War imminent! Selective Service calls up 90-year-olds

A piece of fallout from the most recent scuffle between the U.S. and Iran was a rumor. Yes, at least some people panicked that the military was about to reinstate the draft.

Nothing else could have possibly caused the website of the Selective Service to get so much traffic it nearly crashed. There’s still a big red notice there stating, “Attention Customers … THERE IS NO MILITARY DRAFT.” Talk about fake news.

The draft — the official word for it is conscription — ended in January 1973, during the Nixon administration amid the Vietnam War. The end of conscription would augur a revolutionary change in the military. Not that volunteering wasn’t the mode for the military earlier, but the government didn’t inaugurate conscription until the Civil War.

What many people even now don’t realize is that the government still operates a Selective Service System. I knew very little about the triple-S until I interviewed its politically-appointed director, Donald Benton. For example, when the draft last ended, so did draft registration. Benton explained that President Jimmy Carter reinstated it by proclamation, just in case the draft would ever be needed.

Congress would have to pass another law reinstating the draft. Potential draftees would have plenty of notice.

I also assumed that all of those 18-to-26-year-olds in the U.S. are required to register. But no, only men. It would also take an act of Congress to require women to register. Given the transgender rights movement, a law would probably require “all persons” of draft age. In the meantime, guys, failure to register is a felony.

And get this: The Selective Service doesn’t erase your registration record when you hit 26. Its database contains 80 million registrants, the third largest database in the federal government, Benton said. By statue, he said, it keeps men’s names on file until they reach the age of 90. He chuckled in relaying that inexplicable fact.

Winning wars has always been partly a matter of what war planners call “absolute capacity.” Abraham Lincoln understood that if Union and Confederate soldiers down one another man-for-man, all else being equal the Union would win because it had more than twice the number of potential soldiers of the Confederacy.

Even the United States was strained by World War II, and started to call up people with glasses and other minor infirmities that kept them out earlier in the war.

I recall registering, having turned 18 just at the very end of the draft. I can’t recall my status, although I was rather nearsighted even back then. Being something of a pack rat, I’m annoyed that, somewhere in all the moves and boxes and homes, I lost my draft card.

People save documents, even expired or obsolete ones, because they remind us of signposts in our lives. Receipts for long-ago cars, road race number bibs, yardsticks from defunct hardware stores. I still have a Beatles trading card on which a wise-guy friend pasted my face — cut from some class picture — over that of Paul McCartney. From my father’s papers, I retrieved and still have the receipt from my, um, bris. I’ve even got my grandfather’s ticket to the inauguration of President Harry S. Truman. But I can’t find my draft card.

But Benton informed me that, being under 90, I could still get a copy from the Selective Service. But not online, and not a new card. Turns out you can mail in a form and receive a letter confirming registration.

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