House committee proposes draft registration for women

On the 28th of April, the House Armed Services Committee attached a provision permitting the President to order women to register for the draft to a $602M Pentagon budget bill. Men-only draft registration faces the possiblity of being overturned in court now that women can participate in combat positions in the military. An alternative bill to abolish draft registration entirely is scheduled for later consideration.Nobody has been prosecuted for refusing to register for the draft since 1987, and during Vietnam refusing to register was the safest and most effective way of defying the draft.

Since the defense budet is a "must-pass" bill, a debate about whether or not to continue draft registration is now almost a certainty. Draft registration must be either extended or abolished, else courts will likely throw it out. If Congress passes this bill, the President can ignore it and draft registration does not change but could still be found unconstitutional for men only. The bill itself only authorizes the president to extend registration to women. The existing registration for men is based on a presidental order from former President Carter that any succeeding President could revoke, but none have done so. Possibly the issue is considered too hot to touch. There is some danger that an extension of draft registration to women would be accompanied by renewed efforts to get people to comply with the program, though prosecutions have not taken place in 29 years and would be politically radioactive, probably far too hot to handle.<[>

Still, the issue of conscription is now formally on the table, and those who oppose conscription and those who oppose the wars of aggression and empire it supports must be ready for anything. History shows the importance of defeating the draft, and not just in the well-known example of Vietnam.

The peace movement and massive noncompliance with registration shut down Ronald Reagan's attempts to use Carter's registration program as a springboard to bringing back the draft. This in turn forced abandonment of Reagan's original plans to invade El Salvador with massed conventional troops. That defeat forced Reagan to resort to the less effective tactics of funding terrorists in Nicaragua and training death squads in the entire region. In 1988, Reagan did send US troops to staging areas in Honduras for an invasion of both countries, resulting in an all-out mobilization by antiwar activists in the US that led to the troops being brought home after just 3 weeks of waiting and doing nothing. As destructive as the war in Central America was, an all-out US invasion would have been far worse, and the US peace movement deserves credit for stopping it.

I, the author of this story publicly refused to register for the draft in 1983, going so far as to dare the government to "come out and fight." They refused to pick up the gauntlet. In 1985, orders from Selective Service to the Justice Department not to attempt to prosecute nonregistrants in major cities were intercepted by antidraft activists and published. Selective Service cited fear of the "antinuclear movement" as grounds to avoid confrontations with urban draft registration resistors. Prosecution died out with about 20 indictments out of over a million who refused to register between 1980 and 1987, and enforcement has become a national joke on the order of the 21 drinking age and the former 55 mph highway speed limit.

Many register for the draft because those turning 26 without registering are barred for life fom student loans (and DEBT), government jobs, and government job training programs. Since the passage of the "Solomon Amendment" in the 1980's, so-called student aid has become a worse and worse deal as college tuitions have mushroomed. More and more people have concluded that taking on $40,000-$80,000 in debt to go to college is not for them, and others do not have the grades to be admitted to any college anyway. Several state governments have resorted to "passive registration," automatically registering drivers license applicants between 18 and 26 with Selective Service (SSS).

Here in DC, one can "opt out" of otherwise automatic draft registration and still get a drivers license. A similer automatic registration with an option to opt out was passed in MD but never implemented due to lack of funding, so MD drivers licensing is not now tied to draft registration at all. Virginia has an automatic registration without an option to opt out, which may cause some people to choose not to drive until they turn 26 if at all, or to get a license out of state with false proof of address, which is not that difficult to do. None of these the automatic registration states with or without an opt-out provision keep Selective Service informed of changes of address. Thus, draft registration is essentially a referendum on how many people would comply with an actual draft plus an attempt to rig the vote

Some have said Selective Service should measure compliance as the count of how many people register, register on time, and keep SSS informed of all address changes. Compliance at this level has been estimated as being below 50% ever since Carter re-instituted draft registration and Reagan's failed hopes of using it to bring back the draft. That means over half of induction notices could not even be delivered, forcing any serious attempt to bring back the draft to scrap these registrations and start over with something else.

Since 1980, the US has fought in Iraq twice, Afghanistan once, and many other wars. Reagan's hope of raising a conscript army to invade El Salvador with conventional forces was stopped hard in the early 1980's. Ever since then Selective Service has essentially gone into hiding in wartime. Not one of the later wars brought so much as an advertising campaign for draft registration, for fear of accelerating the antiwar movement. During the first Iraq War, Selective Service camouflaged their office with "space for rent-entire building" signs that came down after that war was over.

The experience of countries actually fighting wars on their own territory with conscription is even worse. During civil wars and insurgencies, efforts to conscript soldiers for one side often cause the people targetted to fight for the other side instead. During Vietnam this was a factor even inside the United States in driving support for the Viet Cong among the youth of that era. Throughout the long war in Central America, conscription was known to drive people to join the side opposite those who tried to draft them.

In 2005, the Center for American Progress held a symposium about bringing back the draft for the Iraq War, with George W Bush safely re-elected. They were warned that the draft would permit insurgents to "open a new front inside the United States." They were warned that working at a draft board would be like "working at a women's health clinic by day and moonlighting at Huntingdon Life Sciences" due to attacks from members of groups like ALF, ELF, and street gangs that got threats from Selective Service. They were reminded about the almost 300 draft boards destroyed by domestic insurgents during the Vietnam War. The issue then disappeared from public discussion for months, after a couple preceding months of speculation about bringing back the draft to save and expand Bush's Iraq War.

One final issue is that most of the military does not want the draft. Few high school graduates meet their current physical standards, at least a quarter would be overweight, probably more if this gets an exemption. Drug use is also a disqualification, as is being denied a "security clearance" for membership in disfavored groups. During the Iraq War it the US military did relax their standards concerning white supremacists, but probably not on left of center groups. Today, many in the military are adamant they don't want the people a draft would force them to accept. This is quite understandable: I would not want to go into a riot or a street battle knowing the person watching my back could care less about the outcome and did not want to be there.

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