The confirmation that my freedom to do as I please had ended came as my hair fell in clumps onto the floor around the barber chair.
If I’d had my druthers I would not have chosen a buzz cut. But it was the second day into my life in the military; the first was spent marching in the rain after arriving at boot camp. My life and those of my new buzz-cut companions had changed dramatically.
We’ve heard a lot about freedom lately and the threat to our liberty to do as we please because of the rules associated with efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Fortunately the brave hearts of the state Supreme Court majority stepped in to stop the assault on freedoms — such freedoms as going without a face mask or assembling in large crowds without regard for medical advice that such practices were putting others at risk.
But I digress.
My freedom to do as I please did not include deciding whether to join the military; my number came up in 1964 and I became part of the 2.2 million drafted for the Vietnam War out of an eligible pool of 27 million.
That made us part of a much larger contingent of men who were notified by the Selective Service System that their time to serve had come — some 50 million in World War II alone of whom 10 million were inducted. In the Korean War, 1,529,539 were inducted.
That’s a lot of curtailed freedom. But those were tumultuous times and I’d bet that, given a credible threat to our country and way of life, the government would turn again to conscription.
Before the start of World War II there was a recognition that the United States would be drawn into the fighting, so Congress on Sept. 16, 1940, passed the first peacetime conscription in U.S. history.
The draft for World War I was established when attempts to build the army with volunteers failed. The Civil War had a draft, but those drafted could pay a substitute. Not so for those drafted since then.
At the end of WWII, the draft law was allowed to expire, but it was re-enacted to boost readiness in the Cold War.
From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces which could not be filled through voluntary means, according to the Selective Service System online history. “Induction authority expired in 1973, but the draft remained in existence in ‘standby’ to support the all-volunteer force in case of an emergency. Registration was suspended early in 1975.”
In the summer of 1980, registration was resumed. Presently, men must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Failure to register violates the Military Selective Service Act and “conviction for such a violation may result in imprisonment for up to five years and/or a fine of not more than $250,000.”
How’s that for a threat to personal freedom?
On Memorial Day, we honor those, both conscripts and volunteers, who paid the ultimate price for their service to our country. Their sacrifice and the freedoms given up by the millions who have been called to serve the nation, greatly diminish by comparison the weight of the restrictions so vehemently protested in our present circumstances.
What has transpired with the Selective Service System, the draft, has come in the name of national security. We are in circumstances now that pose a threat, while not a war, although some would liken it to war, to our nation’s stability and standing in the world.
Yes, we must rebuild and reopen our economy, but not at the cost of disregard for dealing with the pandemic.
If we feel put upon to observe rules of safety and respect for others, we might remember the comparison with the personal liberties that have been curtailed in the past so that we might have the right to protest and feel deprived.
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