The Past, Present, and Future of Being Called to Duty


Two years into the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln instituted the first federal draft, calling for an additional 300,000 Union soldiers. Bad idea. His 1863 Enrollment Act allowed citizens to buy their way out of service, which incensed poor Irish immigrants. After all, they were forced to fight while the privileged paid to sit on the bench. As a result, draft riots broke out in New York City, causing $1.5 million in damage and as many as 100 deaths. Ironically, Lincoln had to deploy troops to quell violence. In the end, his draft conscripted about 150,000 troops -a quarter of which were substitutes paid by wealthier draftees.


With the Vietnam War in full swing in 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned for president on the promise that he'd end the draft. Once he was in office, Nixon commissioned Thomas Gates, Eisenhower's former secretary of defense, to study the feasibility of creating an all-volunteer military. In February 1970, the Gates Commission reported that the military could get by without drafting troops, but it took Nixon another three years to end the draft process altogether. During the Vietnam Era, between 1965 and 1973, a total of 1,728,344 men were drafted. There hasn't been another draft in America since.


Hey, fellas, remember when you turned 18 and had to register for the draft? Well, if there ever is one, it would start with the Selective Service System (SSS) holding a lottery to determine who gets drafted and in what order. Basically, your birthday would act as your lottery number. Some standard rules apply:

1. Men who turn 20 during the calendar year are called first.

2. Once all eligible 20-year-olds are called, the process moves up to the 21-year-olds, and then to the 22-year-olds, and so on, until all the 25-year-olds are called.

3. The last to be drafted are 18- and 19-year-olds.

4. If your number is called, you receive a notice telling you where to report for exams. You then undergo physical, psychological, and moral evaluations.

5. Once you are declared fit for service, you must report to the Military Entrance Processing Station within 10 days. You will then be placed in training, which will last three to six months. All told, draftees are expected to serve for two years.


If there's ever another draft, it won't follow the same rules as Vietnam. Some changes in conscription laws have already been made, and several more are in the works.

Staying in school won't keep the next round of draftees out of trouble. During Vietnam, many men evaded the draft by remaining in college for a long time (Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, for example). But in 1971, Congress passed legislation to limit school deferments. Now, students a only defer until the end of the semester, although seniors may defer until the end of the school year.

Women will get lottery numbers, too. Congress hasn't legislated this yet, but since 1980, the National Organization for Women and other groups have been pressuring lawmakers to include women, claiming that the all-male draft is discriminatory.

If America activates the draft again, it would most likely create a specialized draft that targets linguists, medical personnel, and computer experts. In 2003, the Selective Service System stated in a memo, "While a conventional draft may never be needed, a draft of men and women possessing these critical skills may be warranted in a future crisis."


You're entering the priesthood. Just beginning the long process of divinity school can get you a deferment.

You steal. A lot. And you've been convicted for it. While this won't guarantee an exemption, many convicts are declared "morally unfit" to serve in the military.

You farm. If your family depends on you -and there are no possible replacements (like your dad or brother taking over)- you can claim :hardship."

You are a state congressman. Congress (and the SSS) figures you're already doing enough to serve the country.

(Images by Flickr user Joe Mott)


The above article by Eric Furman is reprinted with permission from the Scatterbrained section of the September-October 2008 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' entertaining website and blog for more fun stuff!

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@Ryan: I think the priesthood clause works in a different way.
By entering the priesthood you show you want to stay away from real work, and you really, really like kids.
Either way, army is not for you.
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Maybe entering the priesthood is just a way of demonstrating that you have moral principles, which will not get you passed their moral evaluations. They really need people without any morals.
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Looks like i lost my quote with my snark:

"Women will get lottery numbers, too. Congress hasn’t legislated this yet, but since 19809, the National Organization for Women and other groups have been pressuring lawmakers to include women, claiming that the all-male draft is discriminatory."
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Farming used to disqualify you from enlisting voluntarily. My grandfather was told he couldn't enlist in early 1942 because he was a farmer. They let him in a few years later in time for him to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. With the change from mainly family farming to mainly corporate farming today, I doubt just being a farmer would get you out of serving today (except possibly in the situation mentioned in the article), especially if you want to serve.
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