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Feeling a Draft

>Can America wage a long "war on terrorism" without reinstituting the draft?



Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have both stated recently that the chances of reinstating the draft are unlikely. But President Bush has also speculated that we are entering a war on terrorism that could drag on for a decade or more and produce heavy casualties. The question becomes: How can we incur heavy casualties over a period of years without a draft? The answer, at least in the opinion of Bill Galvin, counseling coordinator for the Center on Conscience and War, is that we can't.

"You'll notice that Secretary Rumsfeld tacked the word 'yet,' or something to that effect, onto the end of his sentence," says Galvin. "Rumsfeld said, 'It's not likely that we'll need to reinstate the draft yet.' But if we get into this kind of protracted ground war with heavy casualties, who knows? I think it's highly likely that there will be a draft."

Pat Schubach, the public affairs spokesperson for Selective Service, isn't so sure the draft will be reinstated, but he doesn't entirely rule out the possibility. "[Bush and Rumsfeld] didn't want to say that there would be no draft because they didn't want to say 'no.'" The implication is that, should we find ourselves in a position where a draft becomes necessary, nobody has to go back on prior statements. "I don't want to say anything that would [contradict] the president," Schubach says. "We have an all-volunteer force and that works best. It's better than having to draft people."

Galvin notes that the imminent need for a draft has been mitigated by a recent increase in volunteers. But that increase can be misleading, he says. "When you have these periods of increased patriotism, like the Gulf War for instance, you see a spurt of enlistments. Then there are several months where fewer people go in than usual. My guess is this is partly because those who join during the period of increased patriotism would have eventually joined anyway. Or, after time passes, people start realizing that this isn't about money for college or technical training. This is about fighting."

Galvin's view is confirmed to some degree by Schubach. "We have 1,500 people register a day on the Internet," he says. "On September 11th that number jumped to 6,381, almost a 200 percent increase over the record, which was set in December 2000." Schubach explains that while registration has remained strong, in the days since the attack on New York and D.C. the number of registrants has dropped off significantly.

"The entire Selective Service system is ready to go," Galvin says. "It could take several months to initiate it, but it could happen that quickly."

Schubach, who says Selective Service remains in a constant state of readiness, claims it wouldn't take that long. "It looks like we could have the lottery going anywhere from day five to day 45. Notices would go out by day 76 and the first registrants would report about 10 days later. And all of this could be compressed."

According to information provided by Selective Service, the lottery -- a system made infamous during the Vietnam War -- is still in place. Should the draft be reinstated, the lottery would focus first on men who are turning 21. There are fewer deferment possibilities than in years past in order to make the system more fair. College students may only defer until the end of the semester. College seniors may defer until graduation. In short, having the money to stay in school indefinitely is no longer a way to avoid the draft.

Schubach says there have been other changes made to increase the draft's fairness. "During Vietnam local draft boards determined who was going to be drafted and who wasn't," he says. "Now it's all centralized."

At this point only young men are required to register, but Schubach does not entirely rule out the possibility of drafting women. "That would, of course, take a congressional action," he says. "But the mechanism is the same. It would take some time to build the data base."

If the draft is reinstated, the only way to avoid being called up is to file as a conscientious objector, and since all C.O.s have to be approved by their draft board, even that is no guarantee.

"You can't [officially] file as a conscientious objector until you've been [drafted]," Galvin says. "So you could have as little as a week to file a claim. If you don't file within a week, you aren't entitled to it. This system is anything but fair. Unless you happen to know about [an organization like] us, you don't really have many options."

"It's important for conscientious objectors to get involved with their church," Galvin advises, noting that while draft laws don't officially discriminate against those who aren't religious, members of draft boards can show a bias. "Almost every religion supports conscientious objectors," he continues, "and has some mechanism in place for supporting them."

Galvin also recommends that conscientious objectors who are turning 18 write "I am a conscientious objector" somewhere on their registration form. "[Selective Service] won't recognize this," Galvin says, "but you should still do it." Galvin also explains that when Selective Service sends notification they have received your registration, all conscientious objectors should send a certified letter, return receipt requested, reminding Selective Service that they are a conscientious objector. "That will stand up in court," Galvin says, adding, "if Selective Service sends a form letter saying, 'We aren't accepting conscientious-objector requests now,' that should be kept [as evidence]."

For more information on Selective Service or how to register for the draft, go to For more information on the Center on Conscience and War and achieving conscientious-objector status, go to

You can e-mail Chris Davis at

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