I just read a long thread on a Quaker Facebook page, filled with semi-hysterical advice-giving about elaborate steps for paranoid parents/grandparents to take NOW to keep their precious sons out of the iron clutches of the military draft, and smooth their path into the safety of C. O, (Conscientious Objector) status.
Threads like this pop up regularly. And this one, like most, was so full of misinformation and irrelevant rehashings of what various folks did in the Vietnam years (which were about another war, in another century, in a different millennium), that it moved me to dash off this post as a public service, in hopes of helping quell the spreading panic.
First of all, There is NO draft today.
That means there is no law authorizing a draft. That also means there are NO legal provisions or procedures for males authorized by such a law, even those who are “registered” on the list for Selective Service, to get themselves classified as C. O.s. None.
To get new rules about C.O.s, Congress would have to pass a new draft law & have it signed by the president, like any other law.
But what would such new rules look like?
NOBODY KNOWS. And NOT ALL “drafts” are or were the same.
In my day, for awhile they didn’t draft married men; then they did. They didn’t draft people preparing to be clergy. The draft age also changed. During the Civil War, a draftee could pay $300 and be legally exempted.
I won’t talk about what happened to me with the draft in 1965. It is not relevant to today, because the draft law I faced expired decades ago. Kaput.
To repeat my query, what would a new draft look like? I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. There are some “model” draft plans around, but they are just ideas. The big question is what would Congress want a new draft to be? That’s the group that counts, but there’s no clarity about that.
The draft is not a “hot issue” in Congress. It isn’t like Republicans
want a draft that is all vanilla, and Democrats want it to be all chocolate. Or raspberry. It’s been more than 40 years since a Member of Congress had to deal with a real draft. The few members that old likely have largely forgotten it.
So if there was a new draft, it would come out of a political debate that’s not simple to predict. Libertarian Republicans say they hate the idea. Antiwar Democrats should oppose it too. Strange bedfellows. But events like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor can create an almost instant stampede. In fact, such a new draft might have no provisions for C. O. status at all.
That’s right, there’s no guarantee.
But chill out, people. The present law calling on 18 year-old males to register with Selective Service was passed almost 40 years ago. All it amounts to is putting their names on a list. And of all the millions of American males who have registered under that law, not one — exactly ZERO, ZIP, NONE — has been drafted, C. O. or not.
Why not? Because, to repeat, there is no law permitting men on that list to be drafted. The list sits there, and every day some more men on it age out of eligibility for the nonexistent draft.
So the time to worry about this is IF or when a new draft law starts moving through Congress.
When will that be? Quien sabe?? But it can be said that nobody important is pushing for it now.
So how can you, if you are a young person of anti-killing-or-dying-in-war convictions, prepare now to escape this potential unwritten future draft?
Some well-intentioned folks have prepared elaborate To-Do lists, involving certified letters from Friends Meetings or other Worthy Sources, all notarized & mailed to themselves & kept in vaults, etc.
I suppose these testimonials won’t do any harm. But for my money they’re no more valuable insurance than spending an evening each month baying at the full moon. Or drinking lots of chamomile tea.
Because there’s no draft, and no C. O. rules, there’s no assurance that any paper (or used teabags, or recordings of your lunar serenades) will be of any use.
There’s only one exception to the situation I’ve described above. If a young American (or their paranoid parents/grandparents) is/are really TRULY DETERMINED to become legally, officially classified & certified as a C. O., today, there is still ONE official, legal way to do it.
I know what that way is, and if you want to know it too, as a public service, I’ll tell you.
Are you ready?
Okay, here it is, and I’m not kidding:
Join the Army.
Or the Navy, Marines or Air Force.
Then apply for C. O. Status.
Yes, join the military. Because all the military services (and only they) DO have established, approved, legal regulations and procedures for granting official C. O. Status. (Do you doubt me? If so, here are the Army’s regs, to read for yourself. )
Before I retired, I helped many soldiers prepare C. O. applications under those regs. And some of them succeeded. Others are now carrying on such preparation assistance.
But there’s a catch: not all such applications succeed. The military evaluates claims. Only about one in every seven or eight is accepted. But those troops whose claims succeed do become the only truly official legally certified C. O.s in America today, just like I said.
The only ones.
Now, if you think it’s a crazy idea to join the army to be able to apply for official C. O. Status — you’re absolutely right. It would be totally nuts. I said that’s the only legal way to do it, and it is. I didn’t urge anyone to do it.
But I also say again it’s the only available legal path to C. O. status today. And so I repeat to young anti-war Americans (& their paranoid parents/grandparents), who don’t plan to enlist, and who do not face a draft today, or in the foreseeable future — CHILL OUT & worry about something real, like global warming.
If a serious move for a new draft starts in Congress someday, you’ll soon hear about it from reputable groups like Quaker House (quakerhouse.org) or other peace organizations.
Until then, keep cool, have a cuppa, then maybe practice singing “Hey Jude” to the Cheshire Cat on the horizon. (Doing it under your breath is okay too.)