History of the Draft and Selective Service

Draft and Selective Service Registration History

Roosevelt addressing military
Roosevelt radio address. gettys

For more than 50 years, Selective Service (the Draft) and the registration requirement for America's young men have served as a backup system to provide manpower to the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in 2016, the Senate has approved a Bill to allow women to register for the draft.  The likelihood of it becoming law is low as there are many differing opinions on the Draft altogether for military service.

 The United States has not used the draft since 1973 and there is debate to completely do away with the law.

Some History on the Draft

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 which created the country's first peacetime draft and formally established the Selective Service System as an independent Federal agency within the Department of Defense.

From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces which could not be filled through voluntary means.

A lottery drawing - the first since 1942 - was held on December 1, 1969, at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This event determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970, that is, for registrants born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950. Re-institution of the lottery was a change from the oldest first method, which had been the determining method for deciding order of call.

366 blue plastic capsules containing birth dates were placed in a large glass jar and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18-26 age range specified in Selective Service law.

With radio, film and TV coverage, the capsules were drawn from the jar, opened, and the dates inside posted in order.

The first capsule - drawn by Congressman Alexander Pirine (R-NY) of the House Armed Services Committee - contained the date September 14, so 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 matched to lottery numbers.

In 1973, the draft ended and the U.S. converted to an All-Volunteer military.

The registration requirement was suspended in April 1975. It was resumed again in 1980 by President Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Registration continues today as a hedge against underestimating the number of servicemen needed in a future crisis

How the Draft has Changed Since Vietnam

If a draft were held today, it would be dramatically different from the one held during the Vietnam War. A series of reforms during the latter part of the Vietnam conflict changed the way the draft operated to make it more fair and equitable. If a draft were held today, there would be fewer reasons to excuse a man from service.

Before Congress made improvements to the draft in 1971, a man could qualify for a student deferment if he could show he was a full-time student making satisfactory progress toward a degree.

Under the current draft law, a college student can have his induction postponed only until the end of the current semester. A senior can be postponed until the end of the academic year.

A draft held today would use a lottery to determine the order of call.

Before the lottery was implemented in the latter part of the Vietnam conflict, Local Boards called men classified 1-A, 18 1/2 through 25 years old, oldest first. This resulted in uncertainty for the potential draftees during the entire time they were within the draft-eligible age group. A draft held today would use a lottery system under which a man would spend only one year in first priority for the draft - either the calendar year he turned 20 or the year his deferment ended. Each year after that, he would be placed in a lower priority group and his liability for the draft would lessen accordingly. In this way, he would be spared the uncertainty of waiting until his 26th birthday to be certain he would not be drafted.

Based on its evaluation of the costs and capabilities of the Selective Service System in the modern warfare environment, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) reevaluate its need for the Selective Service System.

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