My Turn: It’s time to repeal the Selective Service Act

For the Monitor
Published: 1/19/2020 6:46:07 AM
Modified: 1/19/2020 6:45:09 AM

My grandson is in the process of applying to college. Acceptance is intertwined with the mandate to register with the Military Selective Service at the age of 18.

The registration process offers no opportunity to declare religious or moral conscientious objection. Under this current federal law if a person fails to comply he may be denied “a right, privilege, benefit or employment position.” This means my grandson’s admission to any college that receives federal grants is dependent upon his registration with the Military Selective Service. And he must also register to be eligible for financial aid.

Finally, without any freedom to object, registration puts him on a list of men eligible for military draft whenever it might be enforced. This mandate forces him to be complicit in a policy postured for war.

This requirement is below the surface of the awareness of most people, at least until a relative comes of age to face the demand to comply. Because of its inflexibility to provide any opportunity to declare any personal reservations, registration with the Military Selective Service is more onerous than the draft that I faced in 1962.

I had the option to declare myself a conscientious objector to any military service or to be a non-combatant. (I chose to be an Army medic, thinking I would be a contributor to healing rather than an inflictor of death. However, my self-righteousness was deflated later by our doctors explaining that just the presence of medics gives incentive to combatants to take the risks to be more aggressive.)

The young men in our country today do not have even these choices. They all must register as potential perpetrators and fodder for war at the whim of the government. There also have been bills in Congress to include women in this mandate to register. However, thus far these bills have failed to be passed.

This situation could change with a bill introduced in December 2019 by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, H.R. 5492, To repeal the Military Selective Service Act. An affirmative vote would terminate the registration requirements and eliminate civilian local boards, civilian appeals boards and similar local agencies of the selective service system. It would free our young people to make informed personal decisions about military service.

This bill deserves serious consideration and our support for an affirmative vote by our congressional representatives.

Some suggest that the draft helps prevent war. They argue that when most of our young people are subject to being drafted, family members are more involved in the justification of sending sons and daughters to war with the risk of injury, death and the psychological trauma of being ordered to inflict injury and death upon others.

An example of this involvement was the large protests questioning the reasons for the Vietnam War. Many would argue that these protests contributed to the end to that war.

Until recently, for these reasons, I have been in agreement with the government administering a military draft, with the option for conscientious objection.

However, Military Selective Service is no longer an instrument of United States security serving the greater good of the American people. It has become a potential resource to be called upon by the commander in chief to abuse his access to military power.

The repeal of the Selective Service Act would signal our commander in chief that his military bluster has limitations. No longer would he have an unlimited number of potential draftees to back his spontaneous ill-conceived threats to other nations.

Men and women would have the choice to refuse to participate in any unjust war or war crimes, such as President Trump’s drone attacks and the threat to strike Iranian cultural sites of no military value.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper acknowledged that striking cultural sites with no military value would be a war crime, putting him at odds with the president, who insisted such places would be legitimate targets.

Without a military draft, citizens would still rally to support and participate in a just war. For example, in World War II men and women flocked to volunteer. I remember my father expressing great disappointment that he was not accepted into the military because of a physical disability. However, he was proud to be a civilian radio engineer working at a network radio transmitter considered a potential target for the enemy.

Women and men worked in factories, accepted rationing and became community wardens to support the war effort.

In this time of volatile international relations exacerbated by an impulsive-tweeting president, the repeal of the Selective Service Act would be a stabilizing influence. It will reduce the perception that the United States is a nation of warriors unhesitant to use its military power to enforce its will. It will disentangle our young people from a military culture and the potential of enforced military service. It will free citizens and our Congress to evaluate and influence the justice in a call to war.

The repeal of the Selective Service Act will free our grandchildren and our children to pursue education, select jobs, choose humanitarian service, initiate careers and make rational ethical choices concerning military service.

(The Rev. John Buttrick, United Church of Christ, lives in Concord.) 


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