According to a CBS News poll conducted on April 1, 70 percent of Americans oppose a reinstatement of the draft. A May Newsweek poll of 18- to 29-year-olds revealed that 36 percent of respondents would not serve. If you or your child has strong feelings about military service and the draft, what should you know, and what can you do? Big Apple Parent talked with Mary-Ann Greanier, a writer and activist with United For Justice with Peace and American Freedoms.org, who counsels young people about the draft.
What details are available about the draft legislation under consideration? Nothing has been decided yet. First, the President would have to go to Congress and get a law passed to reinstate the draft. It cannot be done by Executive Action. The terms of the law would then be revealed: the deferments and exemptions available, the extradition agreements with other countries, whether girls will have to serve, and such. The bill probably won’t come out before 2005 unless the country is in dire straits militarily — it would be political suicide.
But what about rumors that there will be no deferments for college and that the loopholes for going to Canada will be closed? This talk has been coming from Congressional members who are against the war. There has been talk about not allowing deferments (postponements) for college or that students may have to leave college to do National Service. We have also heard that Canada and other countries will extradite draft dodgers, unlike during the Vietnam War. But nothing is definite until the bill becomes a law.
What options do young people have? Every young man is required to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) when he turns 18. If he does not, he is in non-compliance. A man who fails to register may, if prosecuted and convicted, face a fine of up to $250,000 and/or a prison term of up to five years. But even if he’s not tried, a man who fails to register before turning 26 may be denied certain student financial aid, citizenship, federal job training, and federal jobs. Waiting as long as possible to register is another viable tactic if there is no draft, but if there is, the SSS will start searching for non-registered 18- to 20-year-olds and may arrest them. If there is no draft, the SSS will likely not go after people, so one option is to bide your time to register until the day before your 26th birthday. If your child does register but will not serve, have him write in magic marker along the side of the application, "I will under no circumstances go to war," and keep a copy of the card. Although it’s not legally binding, it will help if he wants to get Conscientious Objector (CO) status. New York State now links SSS registration with state driver’s license applications. The Department of Motor Vehicles has a consent statement on all applications or renewals for driver’s permits, licenses, and identification cards that tells the applicant that by submitting the application, he is consenting to his registration with the SSS. Registration only collects addresses; it doesn’t make classifications about who can serve. Only after you’ve been called up, should the draft be reinstated, can you try to obtain a deferment or a reclassification (exemption), of which CO is just one possibility.
What can parents of teenagers do? • Sit down with your sons and daughters before they turn 18 and have a serious discussion with them about going to war, the draft and the implications of their choices. Tell them how you feel about it and be honest about your own history. Ask them if they’ve given the issue any thought. • Give them as much information as you can, calmly. Let them know that once they decide whether or not to register for military service, you have no legal control over them. It’s their decision. • Break down the information for them or seek a draft counselor. Let them know the pros and cons of military service and the consequences of the different decisions they may make. • If your child decides not to register, or registers but will not be drafted, start establishing a CO paper trail immediately. Have your child talk with religious leaders (even if you are not affiliated with any particular religion, many Quaker and Unitarian religious leaders are ready to help support young people on this issue) or the guidance counselor. Have your child record the sessions, write about them, write notes to thank them for the meeting, and keep copies of everything. Make sure to keep two copies of every correspondence with the SSS in two different safe places. • Help your child set up a notebook in which to write essays about his feelings, keep notes about anything pertaining to the SSS, and record medical problems and medications. • If the draft is reinstated and your child knows he will not fight, seek draft counseling or a draft lawyer immediately.
What about physical, mental and other deferments? We can only assume they will be similar to those during the Vietnam War. Asthma and flat feet got people out of serving then. Create a paper trail for medical conditions and physical ailments. Choose to take medications prescribed or fulfill prescriptions even if you don’t use them. Serious mental conditions such as bipolar disorder or borderline schizophrenia are likely conditions for deferment, but depression is probably not. Also, with mental health conditions, you have to consider if you want them permanently on your military record. Being able to prove you are gay will also keep you out of the military.
Is there anything parents of younger children can do? If your child is involved in religious activities, peace marches, or political meetings, take lots of pictures and keep a record of the activities. Keep a folder of anything your child writes that shows sensitivity or awareness. The idea is to establish your child as a thinking, engaged citizen who, when he/she turns 18, is making a conscious and thoughtful decision about being a Conscientious Objector.
Any advice for young people? It’s imperative to get information and know what your steps will be for every possible scenario. Don’t be afraid to do whatever you need to do (short of harming yourself) to get out of serving if you feel strongly about it. You need to make informed choices about what is going to be the best path to take, and realize that they may impact the rest of your life.
The most important thing parents can do is to vote in November for an agenda that is not war mongering. But everyone should realize that regardless of who is elected President, we will need to have a public discourse on how to deal with the needs of the military and the draft.
Resources The Selective Service System Registration Information Office, Data Management Center P.O. Box 94638, Palatine, IL 60094-4638 (847) 688-6888; www.sss.gov
The Center on Conscience & War 1830 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009 (202) 483-2220, (800) 379-2679; www.nisbco.org
Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors 1515 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102 (215) 563-8787; www.objector.org
The American Friends Service Committee www.afsc.org
The American Friends Service Committee New York Branch 15 Rutherford Place, New York, NY 10003 (212) 598-0950; www.afsc.org/nymetro
http://thomas.loc.gov: A website where you can obtain legislative information, bill summaries, and the status of bills.
"How to Stay Out of the Military: A Primer on Draft Resistance", by Dr. David Wiggins — www.notinourname.net/youth; select the link to this comprehensive article with many useful websites.