My son recently turned seventeen and we were chatting about what will happen when he turns eighteen. I brought up that one of the things he gets to do is sign up for the Selective Service. He didn’t know what I was talking about. Frankly, I didn’t either. I just knew it was something that was talked about in movies and my grandpa mentioned it once. As a girl, I never thought much about it.
I explained what I knew about it: men sign up for the draft when they turn eighteen in case there is a war and no one signs up to go. My son was beside himself in anger, “I am not doing it! I am not going to war. They can’t make me!” And I don’t blame him! What a scary thought. All I could think was that he had to. It’s the law! I immediately thought of all the ways he wouldn’t have to go, for him to get out of it. Maybe it’s okay since he’s the only boy, wasn’t that a rule? Then I started thinking, “Is it even still the law?” I have never heard any of my guy friends talk about it—and I don’t have any brothers—so I looked into it.
Maybe you feel it is our duty as Americans to maintain the Selective Service. Maybe you think it is okay. I think it is barbaric and another form of government control.
So why does it exist?
The Selective Service Act was created in 1917 during World War I by Congress. It required men ages twenty-one to thirty to register through an independent agency for possible military service. From 1948-1973, the military instituted a draft during war and peace time to fill vacancies not filled by volunteers. During Richard Nixon’s presidency, in 1974, the draft ended and United States military went all-volunteer.
The requirement to register for the draft ended in 1975 when President Gerald Ford signed “The Termination Registration Procedures.”
In 1980, in response to the Cold War, President Jimmy Carter reinstated the Selective Service registration requirement and it has remained in effect since.
The current Selective Service requirements are that all male American citizens, including parolees and handicapped (men able to function in public may ask for help if they are unable to register for themselves), as well as aliens, applicants for asylum, and refugees, must sign up for the Selective Service. Exemptions include women, diplomatic trade missionaries, and men who are hospitalized or incarcerated. If a man attends certain universities, such as the Citadel or any other school that has a military association, they are exempt. (The tuition for the 2015-2016 school year at The Citadel is $26,374 per school year for South Carolina residents and $45,982 for non-residents.) The punishment for not signing up can include a felony sentence with up to three years in prison, a $50,000 fine, and zero access to government benefits such as grants and student loans. The entire text is here at Military Service Act. http://www.sss.gov/pdfs/mssa-2003.pdf
As of 2010, ninety-two percent of men eighteen to twenty-five have registered. There are more than fourteen million names on file.
Ever since I was little, I have had strongly negative opinions on war, violence, and guns. Educating myself on the Selective Service stirred up all of those emotions. If my lower middle class son needs student loans, or ever needs help from government programs, he’ll have no choice but to sign up. To me, the idea of my son being forced into doing something I stand against—or suffering the consequence of losing his rights—makes me feel trapped. So I decided to talk to some men to get their thoughts on the matter since I had very little knowledge of the subject.
I knew I needed to talk to men with a variety of experiences. I figured I’d start with a Derrick, a thirty-seven-year-old delivery driver who dropped off some takeout at the place where I work. When I asked him if he had ever signed up, he answered, “What’s the Selective Service?” After a bit of explaining, he told me “No.” This was fascinating to me. No jail time? No penalty? Maybe this is just such an old law that no one in office cares about it?
Little does Derrick know that by not signing up, while he most likely won’t face fines or jail time (the last arrest for not signing up for the Selective Service was 1986), he will not qualify for any government-assisted loans. Also, according to the MSSA, he can’t even rectify the problem unless he has written proof of extenuating circumstances that excuse him from not signing up before turning twenty-six.
Next I spoke with a co–worker. He is a gay man who joined the military when he was young. He told me, “I remember turning eighteen and my father taking me to the post office, explaining it was my duty as an American to do this.” He signed up during peace time. He later voluntarily enlisted in the army.
I asked how he felt about women not being forced to sign up. He replied, “It should be their choice, especially now that women are allowed in combat.”
Then he said something that completely opened up my mind. “It’s an interesting time we live in to have this act still in place. What about gay marriage? What if two men are married and have children? Who will stay home with them?” I really hadn’t thought of this. There have been a few people speaking amongst themselves on message boards regarding these questions but there aren’t any clear answers. No laws are in place to address this issue. (It’s 2015 and gay marriage is legal. Gender lines are blurring and we need to deal with this.)
I reached out to Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage. He spoke about being a male in American society and how young men are “Being taught to be bigger, faster, and even stronger than our closest friends.” He talked further about turning eighteen and being told to sign up for the draft. “At eighteen years old, we have been taught nothing about these subjects. We have no real grasp of the severity. Still three years away from legally drinking a beer, seven years from renting a car, and seventeen years away from being able to run for president, every male in America is told to sign his name to be thrown into the hat. So if and when the time comes, those names can be pulled, and the old, rich, white men at the top can decide what foreign land to send you off to. At their leisure. They will not be going. Their children will not be going. It will be the poor. The confused. The ones they assume no one will miss.”
I asked Micah if he signed up. He said “I did. My dad told me I had to. And they told us that if we ever got in any trouble, even as small as a speeding ticket, that we could get in trouble for not having signed up. It pissed me off then and is even worse that it’s still happening fifteen years later “
Chip Fracture of The Dwarves had a different take when I asked him about his thoughts on the act. “When I was a kid, I was obsessed with being in the army. I have full Viet Nam issue fatigues and gear. Helmet and all. At the same time, I never ever had any intention of joining. I did register when I turned eighteen. I never thought about women having to register. I guess it’s only fair.”
I wondered if he felt the act was relevant for 2015. “I think it’s relevant if we’re in actual danger. I just don’t believe we are. I agree with the act, though.”
After speaking with several men, most signed up because they were told they had to. When I asked them if they felt it was fair, they said yes and that they didn’t think much of it.
I called the Selective Service. After five minutes on hold, a gentleman answered.
I asked him, “What happens if I were a man that was over twenty-six and never signed up?”
He said, “You would have to get a written validation to get cleared.” He went on to tell me about the reasons from the MSSA that I’ve already covered.
“What happens if I don’t?” I asked. “How many people are imprisoned for this?”
“Well, it’s hard” he said. “The Department of Justice is too overwhelmed and understaffed to be able to handle all of the cases.” He explained that the real punishment is not qualifying for government funding and not being able to get any job associated with the government. Some states will not issue a driver license if you haven’t signed up. According to sss.gov, as of July1, 2015 forty states, four territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted driver’s license laws supporting Selective Service registration. You can check the website to see if your state voted to automatically register you or your children, which allows the government to literally make this decision for you. How dare them. How dare us! The government won’t automatically sign you up as a voter but they will automatically sign you up to go to war for them if needed. What the fuck. I mean really, what the fuck?!!
The man then told me a story about a young man who never signed up, went to college, went to law school, and was unable to get licensed to practice law in his state because it was associated with the government. I asked him if there was any way to clear it up.
He very sternly said “no.” He compared it to getting in an accident and not having insurance. If you don’t have car insurance and get into an accident, after the fact you can’t get insurance and claim the accident that’s already happened. He compared the Selective Service with car insurance.
It’s more aptly explained that the Selective Service forces young men to give America’s military insurance that they will have bodies to send to war.
I asked my next question. “Have there been any thoughts about changing the law so women are forced to go?”
“I can see that happening in the future now that women can fight in combat, but to make change you have to write your congressmen and get it to a vote,” he responded. According to a 2013 NBC.com news article, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), has been trying to make this happen. SWAN believes that, “such a change is simply the logical next step.” To learn more about what SWAN does and the issues they are addressing for women in combat go to servicewomen.org
I continued down my list. “Is there any talk about gay marriage affecting the Act? For example, if two men are married and have a child, who will stay back with the child?” He said he was offended by my question and responded tersely that—I’m paraphrasing—that the law is the law and that is that.
I thanked him for his time. He gave me a phone number to headquarters in Washington D.C. if I had further questions. I called 703-605-4100 and left two messages. No one has returned my call as of yet.
There are Americans out there trying to get the word out to abolish this Act. Websites like http://hasbrouck.org/draft/ are publishing blog posts on what to do if you don’t want to sign up and how to try to stop the act completely.
There are also members of congress trying to enact change. In 2011 Rep. Mike Coffman said, “The Selective Service has run its course,” and tried to introduce a bill that would allow the President to reinstate the draft by executive order if needed. Shortly after, The Army Timesreported that Coffman withdrew his plan, “… I still believe we are wasting money on the Selective Service, but shutting it down isn’t going to be quick or easy,”
In 2013, two lawmakers—Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.—tried to pass a bill to abolish the Selective Service. One of the main reasons was because of how much money the Department of Justice spends on it. It takes twenty four million dollars to staff the Selective Service and keep track of the seventeen million potential draftees. According to DeFazio, attempts to get rid of the program have failed because too many of his colleagues don’t want to look weak when it comes to America’s perceived national security. It sounds to me that if we write our government to change, it won’t matter! Each elected official who initially wanted Selective Service gone—and had the real, potential power to do so—all effectively changed nothing.
As a mom, a citizen, and a woman, I feel hopeless. I don’t want my son to sign up for this. It is so against his beliefs and mine. Where does this leave my son? I can’t even bear the thought of him going into the military against his will—let alone mine—to fight in a war and possibly lose his life!
What about conscientious objection? Apparently, if you have an objection there might be a way out of going to war. Young men still register but apply for CO status.
“Beliefs which qualify a registrant for CO status may be religious in nature, but don’t have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical; however, a man’s reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man’s lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims.” –SSS.gov
If you qualify for CO status, “Conscientious objectors opposed to serving in the military will be placed in the Selective Service Alternative Service Program. This program attempts to match COs with local employers. Many types of jobs are available, however the job must be deemed to make a meaningful contribution to the maintenance of the national health, safety, and interest. Examples of alternative service are jobs in: Conservation, Caring for the very young or very old, Education, and Health care. Length of service in the program will equal the amount of time a man would have served in the military, usually twenty-four months.” –SSS.gov
This is great news! Unless, of course, your state already registered you when you got your driver’s license. Right now in this moment, I realize there is no escape for my son. If he ever wants to go to school or get a job that is federal or state, he will be stopped in his tracks because he doesn’t believe war is the answer. It’s so unfair. I can only hope that young men and women see that if you don’t believe in this, now is the time to do something. I am starting by raising awareness, and then I WILL email my congressmen, but I am only one single punk mom that hopes to be heard for the sake of you and the sake of choice. It should be your choice.