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The Selective Service System

By Adele M. Rosen

ALTHOUGH at this very moment you may be questioning not only why the Selective Service System wants you, but why the draft exists at all, you can be confident that the President has a clear grasp of its purpose. He has said, "Because of the conditions of the world we live in now, we must continue to seek one form of service--military duty--of our young men. We would be an irresponsible nation if we did not--and perhaps even an extinct one."

The local draft board--the heart of the system--exists to provide the number of young and healthy American males the Department of Defense has deemed necessary to help continue the safe existence of our country.

The ways in which the 4080 boards classify their registrants is largely dependent upon the integrity of the board members. Their backgrounds certainly affect the preconceptions with which they enter their jobs. As Conrad J. Lynn has said in his book about the draft, "The membership usually reflects a prosperous, conservative and pro-war cast."

Members of draft boards all over the country are facing a generation with a totally different orientation from theirs toward war and in particular toward this war.

Local Draft Board #17 in Cambridge has five members, including one judge, two lawyers, and two businessmen. One of them is a Negro.

The appointment of Pedro E. Guerro, who has expressed his anti-war sentiments, to the draft board in New Canaan, Conn., brought a flood of criticism. To them he replied, "If there has to be a draft board, I feel that all shades of opinion should be represented on the draft board."

But getting all these shades of opinion is something else. Board members serve without pay, and less well-off citizens cannot spare the time. There have been instances in which state governors, who nominate members, have been known not to look very hard. There have been instances, in fact, in which the draft boards have not reflected a cross-section of the population of a state in the past.

Black Americans make up 42 per cent of the populations of Alabama and Mississippi, but they make up 0 per cent of the populations of their draft boards. Former Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama reportedly told Lt. General Lewis B. Hershey, the Selective Service director, that he had no objections to Negro draft board members. Still, he never nominated any, and now, even with his wife as governor, the boards are lily-white.

How effective or dangerous might a move towards increased centralization of the draft system be? The draft system now works on the ethic of decentralization and grass roots control. Hershey's directive showed one path centralized power could take. But officials have also given Hershey much of the credit for progress in the integration of the draft boards.

Following charges of draft discrimination, the number of blacks serving on local boards has more than doubled over the last year, according to a recent New York Times article. The President appealed in May for adequate Negro representation in the Selective Service System and Hershey made personal appeals to Southern governors. Since then, Louisiana has gone from no black representation to 33 Negro draft board members; Arkansas has gone from none to 35; New York City from 14 to 43.

The problem still exists, however, on both the overall and individual or perhaps psychological level. Looking at the entire system, one must remember that despite the progress, in mid-1966 only 1.3 per cent of draft board members were Negro, although blacks constitute 11 per cent of the country's population. Only 1.8 per cent of the board members were Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Orientals or American Indians. The rest of the draft board members were white.

The local draft board may be unfair, unrepresentative, and undemocratic, but it is the heart of the system

Members of draft boards all over the country are facing a generation with a totally different orientation from theirs toward war and in particular toward war and in particular toward this war. Some of the draftable men are committed to ending the war-machine, if possible by fighting it within its own structure; for some the fight does not go beyond a refusal to deny their own moral convictions; perhaps some, as the Cambridge draft board clerk pointed out, may later regret successfully attaining a conscientious objector classification. The individuals' motivations may differ, but it is certain that the members of all those draft boards are being forced to deal with new questions and perhaps to undergo some kind of moral reevaluation at the same time as their registrants.

By July 29, 1967, 84 draft-age men had pledged not to register for the draft by signing a pledge circulated by the Peacemaker, a pacifist publication. The statement points out that signing alone can lead to five years in jail and/or a fine of $10,000. Most draft-age men register. What happens, happens after.

The 1-A classification for service classification can be viewed as a type of sophisticated blackmail: "The blackmail aspects of the draft were bluntly admitted during the 1959 House Armed Services Committee hearings by Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles G. Finucance who stressed the value of the draft as a threat in encouraging enlistments," writes Lynn.

The possible penal aspects of the 1-A classification also became evident in the recent case in which the Ann Arbor, Mich. draft board reclassified students who had II-S (student) deferments to 1-A because the students held an anti-war sit-in in their local headquarters. The courts ruled the reclassification unconstitutional.

Miss Joan Lawler, the clerk at local draft board #17 in Cambridge, said a student with a II-S who turned in his draft card was recently reclassified 1-A because of Hershey's directive. She said he was the first registrant the board members allowed to have counsel with him at his personal interview. He is now exercising his right of appeal to the State Appeal Board.

The Cambridge draft board has a total registration of 21,908. It receives a call for approximately ten men each month. Miss Lawler said it has also seen a large increase in applications for I-O (conscientious objector) and 4-F (physically or mentally unfit) classifications over the time of the Korean conflict.

Each case for deferment is individually considered by the board members in terms of their definition of the "national interest." The Cambridge draft board has 733 men classified II-S. Under the new law, which went into effect on July 1, 1967, a student classified II-S will not be able to obtain a III-A (hardship) classification for fatherhood without also proving that his leaving the home would cause extreme hardship.

"Those who have I-SC's [temporary student deferments] until the end of the academic year usually get back their II-S deferments for the following year, but I wouldn't guarantee it for anybody next year," Miss Lawler said.

A classification of II-A, which now includes both occupational deferments and deferments for students in non-degree-granting institutions, is decided wholly by the local board members, although optional guidelines are given to them by the central office of the Selective Service System.

Miss Lawler indicate that a "large number" of the 150 men classified II-A by the Cambridge draft board were engineers working for companies with defense grants.

The Cambridge draft board doesn't have an easy time filling its monthly quotas. It's a rather sad place. The pale tan walls and the green filing cabinets lined up in careful rows look at you with a kind of quiet sterility. The wooden bench sitting outside the room, just sitting and waiting, doesn't help any.

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