Archive for Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Selective service

Teens wonder whether they’ll have a choice about joining the military

October 17, 2006


Teenagers today weren't around for the military draft in the '70s, but they imagine themselves in camouflage - and not as a fashion trend.

More than half of the teens polled think they will see a draft in their lifetime, according to a survey by the Horatio Alger Assn., a college-scholarship provider. Many political scientists don't think conscription will resurface, but teens have a lot of questions. Here are answers to some of their more frequently asked questions about the draft.

What does it take for the draft to be reinstated?

If there is a higher demand for military presence than the military can supply, such as in cases of emergency, then Congress can vote to authorize a draft and the president could sign the legislation, according to the Selective Service System.

Q: What happens after that?

A: A lottery based on birthdays would take place, according to a "sequence of events" laid out by the Selective Service System on its Web site. After all parts of the system are activated, those drafted will be physically, mentally and "morally" evaluated. The Selective Service must deliver the first inductees within 193 days of the start of the crisis.

Q: Was there a lottery during the Vietnam War?

A: Yes. The first lottery took place on Dec. 1, 1969. Plastic capsules, each containing a day of the year, were placed in a container and plucked out one at a time. The order the dates were called determined the order for men who had to report for service.

Q: Were there any exemptions for avoiding the draft?

A: Yes. Some exemptions were for college students, teachers and those with health problems.

Q: What exactly is the Selective Service System?

A: The Selective Service System is a federal agency that provides military manpower or personnel in emergencies. It is a contingency plan to aid the all-volunteer military.

Q: Does everyone have to register?

A: When a male turns 18, the clock starts. He is technically required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days, but late registration is accepted until his 26th birthday. If he fails to do so, he may be fined up to $250,000 and put in jail for up to five years.

He also cannot apply for federal student aid, job-training benefits and most federal employment if he hasn't signed up by age 26.

Q: What about women?

A: Women are not required to register. In 1981, this issue was challenged in the Supreme Court on the grounds that excluding women was a violation of due process, but the Supreme Court didn't think so.

Q: How would one sign up?

A: To sign up, log onto the Selective Service's Web site,, or stop by a local post office.

Q: Do other countries do this?

A: Yes and no. Some countries, such as New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia, take volunteers who are 16 and older.

In Switzerland, all men over 20 are required to perform regular periods of service until they are 50.

Israel requires men and women over 18 to serve in the military. Non-Druze Israeli Arabs and Druze women are exempt, and male religious scholars may postpone their service duties.

Q: What are the chances of a draft being reinstated in the United States?

A: Timothy Lomperis, a political science professor at St. Louis University in Missouri, doesn't think "one is very imminent."

But, noting the Universal National Service Act of 2006, proposed earlier this year, he says, "It's a proposal from the liberal Democrats who want to embarrass the Bush administration."

David Segal, director of the Center of Research for military organization at the University of Maryland, agrees.

"I don't know anybody in the Washington administration or Congress who has the heart or interest in re-establishing conscription," he says. "It would be career suicide."

Q: What about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy?

A: This would be the first draft since the ban on disclosing one's sexuality; Walter Stone, a professor of political science at the University of California-Davis, doesn't know what kind of effect a draft would have here.

"Partly, we don't know what the distribution of gay volunteers is," he said. "We might end up with the same proportion."

Q: Has there been recent draft legislation?

A: In February, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., introduced the Universal National Service Act of 2006. The bill would require every male and female ages 18 to 24 to perform a two-year period of military service.

There are no exceptions, so non-citizens and pregnant women would be among those drafted.

As extreme as it sounds, it was actually an anti-war move.

"It was voted on the floor of the House and defeated," Segal says.

"Rangel was concerned with who was fighting the war in Iraq."

Sources: Selective Service System, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Chronicle of the 20th Century"


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