Selective Service

views updated May 17 2018

Selective Service




During major military conflicts in which the United States has been involved throughout its history, the government has utilized various programs and forms of military conscription in order to draft male citizens to the armed forces. While no draft has been in place since 1973, the Selective Service exists as an independent agency within the federal government to administer the registration of eighteen-year-old males, which is required by law, and conduct a draft should a need for military manpower over and above a volunteer force arise. An individual who is appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate directs the Selective Service System.


Congress passed the first military conscription act on March 3, 1863, during the Civil War. The act authorized President Abraham Lincoln (18091865) to draft men between the ages of twenty and forty-five into military service for the Union forces. The law, which included the option of draftees to pay a commutation fee of $300 to escape enlistment, provoked protests in New York City by those who saw it as unfairly protecting the wealthy.

Lincoln was forced to send federal troops to quell violent mobs. The Confederate States also instituted conscription in 1862, and it proved just as unpopular in the South as in the North. The next military draft law in the United States was passed in 1917; the Selective Service Act gave the president the power to conscript men for service during World War I.

As American involvement in World War II approached, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945) signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. This act created the first peacetime draft and established the Selective Service as an independent federal agency. The original legislation called for a service commitment of twelve months but was expanded to eighteen months following direct U.S. engagement in hostilities. Men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five who registered with the Selective Service were eligible to be inducted into the army and Marine Corps, and more than 10,000,000 men were inducted between 1940 and 1947. New legislation in 1948 reduced the mandatory registration age range to between eighteen and twenty-six. Military conscription continued during the Korean War in the 1950s and, most notably and controversially, during the Vietnam War.

Beginning in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson (19081973) was authorized by Congress to increase the number of troops in Vietnam, and by early 1968 the United States had more than 500,000 troops there. Tens of thousands of young men were drafted through the Selective Service lottery, while thousands of others avoided service through exemptionsalso called defermentsgranted by the several regional Selective Service draft boards around the nation based on educational commitments, membership in the clergy, medical restrictions, membership in the National Guard, and other obligations. Critics of the draft process noted an inordinate number of minorities had been selected, and questioned the randomness of the lottery. As in the past, the draft was seen as unfairly singling out those without the economic means to avoid service. As the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action rose and the war became increasingly unpopular, the draft became a focal point for antiwar protestors. In 1973 President Richard M. Nixon (19131994) signed legislation that ended the draft, and those joining the military thereafter did so as volunteers.


Despite the end of the draft, in the early-twenty-first century the Selective Service exists as a contingency in the event of a draft. All males in the United States must register within thirty days of their eighteenth birthdays; that requirement applies to citizens and aliens alike. Registrants may sign up via mail, at a U.S. post office, or on a student federal financial aid form. Because the Selective Service does not apply draft status classification to registrants when there is no draft, disabled men must also register. Similarly men who are conscientious objectors to war must register with the Selective Service, since there is no place on the registration form to indicate objection to induction into the armed services. The mere act of registering, however, does not guarantee a man will be inducted in the event of a draft. As it did during previous wars where a draft was in place, the Selective Service would classify registrants to determine eligibility for induction and deferments when and if a draft is reinstated. Additionally, according to its mission statement, the Selective Service would devise an alternative service program for those classified as conscientious objectors.

Females are not required to register with the Selective Service. Congress has explicitly stated in all Selective Service legislation that only males are required to register. In a 1981 case challenging the constitutionality of that particular clause (Rostker v. Goldberg ), the Supreme Court ruled that Congress was well within its authority to exclude women from registration with the Selective Service because the purpose of the legislation is to raise and regulate armies and navies for combat action, and women are excluded from nearly every type of military combat. President William J. Clinton (b. 1946) ordered a review of the policy regarding females and Selective Service registration in 1994, and the Department of Defense reported that the process of exclusion remained justifiable because of combat regulations and restrictions but noted the need to revisit the issue as the roles of female soldiers expand in the future.

In the event Congress passes legislation reinstating the draft, a National Draft Lottery would be conducted to determine the order in which men would be drafted for induction. The lottery would be based upon the birth dates of registrants, beginning with those men twenty years of age during that calendar year. A major difference from the Vietnam draft-era is that registrants who are eighteen and nineteen years old during the year of the draft would most likely not be called, as opposed to the great number of men under the age of twenty called to Vietnam. The lottery would be conducted in public and under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in order to insure as random a lottery as possible.

SEE ALSO Civil-Military Relation; Military; National Service Programs; Pacifism; Peace Movements; U.S. Civil War; Vietnam War; World War I; World War II


Flynn, George Q. 2002. Conscription and Democracy: The Draft in France, Great Britain, and the United States. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Graham, John R. 1980. Constitutional History of the Military Draft. Hudson, WI: Ross & Haines.

Holmes, Richard. 1985. Acts of War. New York: Free Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 2005. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Kusch, Frank. 2001. All American Boys: Draft Dodgers in Canada from the Vietnam War. Westport, CT: Praeger Publications.

McNamara, Robert S. 1995. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. New York: Random House.

Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57 (1981).

Selective Service System.

Matthew May

Selective Service

views updated May 21 2018


During the Vietnam War, some men volunteered to go, while others were volunteered by their government. Whether they were enlistees or draftees, one thing they may have had in common was their experiences with the Selective Service system.

The Selective Service Act was enacted by Congress in 1948 to provide the United States with manpower should the country ever need to supplement active and reserve duty personnel. Under the direction of General Lewis B. Hershey, the Selective Service effectively and without interruption provided young men for America's military manpower needs from the end of the Korean War until the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam accelerated in 1965. Most of the 8,000 to 10,000 men who were drafted each month during this period went directly into the U.S. Army. Some 4,000 draft boards, in cities and towns across the country, processed young men who were required by law to register when they turned 18. The number of inductees was proportional to the number of men from each state already in the military.

In 1965, when America's involvement in Vietnam required even more manpower, the Selective Service stepped up its activities. It had a pool of nearly 27 million men to choose from. However, nearly 18 million managed to avoid the draft in one way or another, leaving only 9 million who were either drafted or enlisted. The method the Selective Service used to provide manpower for the war in Vietnam became as controversial as the war itself. Men who were able to afford college were given deferments, as were those working in defense related industries. Men who were married with children were also exempted. Others found that joining the Reserves or their state's National Guard would also provide a haven from conscription. As the war intensified, and draft calls ranged from 30,000 to 50,000 per month, critics charged the Selective Service was meeting the quota by drafting men from the lower educational and income brackets of American society. Unable to afford college or wield the clout necessary to gain entrance into the Reserves or the National Guard, these men seemed to be paying the price for their shortcomings by going to war. Although recommendations were made to close the loopholes that let so many men from the middle and upper classes escape military service, they were not incorporated into the Selective Service Extension Act of 1967. "Stop The Draft" rallies became as frequent as "Stop The War" rallies, and frequently were one in the same.


The U.S. Government maintains records of American men ages eighteen through twenty-five in order to be able to rapidly expand the Armed Forces in case of a national emergency or war. An American man is required by U.S. law to register for the Selective Service within thirty days of his eighteenth birthday. Registration forms are available at Post Offices nationwide. Within ninety days of completing and mailing the form to the Selective Service System office, the registrant will receive acknowledgement with a copy of the registration record, which is proof of registration.

Registering does not mean that a person is going to be drafted or is volunteering for the Army because only the Congress and the President of the United States can order a draft to take place, an event that has not happened since 1973. A young man who fails to register may be fined up to $250,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. Registration is also a prerequisite for getting Federal job training; federal student loans, scholarships, and grants; and U.S. government jobs.

When Richard Nixon became President in 1969, he initiated Vietnamization, bringing home U.S. troops and putting South Vietnamese soldiers in their place. The gradual reduction of U.S. ground forces also meant less demand for draftees, and in November and December of that year the draft calls were canceled by presidential order. That was followed by the removal of General Hershey as director of the Selective Service. His replacement, Curtis Tarr, was a civilian, and worked to end draft protests by ending most student deferments and introducing a lottery system to determine military eligibility. The lottery system operated within the remaining draft structure until December 1972 when Nixon ended all draft calls. In 1975 President Gerald Ford ended all remaining draft registration requirements. Young men were still required to register for military service when they turned 18, a law which is still in place today. The end of the draft ushered in a new era of the volunteer, professional army. Manpower needs and policy transformed the military through increased number of officers from minority groups and by the expansion of the combat roles of women.


Moss, George Donelson. Vietnam: An American Ordeal, 4th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Olson, James, ed. Dictionary of the Vietnam War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987.

John Morello

See also:ROTC; Who served in Vietnam?

Selective Service System

views updated May 23 2018


The Selective Service System is responsible for supplying U.S. armed forces with people in the event of a national emergency. It is an independent agency of the federal government's executive branch.

The agency was established in its first form in 1917 and is authorized by the Military Selective Service Act (50 U.S.C.A. app. 451–471a). This act, as amended, requires male citizens of the United States, and all other male persons who are in the United States and who are between the ages of eighteen and a half and twenty-six, to register for possible military service. It exempts active members of the armed forces, personnel of foreign embassies and consulates, and nonimmigrant aliens.

All registrants between the ages of eighteen and a half and twenty-six, except those who are deferred, are liable for training and service in the armed forces should Congress decide to conscript registrants. Those who have received a deferral are liable for training and service until age thirty-five. Aliens are not liable for training and service until they have remained in the United States for more than one year. In the event of the conscription of registrants into the armed forces, conscientious objectors are required to do civilian work in place of conscription.

In 1980 President jimmy carter issued a proclamation (Proclamation 4771, July 2, 1980) requiring all males who were born after January 1, 1960, and who have attained age eighteen, to register with the Selective Service. Registration is conducted at U.S. post offices and at U.S. embassies and consulates outside the United States. The Selective Service maintains several field offices in addition to its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.


Armed Services; Solomon Amendment.

selective service

views updated May 21 2018

se·lec·tive serv·ice • n. service in the armed forces under conscription.

Selective Service

views updated May 11 2018

Selective Service. See Conscription.

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