Selective Service System

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The Selective Service System is the U.S. government agency which operates "the draft," the process for selecting and conscripting citizens into the military, especially the Army.

The draft has been suspended since 1973, but men (not women) must register at age 18. It can be reinstated at any time, as has been suggested by Congressman Charles Rangel and others.

For the history of the draft before 1973 see Conscription

Cold War

For its manpower, because of low pay scales the military relied on a combination of volunteers for the Navy, Marines and Air Force, and the draft plus volunteers for the Army. Every year from 1950 to 1970 the Selective Service system drafted from 100,000 to 300,000 18-year-old men for 24 months of active duty in the Army. The peaks came during the Korean War (525,000 drafted in 1951) and the Vietnam War (382,000 drafted in 1966). In all Selective Service drafted about 25% of all young men for two-year tours; an even larger number volunteered for three years in the Navy or Air Force, where conditions were better. After active duty, the servicemen were required to join reserve units. Many were not drafted because they did not meet high physical standards, or were fathers or college students. The chances of getting drafted varied dramatically from year to year and place to place in unpredictable fashion. The system not only provided soldiers at low cost, it gave the nation millions of veterans with highly useful technical and organizational skills, along with financial benefits for mortgages, health care and college education.


At the end of the Vietnam war in January 1973 President Richard Nixon suspended the draft in 1973, as the nation moved to an "all-volunteer military." However, male citizens are still required to register with the system, and the Selective Service System remains in a state of readiness to resume the draft if ordered by Congress and the President.

According to the agency, it is

an independent federal agency operating with permanent authorization under the Military Selective Service Act (50 U.S.C. App. 451 et seq.). It is not part of the Department of Defense; however, it exists to serve the emergency manpower needs of the Military by conscripting untrained manpower, or personnel with professional health care skills, if directed by Congress and the President in a national crisis. Its statutory missions also include being ready to administer an alternative service program, in lieu of military service for men classified as conscientious objectors.
Today, the Selective Service System continues to satisfy its statutory obligations while providing the only time-tested mechanism to backup the all-volunteer military when needed.[1]

In 2007, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute called reimposing the draft "a major policy shift" that isn't currently needed.[2]

Further reading

Cold War

  • Flynn, George Q. The Draft, 1940-1973. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993; the standard history
  • Warner, John T. and Beth J. Asch. "The Record and Prospects of the All-volunteer Military in the United States." Journal of Economic Perspectives 2001 15(2): 169-192. Issn: 0895-3309 Fulltext: in Jstor and Ebsco
  • Evan M. Wooten; "Banging on the Backdoor Draft: The Constitutional Validity of Stop-Loss in the Military," William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 47, 2005 online version

Primary sources

  • John Whiteclay Chambers II, ed. Draftees or Volunteers: A Documentary History of the Debate over Military Conscription in the United States, 1787-1973, (1975)

See also


  2. The Pentagon said that "no one in the Pentagon is considering a return to a military draft." [1]