Alright, you’re probably here because you’re paranoid about being drafted. Don’t worry. That’s a very common anxiety when your country still technically does drafts. You may have already assumed this, but in this post we’ll be talking specifically about the American draft. So without further ado, and with a lot of resigned uncertainty about the future, what is the draft?
You probably know what military conscription (read: draft) is. The spirit of the question “what is the draft” kind of goes outside that scope. We’ll be tackling the spirit of the question, but let’s make sure we all know what a draft is.
Essentially, it’s your government saying “you have to enlist in the military” and if you don’t register or enlist you can get fined or arrested. Some countries, like Singapore, simply require that you are in service to the military past a certain age. Essentially, all civilians will be military personnel (or on reserve) at some point.
Contrarily, a draft can mean an enlistment of large amounts of the civilian population to the military to bolster personnel count. Typically, this is done in response to impending war or military shortages. It’s this draft that people would be concerned about, since there’s no “regularly scheduled war”. At least, we’d like to think that.
Draft Fears in America
If you haven’t noticed, there is normally a pattern of draft fears in America. They usually come about anytime the US finds itself in major international conflict. There were concerns of a draft in the aftermath of the Gulf War. There were also concerns in the wake of 9/11. You’ll remember these fears if you’re old and politically aware enough.
As we enter 2020, the US still faces threats of a looming armed conflict. This stems from the US airstrike that killed Iranian Commander Qasem Soleimani. Iran has since retaliated, launching ballistic missiles at US military bases in Iraq. As it stands, US troops are mobilizing and being sent to the region. This all means that yes, a lot of people are worried about whether or not they could be drafted. So many, that the Selective Service website recently went down due to heavy traffic.
History of the Draft
While America had instituted drafts during WWI and WWII, widespread objection to the draft wouldn’t crop up until the Vietnam War–and that’s thanks to the Space Race (we’ll get to that).
We should be clear that there were conscientious objections and protests of the World War drafts. Most people don’t really want to leave their country so they can kill strangers on foreign soil. But wartime propaganda was largely able rally Americans to contribute to the war efforts however they could.
By the time the Vietnam War had rolled around, however, opposition to the draft had arguably reached its peak. And there’s a reason there has not been a draft since.
The Vietnam War was not able to rally Americans around an attack on American soil, like with Pearl Harbor. Instead, it was quite the opposite. Many younger people born post-WWII were not only disinterested in the war, but many didn’t agree with it. The latter is thanks to rising pacifist and nonviolence movements during the 1960s. Remember that comparatively progressive movements like the Civil Rights Movement began in the 1940s and ended around the 60s. There was also the American Counterculture Movement, which happens to coincide with Vietnam War.
My Lai Massacre
We’re not going to get super deep into the My Lai Massacre, since we’re talking about drafting. But the My Lai Massacre spurred a large amount of anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam War, so it would be a disservice to those who suffered to not acknowledge it. After you hear even a few sentences about it, you’ll hopefully understand too. It’s heavy, and we recommend you read more about it since we won’t be able to cover it nearly enough in just one post.
So the My Lai Massacre was the mass murder of civilians in Southern Vietnam (Sơn Tịnh District) on March 16, 1968. By civilians we mean men, women, children, and infants. There are records of the mutilation of preteen children and lots of gang rape.
It’s telling that the American forces didn’t suffer any casualties while the civilian population was absolutely decimated.
Following the deed(s), the US government would try and cover up the whole ordeal for about a year, and US military personnel who tried to stop the massacre (some people kept their conscience) were decried as traitors–even by the American Congress. While a handful of soldiers were charged, only one member of the US military was actually convicted. While he was given a life sentence, he only ended up serving 3.5 years. Under house arrest.
Once news broke in 1969, it was understandable that anti-Vietnam War sentiment would only grow.
So we’ve established that the Vietnam War instituted a draft, and many young people really didn’t want to go to war. As such, there was draft dodging.
To be drafted, you had to be male–so 50% of the population had already dodged the draft. For those who were of the right sex and age, there were a handful of tactics to avoiding the draft.
Getting married was a great way to lower your draft priority–so was having kids. At the time, it was also illegal to be gay in the military, so many would simply pretend they were gay to get out of service. Except the military started catching on, and marriage stopped becoming a valid way to get out of the draft.
There was also going to college, and holding “essential jobs.” The latter term was quite loosely defined, and this is where the Space Race got roped in. To be “essential,” the argument had to be made that it was more effort to replace you than it was worth. It’s, on paper, really hard to work on space rockets. Hence, people could network and “work on the Space Race” to have an “essential job” so they wouldn’t be drafted. There was also simply going to college.
The problem with the above two options is that they require you have money–or you have connections to people in high places. Something that people who were disadvantaged (read: poor people and people of color) had way fewer avenues to dodge the draft. Which of course led to poor people of color being sent to Vietnam to fight and kill poor people of color.
So suffice to say that the prejudices surrounding the last draft don’t put it in the most positive light.
Fun fact, the United States does not, at the moment, have a draft! It was abolished in 1973, and the duties of the Selective Service System (SSS) changed a bit. Except only kind of. The threat of a draft always looms over the American people–if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a concern now.
Today, the SSS is essentially a giant bookkeeping organization. They keep tabs on everyone who is eligible for the draft in case the government… decides a draft needs to be reinstated. Which is a really nice way of saying “there is a draft but also not really.” Don’t believe us? It’s right here.
If you’re an 18-25 year old male you legally have to register. No seriously, you need it to receive financial aid for college. You also cannot receive a federal job. If you register after you turn 26, you’re permanently ineligible unless you jump through a lot of hoops.
For our readers applying to college (or helping their first child apply to college), this is often a part of the FAFSA application you have to fill out to even apply for financial aid.
If you don’t register, you could be fined a quarter million dollars ($250,000) or sentenced to five years in prison. They also apply if you knowingly try to get someone out of the draft.
Don’t believe the things we just said again? Well, it’s also right here, on the Selective Service System website.
Will There Be Another Draft?
It’s unlikely there will be another draft. The US has some 1.3 million military personnel on active duty, with 800,000 in reserves. Plus, military ordnance is super advanced now. It’s not really realistic or efficient to get a bunch of civilians off the street a trained up with all this newfangled technology so quickly.
But we’ve been surprised before.
Military conscription is dark, how about the lighter NBA draft?