Time for Selective Service to stand down

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Cartoon by Tommy Todd/Staff

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Plato

Class warfare is nothing new in the draft policies of the United States.

Many American citizens and immigrants have no comprehension that the Selective Service System can cost them their hopes and dreams. It is a system that birthed draft dodgers and the burning of draft cards. Failure to register has dire consequences, limiting employment opportunities and crushing dreams for college. Part of the reason is the ambiguous name, the Selective Service Act (SSA). Another reason, it only affects males.

America’s Selective Service Act was passed during the spring of 1917 in preparation for the First World War. Citizens who fail to register for the Selective Service before their 26th birthday permanently lose certain rights, even though the Army will accept recruits past their 35th birthday if they possess a specialized skill such as a doctor, scientist or dentist.

Unregistered citizens would find employment or job training in the federal government impossible, even as a contractor. Migrants who apply for citizenship without registering will be denied if the government determines they were in the United States before their 26th birthday. Prospective students will be denied federal aid of any kind, including student loans.

Immigrants older than 26 seeking financial aid are out of luck. Applicants can try to prove they were older than 26 when they first entered the United States. It is up to the financial aid departments at the schools to pass final judgment.

These punishments are intended to coerce males to register for the Selective Service. Penalties affect the middle and lower class disproportionately, but are hardly a determent for the upper class. Class warfare is nothing new in draft policies of the United States.

Paid substitutes were a tradition that started in the American Revolution. The poor pay the burden of war. Consequences of war should be shared by people of all classes.

The Draft Act of 1863 was looked upon as a socioeconomic draft. If a citizen had $300 he could simply pay his way out of service.

A marked change of policy occurred when the first SSA was created. Lawmakers of 1917 strove to create a major distinction from the previous unjust draft laws. By not allowing affluent people an option to buy their way out of military service, the SSA would be different. The Selective Service was created only for war time and was discontinued in 1920.

As World War II raged in Europe, the system was brought back in 1940 and terminated again in 1947 following the conclusion of the war.

But a new unofficial war — the Cold War — soon began. Lawmakers used this as a guise to pass the Selective Service Act of 1948, the template for the system used today. Even though the Cold War ended, Selective Service has not.

It has undergone some changes that favor the well-to-do.

In 1951, during the Korean Conflict, student deferments were added. These modifications benefited mainly white males of the middle and upper classes who could afford college. This scenario was common during the Vietnam War. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described the U.S. draft policy nicely. “When the rich wage war,” he said. “It’s the poor who die.”

During the Reagan administration the harsh penalties and prison time were repealed. New consequences for non-registration were enacted, including the denial of federal jobs, job training, financial aid and citizenship.

SSA rules disproportionately affect working class immigrants, keeping them in the dark or in the draft system. Non-registered males are hobbled. Some immigrants may not hear of the Selective Service until it is too late. With better education and jobs, they would pay more taxes and contribute to society in a more meaningful way.

Most agree that Americans have the duty to defend their country in the time of war. Every citizen benefits from this great nation and owes it a debt.

Nevertheless, there has been no threat of an invasion on United States soil since World War II. At its creation, the Selective Service was used to bolster a very small U.S. Army. Now the U.S. fields one of the largest volunteer militaries in the world. Circumstances that birthed the Selected Service no longer exist and should be terminated. With no impeding threat, there is no reason for the draft or the anachronistic Selective Service.

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