better than our politicians that the new millennium demands new ways of intervening abroad, and better opportunities for national and international service."
    • Congressman Pete Stark (R-CA) : "Current registrants and volunteers are abundant and stand ready to defend our country should the need arise. The time has come to do away with our outdated and unnecessary system. Clearly, if there is no need for draftees, there is no need for a federal agency to conscript them -- and certainly not one that costs over $23 million a year." (The Military Selective Service Repeal Act of 1997, September 5, 1997)
    • Former Senator Robert Taft: "A compulsory draft ... is far more typical of totalitarian nations than of democratic nations. The theory behind it leads directly to totalitarianism. It is absolutely opposed to the principles of individual liberty."
    • Daniel Webster: Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, 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? ... Who will show me any Constitutional injunction which makes it the duty of the American people to surrender everything valuable in life, and even life itself, not when the safety of their country and its liberties may demand the sacrifice, but whenever the purposes of an ambitious and mischievous government may require it? ... The question is nothing less than whether the most essential rights of personal liberty shall be surrendered, and despotism embraced in its worst form... A free government with an uncontrolled power of military conscription is the most ridiculous and abominable contradiction and nonsense that ever entered into the head of man."(Speech to U.S. House of Representatives, December 9, 1814)
    • President Ronald Reagan: "[T]he most fundamental objection to draft registration is moral... a draft or draft registration destroys the very values that our society is committed to defending."
    • President Bill Clinton: "From my work I came to believe that the draft system itself is illegitimate. No government really rooted in limited, parliamentary democracy should have the power to make its citizens fight and kill and die in a war they may oppose, a war which even possibly may be wrong, a war which, in any case, does not involve immediately the peace and freedom of the nation." (Letter to ROTC Commander, December 3, 1969)

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    1 24 states currently deny financial aid, and 5 states have a bill pending that would do this. State employment is denied in 18 states, with bills pending in 4. States in which admittance to public colleges and universities is denied: AL, AR, CO, ID, LA, NH, and TN. Bills to this effect are pending in IA and SC. Driver's licenses are currently denied in AR, OK, DE, GA, HI, AL and UT. Bills are pending in 23 other states.

    2 For draft purposes, your "age" is the oldest you will be by the end of the calendar year in which the draft is enacted. It doesn't matter whether your birthday comes before or after the exact date of enactment. If a draft is enacted on January 1, 2002, and you will be turning 20 on or before December 31st of that year, then your "age" -- as far as the draft board is concerned -- is 20.



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