President Johnson's order requiring the Selective Service System to examine men at age 18, and the accompanying directive establishing voluntary programs to help men correct mental and physical deficiencies, provide some hope that the Administration is beginning to think constructively about the whole draft system. The Pentagon's new study of manpower needs also indicates fresh attention to a program that is rift with inequities and inconsistencies and very possibly inappropriate to the current needs of the country.
The advantages of the early registration plan are so evident it is surprising it hasn't long been in effect. The Army will now have a clearer idea of the strength of the manpower pool. Because young men will know their draft status more than three months before actual drafting, they will be able to plan with more certainty for the future. Coupled with adequate voluntary correction programs, the early registration system can become an important part of the President's promised attack on poverty.
Some suspicious collegians think the correction programs pose a serious and unwelcome threat to their treasured 4-F ratings. However, as Johnson predicted, the principal effect of the programs should be to provide medical and psychiatric treatment for those who cannot afford such services. The Army has long offered the only successful mass job training program in the country; it could now very well serve another social function by facilitating a necessary health program, which would be immune to charges of socialism. The failure of nearly half the men examined last year to qualify for the Army testifies to the need for this program.
But early registration is only a small step towards a sensible draft policy. While the Pentagon study may suggest further measures, it is necessary to evaluate the draft from more than the military prospective. It is improbable that military duty is the most fruitful way for all young men to fulfill their obligation. The Peace Corps and the proposed National Service Corps are two alternatives which would appeal to many young men and provide a more useful outlet for their talents. Since the armed forces now require only a third of the men in the manpower pool every year, the President should direct his affection not only to improving the Selective Service lottery but also to making a more rational allocation of manpower.