IT ISN'T OFTEN decides to give large parts of the population an opportunity to show their displeasure with the country's foreign policy. This week, though, the government has called on all 18-year-old men to register for the draft. It is an opportunity not to be missed.
We urge those called upon to register to refuse, and to refuse loudly. When draft registration began six months ago, there were plenty of reasons to oppose it, reasons that have not disappeared. Registration remains militarily foolish--estimates are it will trim by but a few days the time it takes to induct Americans into the armed forces. And registration remains a political ploy--originally adopted to aid the flagging reelection campaign of President Carter, it also served as a part of that chief executive's dangerously confrontational revival of the cold war. And President-elect Ronald Reagan, who found it expedient to oppose registration during the campaign, seems likely to maintain it now that the reigns of power are his.
Since its adoption, a whole host of new reasons to oppose registration have emerged. Ronald Reagan's speeches and asides of the weeks since the November election have made it more than clear any new military action will be unjustified. Should a draft follow this registration, it could be for the purpose of fighting wars in Guatemala, E1 Salvador or elsewhere in Latin America. Continuing troubles in the Middle East have made enforcement of the "Carter doctrine" to protect American oil supplies more likely--involvement that would lead only to the useless loss of life and the possibility of nuclear escalation.
In short, registration is more than a personal problem-it is an integral part of burgeoning American militarism and a device that will make intervention in other nation's affairs more easy and more likely, psychologically if not practically. Resisting registration becomes, then, a way of saying no to a system that places spending for military accumulation above spending for human needs, a way of opposing a government that feels, as President Carter said last year, it has "no reason to apologize" to inhabitants of other nations whom his successor refers to as "barbarians."
Refusing registration is not a light decision--the law exacts a penalty of up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines for resisters. In addition, many will label resisters selfish or cowardly. But that charge loses its sting in light of the political selfishness that brought registration back. Those who resist a policy at high personal cost because they find it immoral and unwise are courageous and patriotic next to those who legislate the fate of others for the sake of their own personal gain. And those who resist will not be alone--estimates from last summer indicate that between 5 and 25 per cent of American males scheduled to register refused, and many others went along only for fear of the penalties.
Those who do refuse should publicly explain their reasons, to Congressmen, to their friends and parents, to hometown newspapers, and to local registration boards. That outcry may serve the most legitimate function of refusal to register--forcing other Americans to consider America's place in the world and freedom's place in America. Any protest movement produces social upheaval, which always carries painful cost. But a climate of resistance to one abuse of our society may bring to the surface needed discussion of other problems. A mass display of civil disobedience would offer America much hope amidst the turmoil.
Many will argue that registration is only a first step, that there is little need to resist until some civil servant starts pulling draft numbers out of a hat. Those who oppose the draft must continue political efforts to stop its adoption, but resisting a draft once it goes into effect may come too late. It is time now to warn the nation that we do not plan to be used as tools in political campaigns or as missile fodder in wars that have no moral justification. If the unhappy day comes when a necessary and moral battle needs to be fought-and each person, on his own, will make that decision-we will volunteer. For today, we say resist.