Conscription is a system to provide manpower to be used in the armed forces. In the United States, conscription was introduced in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The 1863 Enrollment Act permitted draftees to hire paid substitutes to fight in their place. In the United States during more recent times, conscription has simply been called the “draft.”

During the Civil War and again during World War I the draft mechanism was dissolved at the end of hostilities. In 1940, prior to U.S. entry into World War II, the first peacetime draft in our nation’s history was enacted in response to increased world tension with the result that the system was able to fill wartime manpower needs smoothly and rapidly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the end of the war, the draft law was allowed to expire, but it was reenacted less than two years later to maintain necessary military manpower levels as a result of the Cold War. 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.

Induction authority expired in 1973, but the Selective Service System remained in existence in a “standby” posture to support the all-volunteer force in case an emergency should make it necessary for Congress to authorize a resumption of inductions.

Vietnam War draft

Opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began slowly and in small numbers in 1964 on various college campuses in the United States. This happened during a time of unprecedented student activism reinforced in numbers by the demographically significant baby boomers, but grew to include a wide and varied cross-section of Americans from all walks of life.

Much of the protest movement was fueled by a system of conscription that provided exemptions and deferments more easily claimed by middle and upper class registrants – and thus inducted disproportionate numbers of poor, working-class, and minority registrants. By the end of 1967, as U.S. troop casualties mounted and the war ground on with no end in sight, public opinion polls showed a majority of Americans were opposed to the war and wanted it to end. In 1967, the continued operation of a seemingly unfair draft system then calling as many as 40,000 men for induction each month fueled a burgeoning draft resistance movement.

But where is that resistance from the youth of today? An undeclared war is being waged in a foreign land, thousands of military personnel are being sent to fight, thousands are dying, and thousands more are being maimed for life.

Yet, the youth of today are strangely silent. Could it be that the primary reason so many college age and young people are not participating is because they do not have a “vested” interest in this war? The Selective Service is still in place for males, but the draft is not. But it is folly to ignore the authority to reinstate the draft at any given moment.

The sole purpose of the Selective Service is to keep track of the number of available young males in case the draft needs to be reinstated. And, as the youth of today sit back comfortably assuming that they are “safe” from forced service to this country, the reality is that our military is stretched thin by our ongoing and misguided efforts in Iraq.

Of course, you will see some younger protesters at the rallies and marches, but take a closer look as you drive by. When I stand on the sidewalk along the Clinton street side of our Courthouse, I look up and down the row of protesters, and I see older individuals – many in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and, yes, even in their 70s.

Many of us protesting and rallying are from the Vietnam War era – we remember those days, and we are willing to stand on sidewalks and street corners in blistering hot weather as well as zero degree temperatures to protest a war that is not only unjust but also one of the greatest blunders ever made by a president.

So our youth, for the most part, turn their heads away from the horrors of Iraq, comfortable in their false sense of security and the notion that they are safe from being snatched into service. They are not yet affected; they are not the ones fighting and dying in an unjust war.

But those thoughts are misguided; the Selective Service hovers in the background with the power to rip complacent bodies into forced military service. A vested interest in this war and any other wars may very well arise only when the individual has the most to lose – his or her own life. What a shame that it takes extrinsic motivation to force the youth to do something that should arise from intrinsic values – caring about their fellow human beings.

Photo Credit: Mike Keefe – InToon.com



About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
This entry was posted in History, Iraq, Middle East, The Sixties, Uncategorized, Vietnam War, War. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Robert Rouse says:

    Charlotte, the last two times I went to D.C. for a protest against the war, I saw more youth than ever before. In September, the march was led by Iraq Veterans Against the War. It did my heart proud to see so many 18 to 30 year olds in the protest. Many were taking the lead and going right up to the point of no return – they were arrested for civil disobedience. You and your readers might want to know that there will be another large action in Washington (the Capitol, not the state) on March 19th. On this date we will officially begin the sixth year of this damned war occupation. I hope to get at least a car load of people to go with me from Fort Wayne and perhaps even a caravan. We need to let our voices be heard as often and as loud as possible. A single voice added to the throng only makes our message louder.

  2. Robert:

    I know the youth participate, but what I have noticed is that it isn’t in the numbers around the country like it was in the ’60s and early ’70s. On the Saturdays I have been to the Courthouse rally, which I realize have not been the number of times many of you have gone, I see mostly older individuals with a few youth sprinkled around.

    All I am saying is that the youth are not invested in this war on a national level like they were during the Vietnam War. There will always be those young people who care and participate, but why is it mostly at the huge rallies held in D.C.? Why don’t we hear about massive demonstrations like we did during Vietnam?

    I still believe that most of the youth are not invested to the degree that they were during Vietnam because we no longer have the draft. Let’s face it, the draft was an excellent incentive to get involved.

    I was hoping that the demonstration would be on a weekend. I work during the week, and I can’t take off work to go. If it had been scheduled for the weekend, I was going to see if I could ride along with whomever was going out.

  3. Othello Daddy says:

    I think your concerns regarding the reimplementation of the draft are largely unfounded. The unpopularity of the draft is the very reason why it will likely not be reinstated. In fact, the reinstatement of the draft would bring about the very social protests you desire, which is why some democrats in congress wanted to reinstate the draft in the earlier years of the war. They knew the draft would stir up vehement public dissension that they hoped would stop our “involvement” in Iraq in its tracks.

    Also, I have the pleasure of being around many young people, and most are very concerned about their fellow human beings. This concern is manifested in the increase in volunteering that I’ve witnessed over the last twenty years. Young people devote their time to many service projects: volunteering at many nursing homes and hospitals, raising money for underprivileged families and children’s charities, tutoring, collecting canned food, working on mission trips, knitting caps for cancer patients, and others too numerous to mention. They do care about their fellow human beings; they just don’t show it the way you think they should.

  4. Okay – to all those reading my post about anti-war activism — I am not chastising young people for not caring or being involved in areas NOT involving the Iraqi conflict. Perhaps I should add the word “Anti-war” to my caption.

    You are missing my point. My post is about their involvement in the anti-war movement today. Where are the college campus demonstrations? Where are the youth marching in the streets on an almost weekly if not daily basis? Where are the sit-ins? Where is the outrage on behalf of the youth about the Iraq war? Where is the outrage on behalf of our youth about the “volunteer” military being killed and maimed?

    I don’t hear it, and I don’t see it. Take a look at the monthly protests held in many cities. Look up and down the line of people. You will see a few youth, but for the most part, you will see older individuals who remember the trauma and the chaos of the Vietnam War.

    Othello Daddy:

    You make my very point when you state:

    “In fact, the reinstatement of the draft would bring about the very social protests you desire, which is why some democrats in congress wanted to reinstate the draft in the earlier years of the war. They knew the draft would stir up vehement public dissension that they hoped would stop our “involvement” in Iraq in its tracks.”

    Reinstating the draft would primarily affect those in their late teens and 20s – those with the most to lose – their lives. It would also motivate parents of those individuals who would be faced with losing a son or daughter to the service and, perhaps ultimately, to the Iraq War. And, I will bet you that if that happened, we would see the ferment and dissension again like we did during the Vietnam era.

    Again, the lack of protests, demonstrations, etc. by the youth today says to me that the only way they would get involved to any degree as in the ’60s and ’70s and get reinvigorated is if the draft were reinstated. Bottom line – they, for the most part, are not involved because they have no vested interest at this time.

    And, again, let me state – I am not lumping all youth into this category. There are those who are participating in the Peace Rallies held on a monthly basis. And there are those who care enough to go to D.C. to protest. But for the most part, they are secure in the knowledge that they are free from the fear of being drafted. They are free to carry on their lives without the worry of being sent to Iraq.

Comments are closed.