Despite broken system, US military draft provides sense of security, civic responsibility

On every U.S. male resident’s 18th birthday, a law that has shaped the lives of millions begins to apply. Yet, not everyone is aware of it.

The Selective Service System (SSS) is an independent executive agency that maintains information on those eligible to be drafted into the United States Armed Forces. Registration is required for all male U.S. residents between the age of 18 and 25, and should the nation require soldiers, anyone registered may be called upon to serve. But like many other government programs, the SSS has a whole slew of problems. One of the most flawed aspects of the draft comes from the consequences of failure to comply. Failing to register within 30 days of one’s 18th birthday is a felony, which carries a punishment of a $250,000 fine and/or five years in prison. Though these cases are rarely brought up, the potential for punishment is still massive. Also, men who do not register for the draft are prohibited from receiving financial aid for education. One example can be found in Tennessee, where the University of Tennessee’s system requires male students who have not registered for the draft to pay out-of-state tuition fees regardless of their residency status. These punishments are incredibly unreasonable. But all this isn’t to say that the draft only makes American lives harder.

Let’s face it. The U.S. still has enemies around the world. From the impending threat of North Korea to global terrorist networks stemming from the Middle East, the United States must be able to mobilize a sufficient force to defend itself in the event of an attack. Though conflict on a worldwide scale is unlikely in our modern age, it is still a possibility.

“We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more—we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.” former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a presentation to West Point cadets.

Without the power of the draft, the United States’ sturdy defense would be weakened. With only the third largest army in the world, the U.S. leaves itself vulnerable. The U.S. cannot leave itself open to invasion.

The U.S. must also show resolve in the face of crises. The draft reinforces the key idea of service as a civic responsibility and necessary for government officials. However, as shown by the past election, the attitude among the voting population seems to be that military service isn’t an important qualification in elections as it once was. But with the expanding responsibilities of the military, such as rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq, it’s important to have leaders with military experience. It is integral to this nation that the divide between common U.S. citizens and those who protect them be bridged.

In the interest of national security and the preservation of a long-standing democracy, the draft must stay. It is, admittedly, an imperfect system. Still, it has undoubtedly shaped and will continue to shape Americans’ views on war and civic obligation, and will be able to provide a sizeable force in the event of another large-scale war. But for the greater good of our country, it needs to be fixed.