Maybe someone knows the answer to this draft-related question…

The military draft, that is. I know numerous Regular Readers are old enough to remember Viet Nam even if you missed your chance to visit. This morning I was reading an article that incidentally mentioned Mohammed Ali being stripped of his title for refusing induction, and it reminded me of a question I often asked during that period but never heard a good answer: Why did eligible people who objected to the draft ever register for it in the first place?

I mean, one of the more iconic protests of the time involved people publicly burning their draft cards, right? Brave enough in its way but it does imply that at some point in the recent past they visited a draft board office and registered for induction. Doesn’t that act comprise a statement that you are indeed willing to submit to induction and fighting in the war? It’s not like there was some other place besides VN where lots of draftees got sent.

There might be some perfectly logical reason for it but I don’t recall ever hearing it. Why did people willing to refuse induction ever submit to registration in the first place?

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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19 Responses to Maybe someone knows the answer to this draft-related question…

  1. Joe says:

    Joel,
    I know my Father was drafted at the age of 20 for service in Korea. In the small township he lived in Southern Minnesota, they required everyone at 18 to sign the selective service card or else. Local crap the local lords of the county enforced. As only male son on working farm he fought the draft notice but still was inducted by did his time in Germany.

  2. Unclezip says:

    I never registered, and joined when I was 19. Before I could join, however, they made me go to the Post Office and register.

  3. Mark Matis says:

    NPC is not new. It made for better optics if one registered and then burned. And even if one made a living by beating people’s brains out, and then claimed to be against violence.

  4. Patrick Fowler says:

    Hi Joel , Most of us in those days were still kids living at home , I would not have even thought of telling my mom and dad I was going to protest the war by not registering , it was the same with most other kids in those days , it was just something not questioned…me I got a high “lottery number” , those not so lucky didn’t make it back , or lost legs , or were mentally damaged . As for M. Ali that comment about beating peoples brains out was what everyone kinda said about him. Patrick

  5. bmq215 says:

    As I understand it, failure to register is currently punishable by 5 years or $250k. Not sure what it was back then, but I assume similar penalties were in place.

    Even the most principled people find that they have to bend things to accommodate the real world. Being humans, we feel best when we justify that bending and we’re usually very good at doing so. You write a lot about your own accommodation/justification and that’s one of the things I respect most about you. You’ve chosen a pretty radical life path based on your principles but even so, you’ve found that to survive those need to be ideals rather than ironclad rules and you’re honest about that.

    Prison/fine right now versus registering, potentially being drafted down the line, and having to face that decision then? The latter seems pretty attractive. Especially if you tell yourself “I can always refuse later” or “I can’t attend marches/protests if I’m in prison” or even “it’ll look better if I end up refusing induction”. The human brain is powerful.

    Prison/fine right now versus what you see as pretty likely death/dismemberment in Vietnam? Harder choice. Especially if your primary motivation was actually fear (I’m sure some were principled but it’s hard to separate the two and I’ll bet many of them weren’t even sure themselves). Easy to justify with “I’m taking a stand” and “I believe this is wrong” (yeah, I believe you do but is that actually why you’re doing this?)

    Seems pretty easy to understand to me. When told I had to register at 18 I did so because there wasn’t any other realistic option. But if we’d restarted the draft for Iraq five years later and my number had come up I’m not sure what I would have chosen.

  6. Goober says:

    I’ve heard that a large majority of employers wouldn’t hire someone who didn’t register? I don’t know for sure, but when I registered back in 98 I was definitely threatened that I would not be able to get a job, or even vote, if I didn’t.

    That might not be true, but whether it was or not, it was definitely threatened, at least in my case. It was definitely a motivating factor in my decision to register.

  7. Goober says:

    Also, I can totally understand the decision to register because you actually ARE civic minded and willing to join a defense effort if needed, but then when you get drafted, to actually be morally against the specific conflict they drafted you to fight in.

    In 68, if the Russians came rumbling through the Fulda gap, hell yes I want to go help prevent that. But to go fight a bunch of people who are trying to achieve reunification of their country in a popular effort? Maybe not?

    I don’t know.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Shoot, one more point…

    In my case, 9/11 happened three years after I registered. Had they opened the draft at that point, and I got drafted, I would have willingly joined the effort in Afghanistan to go get the actual perpetrators of that event. Shit, the year before, I even tried to voluntarily enlist, but they wouldn’t have me for health reasons. See my abandoned blog for more on that hot mess…

    But two years later when we invaded Iraq, I would have been far less excited about that effort. Maybe not so much to risk prison to not go, but maybe in the right circumstances? I don’t know.

  9. Zack says:

    I VAGUELY remember reading something that came in the mail way back then that listed failing to register as having some sort of instant induction clause as part of the penalty package.

  10. Howard says:

    From the view point of some one with a very low lottery number who was called for a physical and turned down for high blood pressure. I seem to remember that if you didn’t regiser a male student was not eligable for his scholarships etc. I know that at this time my grandson has to be registered for the draft to receive his Alaska performance scholarship and his federal grants to afford to go to school

  11. Ben says:

    “Why did eligible people who objected to the draft ever register for it in the first place?” That question assumes critical thinking from 18-year-old males, a rare commodity indeed.

    In fact, I registered simply because everyone else that I knew was doing it. If I had ever protested at that young age, it probably would have been because everybody else was doing it.

    As for draft card burning, that was seemingly done repeatedly by many protesters, who were out to get on TV and to make their point. So that implies something that I believed then and still believe now: few actual draft cards were burned in those protests. Most of them were likely plain slips of paper.

  12. mattexian says:

    Last time I heard a PSA for the selective service (maybe 5 years ago), the only threat they had for failing to register, was being ineligible for Federal financial assistance or employment.

  13. bmq215 says:

    mattexian, they might’ve decided to downplay the “stick” but the penalties are still very much there: https://www.sss.gov/Registration/Why-Register/Benefits-and-Penalties. Note that “counseling” someone to not register carries the same punishment. Careful what you say, Uncle Sam might be watching…

  14. Mark says:

    I know of a gentleman who never filled out the selective service card. No fan fair came of it and he never went over there or went into hiding, just continued on with his life.

  15. Tsgt Joe says:

    I honestly dont remember how I registered for the draft when I turned 18 which would have been november of 66. I graduated june 67 took some tests for the navy and airforce then put it all on the back burner. I had a decent job at GM and a girlfriend then I got a letter to report for an induction physical…. ran over to the air force recruiter and told them I would take anything they had, thats how I became a welder in the air force.

  16. A.C. says:

    In the 1980’s student loans, college scholarships, and lowly seasonal jobs (govt. jobs) were all jeopardized if you weren’t registered promptly at age 18. There’s a bit of dissonance entering a world where both sexes were ruthlessly equalized in college admissions and hiring practices but mandatory draft registration only applied to men. But what the heck, you gotta learn life ain’t fair sooner or later right?

  17. Joel says:

    Yeah, it wasn’t lost on me or I suspect on a lot of American males at the time that feminists demanded full equality in all things that could advance them but none of the things that could get them killed and their bodies thrown away. They wanted to fly jets and be admitted to the academies, but bleeding in muck was lowly enough to be left to the toxic males. No more than we deserve, I’m sure.

    These days feminists point to the hostility they face in certain quarters and say, “See? They’re all just a bunch of angry lowlifes.” Self-reflection is not a common trait among those of us who enjoy rising at the expense of others – it can too easily be passed off as justice punishing the evil. After all justice loathes privilege, and males have all the privilege.

  18. Tsgt Joe says:

    Just a thought, the law says all male persons must register for the draft at what point would a transexual, going f to m, be required to register or if going m to f be released from th rolls?

  19. Joel says:

    I’ll bet that’s a question that keeps Pentagon bureaucrats in charge of recruitment up late nights. Imagine the chaos a newly active draft would cause, now that they’ve let this nonsense go on so long.

To the stake with the heretic!