Conscription in the United States

Young men registering for conscription during World War I in New York City, New York, on June 5, 1917.

Conscription in the United States, commonly known as the draft, has been employed by the federal government of the United States in five conflicts: the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War (including both the Korean War and the Vietnam War). The third incarnation of the draft came into being in 1940 through the Selective Training and Service Act. It was the country's first peacetime draft.[1] From 1940 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the United States Armed Forces that could not be filled through voluntary means. The draft came to an end when the United States Armed Forces moved to an all-volunteer military force. However, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency plan; all male-at-birth citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register so that a draft can be readily resumed if needed.[2] United States Federal Law also provides for the compulsory conscription of men between the ages of 17 and 45 and certain women for militia service pursuant to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution and 10 U.S. Code § 246.[3][4][5]

History

Colonial to 1862

In colonial times, the Thirteen Colonies used a militia system for defense. Colonial militia laws—and after independence those of the United States and the various states—required able-bodied males to enroll in the militia, to undergo a minimum of military training, and to serve for limited periods of time in war or emergency. This earliest form of conscription involved selective drafts of militiamen for service in particular campaigns. Following this system in its essentials, the Continental Congress in 1778 recommended that the states draft men from their militias for one year's service in the Continental army; this first national conscription was irregularly applied and failed to fill the Continental ranks.

For long-term operations, conscription was occasionally used when volunteers or paid substitutes were insufficient to raise the needed manpower. During the American Revolutionary War, the states sometimes drafted men for militia duty or to fill state Continental Army units, but the central government did not have the authority to conscript except for purposes of naval impressment. Post Ratification of the Constitution, Article I.8.15, allows for Congress to conscript. Giving it the power to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; Section 8.16 of the same article, allows Congress to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress. Article II.2.1 makes the President the commander and chief of the militia. The second amendment protects the infringement of the militia regulations, being necessary to the security of a free state. The Second Militia act of 1792 defined the first group who could be called forth as all free able-bodied males between the ages of 18 and 45. President James Madison and his Secretary of War James Monroe unsuccessfully attempted to create a national draft of 40,000 men during the War of 1812.[6] This proposal was fiercely criticized on the House floor by antiwar Congressman Daniel Webster of New Hampshire.[7]

The administration asserts the right to fill the ranks of the regular army by compulsion ... Is this, sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No, sir, indeed it is not ... Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it? Under what concealment has this power lain hidden, which now for the first time comes forth, with a tremendous and baleful aspect, to trample down and destroy the dearest rights of personal liberty?
Daniel Webster (December 9, 1814 House of Representatives Address)

Civil War

The United States first employed national conscription during the American Civil War. The vast majority of troops were volunteers; of the 2,100,000 Union soldiers, about 2% were draftees, and another 6% were substitutes paid by draftees.[8][9]

The Confederacy had far fewer inhabitants than the Union, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis proposed the first conscription act on March 28, 1862; it was passed into law the next month.[10] Resistance was both widespread and violent, with comparisons made between conscription and slavery.

Rioters attacking a building during the New York anti-draft riots of 1863

Both sides permitted conscripts to hire substitutes to serve in their place. In the Union, many states and cities offered bounties and bonuses for enlistment. They also arranged to take credit against their draft quota by claiming freed slaves who enlisted in the Union Army.

Although both sides resorted to conscription, the system did not work effectively in either.[11] The Confederate Congress on April 16, 1862, passed an act requiring military service for three years from all males aged 18 to 35 not legally exempt; it later extended the obligation. The U.S. Congress followed with the Militia Act of 1862 authorizing a militia draft within a state when it could not meet its quota with volunteers.[citation needed] This state-administered system failed in practice and in 1863 Congress passed the Enrollment Act, the first genuine national conscription law, setting up under the Union Army an elaborate machine for enrolling and drafting men between twenty and forty-five years of age. Quotas were assigned in each state, the deficiencies in volunteers required to be met by conscription.

Still, men drafted could provide substitutes, and until mid-1864 could even avoid service by paying commutation money. Many eligible men pooled their money to cover the cost of any one of them drafted. Families used the substitute provision to select which member should go into the army and which would stay home. The other popular means of procuring a substitute was to pay a soldier whose period of enlistment was about to expire - the advantage of this method was that the Army could retain a trained veteran in place of a raw recruit. Of the 168,649 men procured for the Union Army through the draft, 117,986 were substitutes, leaving only 50,663 who had their personal services conscripted. There was much evasion and overt resistance to the draft, and the New York City draft riots were in direct response to the draft and were the first large-scale resistance against the draft in the United States.

The problem of Confederate desertion was aggravated by the inequitable inclinations of conscription officers and local judges. The three conscription acts of the Confederacy exempted certain categories, most notably the planter class, and enrolling officers and local judges often practiced favoritism, sometimes accepting bribes. Attempts to effectively deal with the issue were frustrated by conflict between state and local governments on the one hand and the national government of the Confederacy.[12]

World War I

World War I era draft card belonging to writer Stoddard King

In 1917 the administration of President Woodrow Wilson decided to rely primarily on conscription, rather than voluntary enlistment, to raise military manpower for World War I when only 73,000 volunteers enlisted out of the initial 1 million target in the first six weeks of the war.[13] One ascribed motivation was to head off the former President, Theodore Roosevelt, who proposed to raise a volunteer division, which would upstage Wilson; however, there is no evidence that Roosevelt had the support to carry out that plan, and also, since Wilson had just started his second term in office the former President's prospects for substantial political gain would seem dubious.

The Selective Service Act of 1917 was carefully drawn to remedy the defects in the Civil War system and—by allowing exemptions for dependency, essential occupations, and religious scruples—to place each man in his proper niche in a national war effort. The act established a "liability for military service of all male citizens"; authorized a selective draft of all those between 21 and 31 years of age (later from 18 to 45); and prohibited all forms of bounties, substitutions, or purchase of exemptions. Administration was entrusted to local boards composed of leading civilians in each community. These boards issued draft calls in order of numbers drawn in a national lottery and determined exemptions.

In 1917, 10 million men were registered. This was deemed to be inadequate, so age ranges were increased and exemptions reduced, and so by the end of 1918 this increased to 24 million men that were registered with nearly 3 million inducted into the military services, with little of the resistance that characterized the Civil War, thanks to a well-received campaign by the government to increase support for the war, and shut down newspapers and magazines that published articles against the war.[14][15]

Secretary of War Newton Baker draws the first draft number on July 20, 1917.

The draft was universal and included blacks on the same terms as whites, although they served in different units. In all 367,710 black Americans were drafted (13.0% of the total), compared to 2,442,586 white (86.9%). Along with a general opposition to American involvement in a foreign conflict, Southern farmers objected to perceived unfair conscription practices that exempted members of the upper class and industrial workers.

Draft boards were localized and based their decisions on social class: the poorest were the most often conscripted because they were considered the least likely to be the skilled labor needed for the war effort.[citation needed] African-Americans in particular were often disproportionately drafted, though they generally were conscripted as laborers and not sent into combat to avoid the tensions that would arise from mixing races in military units.[citation needed] Forms of resistance ranged from peaceful protest to violent demonstrations and from humble letter-writing campaigns asking for mercy to radical newspapers demanding reform. The most common tactics were dodging and desertion, and some communities in isolationist areas even sheltered and defended their draft dodgers as political heroes.

Nearly half a million immigrants were drafted, which forced the military to develop training procedures that took ethnic differences into account. Military leaders invited Progressive reformers and ethnic group leaders to assist in formulating new military policies. The military attempted to socialize and Americanize young immigrant recruits, not by forcing "angloconformity", but by showing remarkable sensitivity and respect for ethnic values and traditions and a concern for the morale of immigrant troops, with the aim of blending them into the larger society. Sports activities, keeping immigrant groups together, newspapers in various languages, the assistance of bilingual officers, and ethnic entertainment programs were all employed.[16]

Opposition

Blessed are the Peacemakers by George Bellows, The Masses, 1917

The Conscription Act of 1917 was passed in June. Conscripts were court-martialed by the Army if they refused to wear uniforms, bear arms, perform basic duties, or submit to military authority. Convicted objectors were often given long sentences of 20 years in Fort Leavenworth.[17] In 1918 Secretary Baker created the Board of Inquiry to question the conscientious objectors' sincerity.[18] Military tribunals tried men found by the Board to be insincere for a variety of offenses, sentencing 17 to death, 142 to life imprisonment, and 345 to penal labor camps.[18] Many of these sentences were commuted after the war's end.

In 1917, a number of radicals and anarchists, including Emma Goldman, tried to challenge the new draft law in federal court, arguing that it was a direct violation of the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the draft act in the Selective Draft Law Cases on January 7, 1918. The decision said the Constitution gave Congress the power to declare war and to raise and support armies. The Court, relying partly on Vattel's The Law of Nations, emphasized the principle of the reciprocal rights and duties of citizens:[19]

It may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government and its duty to the citizen includes the reciprocal obligation of the citizen to render military service in case of need, and the right to compel it. To do more than state the proposition is absolutely unnecessary in view of the practical illustration afforded by the almost universal legislation to that effect now in force.

Conscription was unpopular from left-wing sectors at the start, with many Socialists jailed for "obstructing the recruitment or enlistment service". The most famous was Eugene Debs, head of the Socialist Party of America, who ran for president in 1920 from his Atlanta prison cell. He had his sentence commuted to time served and was released on December 25, 1921, by President Warren G. Harding.

The Industrial Workers of the World attempted to obstruct the war effort through strikes in war-related industries and not registering. It did not meet with large success.

Conscientious objectors

Conscientious objector (CO) exemptions were allowed for the Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren only. All other religious and political objectors were forced to participate. Some 64,700 men claimed conscientious objector status; local draft boards certified 57,000, of whom 30,000 passed the physical and 21,000 were inducted into the U.S. Army. About 80% of the 21,000 decided to abandon their objection and take up arms, but 3,989 drafted objectors refused to serve. Most belonged to historically pacifist denominations, especially Quakers, Mennonites, and Moravian Brethren, as well as a few Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. About 15% were religious objectors from non-pacifist churches.[20]

Ben Salmon was a nationally known political activist who encouraged men not to register and personally refused to comply with the draft procedures. He rejected the Army Review Board proposal that he do noncombatant farm work. Sentenced to 25 years in prison, he again refused a proposed desk job. He was pardoned and released in November 1920 with a "dishonorable discharge".[21]

Interwar

The draft ended in 1918 but the Army designed the modern draft mechanism in 1926 and built it based on military needs despite an era of pacifism. Working where Congress would not, it gathered a cadre of officers for its nascent Joint Army-Navy Selective Service Committee, most of whom were commissioned based on social standing rather than military experience.[22] This effort did not receive congressionally approved funding until 1934 when Major General Lewis B. Hershey was assigned to the organization. The passage of a conscription act was opposed by some, including Dorothy Day and George Barry O'Toole, who were concerned that such conscription would not provide adequate protection for the rights of conscientious objectors. However, much of Hershey's work was codified into law with the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 (STSA).[23]

World War II

By the summer of 1940, as Germany conquered France, Americans supported the return of conscription. One national survey found that 67% of respondents believed that a German-Italian victory would endanger the United States, and that 71% supported "the immediate adoption of compulsory military training for all young men".[24] Similarly, a November 1942 survey of American high-school students found that 69% favored compulsory postwar military training.[25]

World War II era draft card belonging to musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly

The World War I system served as a model for that of World War II. The 1940 law instituted conscription in peacetime, requiring the registration of all men between 19 and 57, to be automatically conscripted. President Roosevelt's signing of the Selective Training and Service Act on September 16, 1940, began the first peacetime draft in the United States. It also reestablished the Selective Service System as an independent agency responsible for identifying young men and facilitating their military service. Roosevelt named Lewis B. Hershey to head the System on July 31, 1941, where he remained until 1969.[23] This act came when other preparations, such as increased training and equipment production, had not yet been approved. Nevertheless, it served as the basis for the conscription programs that would continue to the present.

The act set a cap of 900,000 men to be in training at any given time, and limited military service to 12 months unless Congress deemed it necessary to extend such service in the interest of national defense. An amendment added 18 more months to this service period on August 18, 1941. After Pearl Harbor the STSA was further amended (December 19, 1941), extending the term of service to the duration of the war plus six months and requiring the registration of all men 18 to 64 years of age. During World War II, 49 million men were registered, 36 million classified,[failed verification] and 10 million inducted.[26] 18 and 19 year olds were made liable for induction on November 13, 1942. By late 1942, the Selective Service System moved away from a national lottery to administrative selection by its more than 6,000 local boards.

On December 5, 1942, presidential Executive Order 9279 made it so that all men from the ages of 18 to 37 could not voluntarily enlist for the duration of the war, providing protection for the nation's home front manpower pool. The Navy and Marine Corps began procuring their personnel through the Selective Service System in early 1943. The Navy and Marine Corps enlisted inductees and volunteers under the same service agreements, but with different service obligations, while the Army placed wartime inductees and volunteers into a special service component known as the Army of the United States, commonly known as the "AUS"; service commitments were set at the length of the war plus six months.[27][28]

Paul V. McNutt, head of the War Manpower Commission, estimated that the changes would increase the ratio of men drafted from one out of nine to one out of five. The commission's goal was to have nine million men in the armed forces by the end of 1943.[29] This facilitated the massive requirement of up to 200,000 men per month and would remain the standard for the length of the war.

The World War II draft operated from 1940 until 1946 when further inductions were suspended, and its legislative authorization expired without further extension by Congress in 1947. During this time, more than 10 million men had been inducted into military service.[30] However, the Selective Service System remained intact.

Opposition

Scattered opposition was encountered especially in the northern cities where some African-Americans protested the system. The tiny Nation of Islam was at the forefront, with many Black Muslims jailed for refusing the draft, and their leader Elijah Muhammad was sentenced to federal prison for 5 years for inciting draft resistance. Organized draft resistance also developed in the Japanese American internment camps, where groups like the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee refused to serve unless they and their families were released. 300 Nisei men from eight of the ten War Relocation Authority camps were arrested and stood trial for felony draft evasion; most were sentenced to federal prison.[31] American Communists also opposed the war by forming the "American Peace Committee", which tried to organize a coalition of anti-war groups. This lasted until Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, whereupon they changed the Committee's name to the "American People's Committee" and supported aid to Britain, the draft and other preparations for war.[32]

Conscientious objectors

Of the more than 72,000 men registering as conscientious objectors (CO), nearly 52,000 received CO status. Of these, over 25,000 entered the military in noncombatant roles, another 12,000 went to civilian work camps, and nearly 6,000 went to prison. Draft evasion only accounted for about 4% of the total inducted. About 373,000 alleged evaders were investigated with just over 16,000 being imprisoned.[33]

Cold War

The second peacetime draft began with passage of the Selective Service Act of 1948 after the STSA expired. The new law required all men, ages 18 to 26, to register. It also created the system for the "Doctor Draft" aimed at inducting health professionals into military service.[34] Unless otherwise exempted or deferred (see Berry Plan), these men could be called for up to 21 months of active duty and five years of reserve duty service. Congress further tweaked this act in 1950 although the post–World War II surplus of military manpower left little need for draft calls until Truman's declaration of national emergency in December 1950.[35] Only 20,348 men were inducted in 1948 and only 9,781 in 1949.

Between the Korean War's outbreak in June 1950 and the armistice agreement in 1953, Selective Service inducted over 1.5 million men.[30] Another 1.3 million volunteered, usually choosing the Navy or Air Force.[22][33] Congress passed the Universal Military Training and Service Act in 1951 to meet the demands of the war. It lowered the induction age to 18½ and extended active-duty service commitments to 24 months. Despite the early combat failures and later stalemate in Korea, the draft has been credited by some as playing a vital role in turning the tide of war.[22] A February 1953 Gallup Poll showed 70 percent of Americans surveyed felt the SSS handled the draft fairly. Notably, Gallup reported that 64 percent of the demographic group including all draft age men (males 21 to 29) believed the draft to be fair.[36]

To increase equity in the system, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order on July 11, 1953, that ended the paternity deferment for married men.[37] In large part, the change in the draft served the purposes of the burgeoning Cold War. From a program that had just barely passed congressional muster during the fearful prelude to World War II, a more robust draft continued as fears now focused on the Soviet threat. Nevertheless, some dissenting voices in Congress continued to appeal to the history of voluntary American military service as preferable for a democracy.[38][39]

The onset of the Cold War coincided with the time men born during the Great Depression began to reach military age. That the Depression had resulted in a substantial reduction of the birth rate was frequently pointed out by Hershey and other supporters of the draft to back up their doubts regarding the wisdom of returning to an all-volunteer military at a time when it was known that the number of men reaching military age was going to fall significantly. The Korean War was the first time any form of student deferment was used. During the Korean War a student carrying at least twelve semester hours was spared until the end of his current semester.[40]

The United States breathed easier with the Korean War Armistice on July 27, 1953; however, technology brought new promises and threats. U.S. air and nuclear power fueled the Eisenhower doctrine of "massive retaliation". This strategy demanded more machines and fewer foot soldiers, so the draft slipped to the back burner. However, the head of the SSS, Maj. Gen. Hershey, urged caution fearing the conflict looming in Vietnam. In May 1953, he told his state directors to do everything possible to keep SSS alive in order to meet upcoming needs.[41]

Following the 1953 Korean War Armistice, Congress passed the Reserve Forces Act of 1955 with the aim of improving National Guard and federal Reserve Component readiness while also constraining its use by the president. Towards this end, it mandated a six-year service commitment, in a combination of reserve and active duty time, for every line military member regardless of their means of entry. Meanwhile, the SSS kept itself alive by devising and managing a complex system of deferments for a swelling pool of candidates during a period of shrinking requirements. The greatest challenge to the draft came not from protesters but rather lobbyists seeking additional deferments for their constituency groups such as scientists and farmers.[23]

Government leaders felt the potential for a draft was a critical element in maintaining a constant flow of volunteers. On numerous occasions Gen. Hershey told Congress for every man drafted, three or four more were scared into volunteering.[42] Assuming his assessment was accurate, this would mean over 11 million men volunteered for service because of the draft between January 1954 and April 1975.[22]

The policy of using the draft as force to compel "voluntary" enlistment was unique in U.S. history. Previous drafts had not aimed at encouraging individuals to sign up in order to gain preferential placement or less dangerous postings. However, the incremental buildup of Vietnam without a clear threat to the country bolstered this.[22] Some estimates suggest conscription encompassed almost one-third of all eligible men during the period of 1965–69.[43][44] This group represented those without exemption or resources to avoid military service. During the active combat phase, the possibility of avoiding combat by selecting their service and military specialty led as many as four out of 11 eligible men to enlist.[45][46] The military relied upon this draft-induced volunteerism to make its quotas, especially the Army, which accounted for nearly 95 percent of all inductees during Vietnam. For example, defense recruiting reports show 34% of the recruits in 1964 up to 50% in 1970 indicated they joined to avoid placement uncertainty via the draft.[47][48][49] These rates dwindled to 24% in 1972 and 15% in 1973 after the change to a lottery system. Accounting for other factors, it can be argued up to 60 percent of those who served throughout the Vietnam War did so directly or indirectly because of the draft.[45]

In addition, deferments provided an incentive for men to follow pursuits considered useful to the state. This process, known as channeling, helped push men into educational, occupational, and family choices they might not otherwise have pursued. Undergraduate degrees were valued. Graduate work had varying value over time, though technical and religious training received near constant support. War industry support in the form of teaching, research, or skilled labor also received deferred or exempt status. Finally, marriage and family were exempted because of its positive social consequences.[23][50] This included using presidential orders to extend exemptions again to fathers and others.[51] Channeling was also seen as a means of preempting the early loss of the country's "best and brightest" who had historically joined and died early in war.[52]

In the only extended period of military conscription of U.S. males during a major peacetime period, the draft continued on a more limited basis during the late 1950s and early 1960s. While a far smaller percentage of eligible males were conscripted compared to war periods, draftees by law served in the Army for two years. Elvis Presley and Willie Mays were two of the most famous people drafted during this period.

Public protests in the United States were few during the Korean War. However, the percentage of CO exemptions for inductees grew to 1.5% compared to a rate of just 0.5% in the past two wars. The Justice Department also investigated more than 80,000 draft evasion cases.[44][53][54]

Vietnam War

President Kennedy's decision to send military troops to Vietnam as "advisors" was a signal that Selective Service Director Lewis B. Hershey needed to visit the Oval Office. From that visit emerged two wishes of JFK with regard to conscription. The first was that the names of married men with children should occupy the very bottom of the callup list. Just above them should be the names of men who are married. This Presidential policy, however, was not to be formally encoded into Selective Service Status. Men who fit into these categories became known as Kennedy Husbands. When President Lyndon Johnson decided to rescind this Kennedy policy, there was a last-minute rush to the altar by thousands of American couples.[55]

Many early rank-and-file anti-conscription protesters had been allied with the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy. The completion in 1963 of a Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty left a mass of undirected youth in search of a cause.[citation needed] Syndicated cartoonist Al Capp portrayed them as S.W.I.N.E, (Students Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything). The catalyst for protest reconnection was the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

Consequently, there was some opposition to the draft even before the major U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began. The large cohort of Baby Boomers who became eligible for military service during the Vietnam War was responsible for a steep increase in the number of exemptions and deferments, especially for college students. Besides being able to avoid the draft, college graduates who volunteered for military service (primarily as commissioned officers) had a much better chance of securing a preferential posting compared to less-educated inductees.

President Gerald Ford announces amnesty for draft evaders at the White House, Washington, D.C., in 1974.

As U.S. troop strength in South Vietnam increased, more young men were drafted for service there, and many of those still at home sought means of avoiding the draft. Since only 15,000 National Guard and Reserve soldiers were sent to South Vietnam, enlistment in the Guard or the Reserves became a popular means of avoiding serving in a war zone. For those who could meet the more stringent enlistment standards, service in the Air Force, Navy, or Coast Guard was a means of reducing the chances of being killed. Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, because divinity students were exempt from the draft.[citation needed] Doctors and draft board members found themselves being pressured by relatives or family friends to exempt potential draftees.[citation needed]

The marriage deferment ended suddenly on August 26, 1965. Around 3:10pm President Johnson signed an order allowing the draft of men who married after midnight that day, then around 5pm he announced the change for the first time.[56]

Some conscientious objectors objected to the war based on the theory of Just War. One of these, Stephen Spiro, was convicted of avoiding the draft, but given a suspended sentence of five years. He was later pardoned by President Gerald Ford.[57]

There were 8,744,000 servicemembers between 1964 and 1975, of whom 3,403,000 were deployed to Southeast Asia.[58] From a pool of approximately 27 million, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service (in the United States, South Vietnam, and elsewhere) during the Vietnam War era. The majority of servicemembers deployed to South Vietnam were volunteers, even though hundreds of thousands of men opted to join the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard (for three or four year terms of enlistment) rather than risk being drafted, serve for two years, and have no choice over their military occupational specialty (MOS).[59]

Young men burn their draft cards in New York City on April 15, 1967, at Sheep Meadow, Central Park.

Of the nearly 16 million men not engaged in active military service, 57% were exempted (typically because of jobs including other military service), deferred (usually for educational reasons), or disqualified (usually for physical and mental deficiencies but also for criminal records including draft violations).[22] The requirements for obtaining and maintaining an educational deferment changed several times in the late 1960s. For several years, students were required to take an annual qualification test. In 1967 educational deferments were changed for graduate students. Those starting graduate studies in the fall of 1967 were given two semester deferments becoming eligible in June 1968. Those further along in their graduate study who entered prior to the summer of 1967 could continue to receive a deferment until they completed their studies. Peace Corps Volunteers were no longer given deferments and their induction was left to the discretion of their local boards. However most boards allowed Peace Corps Volunteers to complete their two years assignment before inducting them into the service. On December 1, 1969, a lottery was held to establish a draft priority for all those born between 1944 and 1950. Those with a high number no longer had to be concerned about the draft. Nearly 500,000 men were disqualified for criminal records, but less than 10,000 of them were convicted of draft violations.[33] Finally, as many as 100,000 draft eligible men fled the country.[60][61]

End of conscription

Jeffrey Mellinger in 1972; Mellinger was the last drafted U.S. NCO to remain in the army before retiring in 2011.
Jeffrey Mellinger in 2005

During the 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon campaigned on a promise to end the draft.[62] He had first become interested in the idea of an all-volunteer army during his time out of office, based upon a paper by Martin Anderson of Columbia University.[63] Nixon also saw ending the draft as an effective way to undermine the anti-Vietnam War movement, since he believed affluent youths would stop protesting the war once their own probability of having to fight in it was gone.[64] There was opposition to the all-volunteer notion from both the Department of Defense and Congress, so Nixon took no immediate action towards ending the draft early in his presidency.[63]

Instead, the Gates Commission was formed, headed by Thomas S. Gates, Jr., a former Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration. Gates initially opposed the all-volunteer army idea, but changed his mind during the course of the 15-member commission's work.[63] The Gates Commission issued its report in February 1970, describing how adequate military strength could be maintained without having conscription.[62][65] The existing draft law was expiring at the end of June 1971, but the Department of Defense and Nixon administration decided the draft needed to continue for at least some time.[65] In February 1971, the administration requested of Congress a two-year extension of the draft, to June 1973.[66][67]

Senatorial opponents of the war wanted to reduce this to a one-year extension, or eliminate the draft altogether, or tie the draft renewal to a timetable for troop withdrawal from Vietnam;[68] Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska took the most forceful approach, trying to filibuster the draft renewal legislation, shut down conscription, and directly force an end to the war.[69] Senators supporting Nixon's war efforts supported the bill, even though some had qualms about ending the draft.[67] After a prolonged battle in the Senate, in September 1971 cloture was achieved over the filibuster and the draft renewal bill was approved.[70] Meanwhile, military pay was increased as an incentive to attract volunteers, and television advertising for the U.S. Army began.[62] With the end of active U.S. ground participation in Vietnam, December 1972 saw the last men conscripted, who were born in 1952[71] and who reported for duty in June 1973. On February 2, 1972, a drawing was held to determine draft priority numbers for men born in 1953, but in early 1973 it was announced by Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird that no further draft orders would be issued.[72][73] In March 1973, 1974, and 1975, the Selective Service assigned draft priority numbers for all men born in 1954, 1955, and 1956, in case the draft was extended, but it never was.[74]

Command Sergeant Major Jeff Mellinger, believed to be the last drafted enlisted ranked soldier still on active duty, retired in 2011.[75][76]

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ralph E. Rigby, the last Vietnam War-era drafted soldier of Warrant Officer rank, retired from the army on November 10, 2014 after a 42-year career.[77]

Post-1980 draft registration

On July 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4771 and re-instated the requirement that young men register with the Selective Service System.[78] At that time it was required that all males, born on or after January 1, 1960, register with the Selective Service System. Those who were now in this category were male U.S. citizens and male immigrant non-citizens between the ages of 18 and 25; they were required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday even if they were not actually eligible to join the military.

The Selective Service System, still in essentials what it was in 1980, describes its mission as "to serve the emergency manpower needs of the Military by conscripting untrained manpower, or personnel with professional health care skills, if directed by Congress and the President in a national crisis".[79] Registration forms are available either online, or at any U.S. Post Office or DMV.

The Selective Service registration form states that failure to register is a felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment or a $250,000 fine.[80] In practice, though, no one has been prosecuted for failure to comply with draft registration since 1986,[81] in part because prosecutions of draft resisters proved counter-productive for the government during the Vietnam conflict, and in part because of the difficulty of proving that noncompliance with the law was "knowing and wilful". In interviews published in U.S. News & World Report in May 2016, current and former Selective Service System officials said that in 1988, the Department of Justice and Selective Service agreed to suspend any further prosecutions of nonregistrants.[82] Many men do not register at all, register late, or change addresses without notifying the Selective Service System.[83]

Even in the absence of prosecution, however, failure to register may lead to other consequences. Registration is a requirement for employment by the federal government and some state governments, as well as for receiving various state benefits such as driver's licenses.[84] Refusing to register can also cause a loss of eligibility for federal financial aid for college.[85]

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