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Greetings. Remember Dec. 1, 1969? You almost certainly do if you are a male civilian born on Sept. 14 of any year between 1944 and 1950. On Dec. 1, 1969, a congressman reached into a fishbowl and drew out one of 366 blue plastic capsules. (One was for Feb. 29 of leap years.) It contained a slip of paper bearing the date Sept. 14. If you were born on that date, your draft lottery number was 1. Thousands of young men unlucky enough to have that birthday knew they could anticipate mail from their local draft board. The induction notice actually started with the word “greeting” but legend turned the salutation into the plural “greetings.” The word took on a sardonic place in the vocabulary of the day. “Greetings,” one young man would say to another. “Ha, ha, ha.” “Greeting,” the message would say. “You are hereby ordered to report.” The mailman no longer carries that mail. Thirty-one years have passed since the country drafted anyone. But now, with the country told by its leaders that it could be in a 100-year war against terrorism, there is talk of reviving the draft. Talk only, so far. It would take an act of Congress to resume drafting. Congress seems to have no appetite for that. The president opposes it and so does his rival for the presidency. So does the Pentagon. In polls, eight out of 10 Americans say no. Still, says law professor Donald N. Zillman of the University of Maine, a student of the draft, “Once the election is past us in November, we may face some very hard questions. If we don’t have enough people to meet the needs, we may have to draft.” Support for a new draft comes from a handful of academics and a handful in Congress, acting, they say, in the name of fairness. In time of war, this democracy has often had a quandary in deciding how to raise its armies. In the Civil War, in World Wars I and II, in Korea, in the Cold War and in Vietnam, the answer has been conscription. But conscription carries problems. The country always has more young men than the war needs. (It’s always been men; American women have never been drafted.) So who gets excused? Fathers? College students? Defense workers? The flat-footed? In 1969, the country had become fed up with a draft that offered too many escape hatches. So Richard Nixon, needing the draft for Vietnam but seeing it as a source of anti-war sentiment, decided to let the luck of the lottery decide. After Vietnam, Congress opted for an all-volunteer army, which the country still has. The draft was history. Much of that was a history of opposition and inequity. In the Civil War, Northerners could sidestep service by paying a bounty of $300 or by hiring substitutes to serve in their place. Substitutes often deserted and hired themselves out again. It was a racket. In World War I, President Wilson learned from Lincoln’s experience and allowed no bounties, no substitutes. The draft provided two-thirds of all the doughboys who fought. The World War II draft was also vital, and successful, with 10 million inductions. The draft aroused bitterness during the Korean War and became a fact of life in the early decades of the Cold War, something young men just came to expect. But it turned into an anvil for the protests that ultimately forced Richard Nixon to find a way out of Vietnam. The Vietnam draft inducted nearly two million men, but historian Harry Summers Jr. put the number of draft dodgers at 570,000. Of that total, only 8,750 were convicted and only 4,000 imprisoned. With the war over, Presidents Ford and Carter pardoned most draft evaders. “The Vietnam-era draft was a national disgrace,” Summers wrote. “A high school graduate was twice as likely to serve in the military as a college graduate.” Now, with the draft mothballed, the Selective Service System, the agency that has overseen the draft since 1917, continues to register men between 18 and 26, just in case. About one in 10 young men ignore the registration requirement. In Congress, the champion of the drive to restart the draft is Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York City Democrat who doesn’t like the war in Iraq but likes even less the fact that it is being fought by a working-class army. Rangel thinks the all-volunteer army is not that — not when a lack of jobs and the inducement of post-military educational benefits leave poor young men with few alternatives to enlisting. “We would never have gone into Iraq if they were sending the sons of the White House, the sons of the Pentagon, the Congress, the CEOs,” Rangel said in an interview. “It’s easy to have a pre-emptive strike against a country that is not a danger to the United States when you’re fighting a war with somebody else’s children.” Like Rangel, most proponents want a draft that takes everyone, and requires civilian service — in libraries, parks, classrooms or homeland security — for the men and women the military doesn’t need. “There would be no preferences, no deferments, no chances for the well-off or the well-connected to dodge military service,” says Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., another backer. But Doug Bandow, a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, says this, too, would be unfair: “Some people would get lucky enough to go fight in Fallujah while others get to sit in the D.C. public library and shelve books.” Generals in the Pentagon prefer a professional army, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argues it is wasteful to train draftees in the skills needed by a high-tech army, only to lose them after two years. Probably the most prominent advocate of universal service is military sociologist Charles Moskos of Northwestern University. He senses that the country will support an unpopular war only when it sees the children of national leaders in the war. “Imagine if Jenna Bush were in Iraq today,” he says. “We would be much more committed.” This spring, The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, could find only eight lawmakers with children in the armed forces — and only two of them saw service in Iraq. By contrast, in World War II, 62 senators and 211 representatives had offspring or grandchildren in uniform. Law professor Zillman says only about 30 percent of present lawmakers have served in the military and the number diminishes every time an old veteran — a Bob Dole or Strom Thurmond — leaves Congress, to be replaced by someone unlikely to have served. “It would be a very dangerous thing to have a Congress largely free of personal military experience,” he said in an interview. “I think there is a shared integrity if Congress calls men and women to serve if they have themselves served.” When President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed re-instituting a draft in 1940, isolationists feared his plan would draw the country into Europe’s war. Pacifist women kneeled on the White House sidewalk, praying for the legislation’s defeat. Sen. Burton K. Wheeler of Montana predicted it would “plow under every fourth American boy.” After France fell to the Germans, Congress enacted FDR’s bill. Among the early 1941 draftees: Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers, the American League’s most valuable player in 1940. Still, some shirked. The Justice Department investigated 373,000 suspected WWII draft evaders and 16,000 were convicted. But nothing has ever equaled the anti-draft sentiment of Vietnam. Draft resistance gave rise to draft-card burnings, sit-ins, attempts to stop troop trains. Up to 50,000 evaders went to Canada, Britain, Sweden, or graduate school. Others got braces on their teeth — grounds for flunking the physical. “The institutions most responsible for channeling men into the military — the draft, the schools and the job market — directed working-class children to the armed forces and their wealthier peers toward college,” said historian Christian G. Appy, author of “Working-Class War.” “Most young men from prosperous families were able to avoid the draft, and very few volunteered. Thus, America’s most unpopular war was fought primarily by the 19-year-old children of waitresses, factory workers, truck drivers, secretaries, firefighters, carpenters, custodians, police officers, salespeople, clerks, mechanics, miners and farm workers.” And thus some baby boomers who later became prominent in public life managed to sidestep the war. The list includes two vice presidents and two presidents. Dan Quayle, joined the Indiana National Guard in lieu of being drafted. Bill Clinton went the college deferral route. George W. Bush joined the Texas National Guard. Dick Cheney asked for and got five student deferments before he turned 26 and ineligible for the draft in 1967. He is famous for his explanation: “I had other priorities.” House Speaker Dennis Hastert, House Republican Leader Dick Armey, Republican Whip Tom Delay, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are also among those who might have, but did not, wear the uniform. The paths taken by two young men who entered life with no special advantages tell much about America’s ambiguous feelings toward compulsory military service. Elvis Presley was drafted in 1958 and was stationed for 18 months in Friedberg, Germany, where he drove a jeep for a sergeant. Muhammad Ali refused induction, explaining his Nation of Islam faith prevented him from serving — and, anyway, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” He was stripped of his boxing title and sentenced to five years in prison. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction. Except for their fame, Presley and Ali were typical of their generation in a country that has always had difficulty deciding whether the draft was American or un-American, a necessary evil or a democratic duty. Mike Feinsilber was drafted during the Cold War and served in the Army for two years. He retired recently after 22 years with The Associated Press in Washington. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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