A new bill is being pushed through the House of Representatives by joint sponsors Rep. Pete DeFazio (D – OR) and Mike Coffman (R – CO) aimed at finally ending the Selective Service (SS) system, through which every American has to register for military conscription at age 18.
It’s a battle that reaches back through the years, with conscription ending in 1973 with the introduction of a volunteer military, and registration ending outright in 1975, under President Ford.
The 1975 end didn’t really end the matter, however, and in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter began pushing for the resumption of registration as a show of “resolve.”
The Carter push was resisted with public protests, including a major series of rallies by Students for a Libertarian Society (SLS). Eagerness to appear tough on Communism led Congress to fund the Carter plan, however, and in 1980 he restored selective service.
Fast forward another 33 years and the battle is still going on, with the Pentagon constantly reiterating its opposition to a draft and the bureaucrats employed by the SS program insisting it is “insurance” for a case where the US might conceivably need to push tens of millions of Americans into forced military service.
It is a battle that Rep. Coffman has been fighting for years, arguing that the program is outdated and pointless, and that a draft only undermines military morale. In 2011 he and DeFazio pushed a vote on the matter, which failed 301-103.
This time might be different, however, with the threat of including women into the conscription scheme given the matter some additional publicity, and the cost of doing so getting harder and harder to justify in the face of a debt crisis. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D – NY) is pushing to expand this into mandatory, nation-wide conscription for two years for both men and women, despite the military not wanting them and the government seemingly having no money to pay the millions of conscripts. Between these options, Congress may ultimately decide that getting rid of the SS is safer than risking its dramatic expansion.
But as with the Cold War fervor that got the SS restored in 1980, Rep. Defazio concedes that opposition to ending the plan now is going to be fueled by “chicken hawk” members of Congress, who believe that opposing an unwelcome draft might make them look “weak” on national security.
Still, the House has twice passed resolutions calling for the defunding of the SS, in 1993 and 1999. Both times the Senate failed to approve a similar version, however, leaving funding in place.
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