Every day, more than 4,000 young American men register for the Selective Service. Most of them, says Paul Frazier, do so without any understanding of their rights, options, and the grave responsibility they have just accepted.
Frazier, a social worker and the author of "Catholic College Students and the Draft," has trained draft counselors since the Vietnam War. Recently, he has been conducting workshops around the country, explaining to young men and their parents what they need to know about registering as a conscientious objector. He'll hold a workshop in Rochester on Saturday, June 3, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Friends Meetinghouse, 84 Scio Street, downtown. The event is free and open to the public.
While induction into the military service through a national draft ended in the early 1970's, during the last years of the Vietnam War, in 1980 the federal government began requiring young men ages 18 to 25 to register.
"If there was a state of emergency, Congress could give the president the power to begin induction overnight," says Frazier. "We are currently conducting two wars, one in Iraq and the other on terror. Another conflict could arise at any time. I think there's a lot of denial about what a state of emergency could look like."
"Asking whether or not there will be a draft is probably the wrong question," says Frazier. "Draft registration already exists. So the question should be: What way would you choose to serve if called?"
If you volunteer for military service and accept the possibility that you may have to kill people, the question of how to serve is settled. But others have no intention of fighting, don't believe in violence as a way to resolve conflicts, or have religious objections to killing people. Frazier urges them to make their choice of status clear before registering.
"You can't wait until the day you have an induction order sitting on the kitchen table telling you what toiletries you're allowed to bring with you to tell them you are a conscientious objector," says Frazier. Federal officials "want to judge the depth of your conviction and the level of your sincerity," he says. "In other words, people have to be prepared. You'll have to establish proof of your convictions and that you have lived by them for some time."
The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, a non-profit organization that answers questions about registration, recommends several steps. Since the registration form does not include a place to indicate interest in CO status, the committee recommends writing on the form: "I am a conscientious objector."
Make several copies of the form, the CCCO recommends, and make sure that your statement is clear. Place one copy in a sealed envelope and mail it to yourself. The form you mail to the Selective Service is destroyed after processing, so your copy in the postmarked, sealed envelope is your only proof that you made your intended status clear at the time of registration.
"Letters from teachers, religious leaders in your community --- your priest or minister --- are important," says Frazier. "You want them to confirm your beliefs and the length of time you have held these beliefs."
Conscientious objectors usually agree to accept some kind of community service in place of military service, such as volunteering in a homeless shelter. Another choice is to apply for non-combatant status, which means you agree to serve in the military, but only in some type of non-combatant role.
Many young people, says Frazier, have resisted by not registering until after they turn 26.But that's illegal. And trying to change your registration status after induction is next to impossible, says Frazier.
"A lot of people get out there and realize they should have thought more about this decision, and it gets very rough for them," he says. "They are ostracized by their fellow soldiers. Commanders don't want them talking to anyone else and influencing their attitudes. So a lot of them either refuse to fight or leave and don't come back, which can lead to charges. It's an extremely difficult way to go."
Frazier says there's a high level of ignorance about registration, and he attributes it to the country's cultural acceptance of violence.
"The recruiters glorify service in patriotic terms," he says, "and a lot of young men --- especially those who have men in their families who have been in the service --- see this as a definition of their manhood. It's their duty. But even more than that, I think we have become a society that accepts violence in our everyday lives. We just don't think about it as being unnatural. And there are peaceful alternatives. Gandhi freed an entire nation without firing a shot."