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Military Conscription, Recruiting and The Draft

2. 20th Century


World War I led to the Selective Service Act of 1917, which prohibited enlistment bounties and personal substitution. However, it provided for religious conscientious objectors (COs) and was implemented through the Selective Service System. About three-quarters of the WWI army of 3.5 million was generated via conscription; slightly more than 10 percent of those who registered were called into service.

The Civil War riots were not repeated, although there were protests. For example, about 12 percent of those drafted failed to show up for duty; 2-3 million never registered.

After France fell in 1940, Congress enacted a pre-war (sometimes called peacetime) draft; conscriptees only had to serve one year. In 1941, by a one vote margin in the House, Congress extended the one-year draft. After Pearl Harbor, Congress extended the draft to men age 18-38 (at one point, 18-45). As a result, approximately 10 million men were drafted through the Selective Service System, and nearly 6 million enlisted, primarily in the U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps.

The draft helped maintain the armed forces throughout the Cold War, despite a brief hiatus in 1947 and 1948. The Selective Service System drafted 1.5 million men (18-25) during the Korean War; 1.3 million volunteered (primarily Navy and Air Force). However, COs increased ten-fold, from 0.15 percent during each World War to nearly 1.5 percent during Korea.

In the early days of the Vietnam war, draftees were a minority of the total US armed forces. However, their higher percentage in the Army meant that they formed the majority of infantry riflemen (88 percent by 1969) and accounted for more than half of Army battle deaths. Deferments, including college students, caused the draft and the casualties to be judged unfair. For example, African-Americans (11 percent of the U.S. population) "accounted for 16 percent of Army casualties in Vietnam in 1967 (15 percent for the entire war)."

The draft resistance movement was supported by students, pacifists, clergy, civil rights and feminist organizations, as well as war veterans. There were demonstrations, draft-card burnings and protests at induction centers and local draft boards.

The most common form of resitstance was evasion. There were 26.8 million men who reached draft age between 1964 and 1973; 60 percent did not serve in the military. How did they avoid service? Legal exemptions and deferments exempted 96 percent (15.4 million). About a half million are thought to have evaded illegally. COs grew from 0.15 percent during each World War to nearly 1.5 percent in Korea; by 1967 that number was 8 percent. It jumpted to 43 percent in 1971.
    Between 1965 and 1975, faced with well over 100,000 apparent draft offenders, the federal government indicted 22,500 persons, of whom 8,800 were convicted and 4,000 imprisoned. As the Supreme Court expanded the criteria from religious to moral or ethical objections, CO exemptions grew in relation to actual inductions from 8 percent in 1967 to 43 percent in 1971 and 131 percent in 1972. Between 1965 and 1970, 170,000 registrants were classified as COs. (Reader's Companion to American History)
President Nixon was elected in 1968 and had criticized the draft in his campaign. The first draft lottery drawing since World War II was held 1 December 1969; it determined the order for conscription into the Army for men born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950. Reinstating the lottery changed the existing procedure of "draft the oldest man first."

The first date drawn was September 14; this meant all men born on September 14 in any year between 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number "1." The drawing continued until all days of the year had been drawn and numbered. The highest lottery number called for this group was 195; thus, if your number was 195 or smaller, you were required to show up at your draft board.

Nixon reduced draftees and gradually recalled US troops from Vietnam. Subsequent drawings were held July 1970 (largest number: 125), August 1971 (largest number: 95) and February 1972 (no draft orders issued).

The draft ended in 1973.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford suspended compulsory draft registration. In 1980 President Jimmy Carter reinstituted it in reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan extended it.
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  2. 20th Century
  3. The Present
  4. Arguments For The Draft
  5. Arguments Against The Draft
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