THE DESK — I am going through all my old credit cards to weed out those I don’t need anymore. It used to be we would need a different card for each store and fill-up. Now I just use one: DiscreditCredit. Let’s see what I can toss: Foley’s, Circuit City, Montgomery Ward. I am way behind. What’s this beat up, piece of cardboard? “Selective Service System – Texas Local Board 30.” The reason this particular card is in bad shape is that I had to carry it with me wherever I went. It is my draft card, Number 12, written by a goosequill pen on parchment. (I go way back.)
Remember the military draft? It was abolished in 1973, so if you were born after 1955 you do not know the agony of Uncle Sam wanting you, whether you wanted Uncle Sam or not. The draft was part of our society, something that was always hanging over our heads – if you were a young male. There is no longer a draft, but if ISIS marches down Pennsylvania Avenue, there may well be one again, and Uncle Sam is prepared. It’s mostly forgotten, but young men still must register for the draft with Selective Service. Specifically, almost all men age 18-25 who are U.S. citizens or are immigrants living in the U.S. are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18 and immigrants to register within 30 days of arriving in the country. Men here on visas — student, visitor, or diplomatic — and American women are not required to register.
If you are required to register and you don’t, you will not be eligible for federal student aid, federal job training, or a federal job. You may be prosecuted and face a fine of up to $250,000 and/or jail time of up to five years. If you’re an immigrant to the U.S., you will not be eligible for citizenship. Spread that news along the Rio and it just might cut down on illegal immigration by young men. Despite these threats, there have always been draft dodgers, or at least ways to get around joining. In recent times we have seen President Bill Clinton tip-toe around the draft board. (And no, Clinton never said, “I abhor the military.” Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, distorted a letter that Clinton wrote.) Dick Cheney – who was once Secretary of Defense — received five deferments. He claimed, “I had other priorities in the 60’s than military service.” Like not getting shot. Mitt Romney avoided the draft by serving as a Mormon missionary – in France. Donald Trump got four deferments for college and finally a medical excuse for “bone spurs” in his foot, although later Trump could not say which foot or the name of the doctor who wrote the medical liability.
During the Vietnam War deferments were a joke. The most popular was the student deferment. Let’s compare: Of roughly 750 students in the Princeton University class of 1956, with the draft in place, more than 400 went on to serve in the military. By 2004 with no draft, of Princeton’s 1,000 graduates, three joined the military. In 1956, more than 1,000 cadets were trained by Stanford University’s ROTC program. In 1968, as the Vietnam War escalated and anti-war sentiment grew, Stanford students burned down the ROTC building, and the ROTC program was abolished. The next year, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth and several other schools banned the ROTC programs. A survey of Harvard’s Class of ’70 found that only 56 members had served in the military, just two in Vietnam. However, less than half responded to that survey. The ban in Cambridge was particularly ironic because Harvard was the very first college to have an Army ROTC program. To be fair, approximately 1,200 Harvard alumni have been killed in wars, and 16 former students earned the Medal of Honor. Harvard, which had lost 691 alumni in World War II, lost 12 men in Vietnam from the classes of 1962 through 1972 combined. Those classes at Princeton lost six, at MIT two. Texas A&M lost 112.
But, again, do young men still register? They are supposed to, but I don’t think many do. We still have the Selective Service and we must suppose there is still a large, faceless building in Washington filled with bureaucrats wondering when the government shuts down and they will be laid off again. This brings us to an even more basic subject: should we restore the draft? Probably not, because most 18-year olds wouldn’t qualify. They are fat, lazy, out of shape (if they were ever in shape). The Army, for example, found even during World War II only about 50 percent of young people were qualified to join. Today, the percentage has dropped to 23 percent. Oddly enough, it is the South – which includes Texas — that has usually provided more than its quota of troops, but whose youths are generally in poorer physical condition than the rest of the country. The Army is accepting more low-quality recruits, giving waivers for marijuana and those with a criminal record or lack of a high school diploma.
Polls show most Americans are for our young people to either join the military or take part in some kind of public service – I guess like adopting a highway. But do we really want to put every 18-year-old – women too – on the federal payroll? Can we afford both that a concrete wall? Texas has a dog in this fight. Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, in Travels With Charley, observed: “Among other tendencies to be noted, Texas is a military nation. The armed forces of the United States are loaded with Texans and often dominated by Texans.”
I avoided the draft, because I didn’t want to suffer the rigors of military life, what with all that marching, shooting and somebody always yelling at me. So I joined the Marines.
Lance Corporal Ashby is at email@example.com