Reinstating the Draft is Not a Bad Idea

It was fall of 1970.  I was a junior in college, and by that time I had had the pleasure of getting to know several Vietnam War veterans who returned from Southeast Asia because of nonfatal injuries.  It seemed as though several of them were in every class that I had, and they didn't mind talking with us about the war.

Although the war had been creating unrest on college campuses across the nation for some time, things intensified in May 1970 when several Kent State University students were shot and killed by members of the National Guard.  In the wake of that horrific incident, the U.S. government moved to abolish the draft and replace it with a lottery. 

It was a simple process.  Each day of the year was drawn out of a hat, so to speak, and given a number.  The first date drawn was number 1, and so on.  Your lottery number was the number of your birthday.  Thanks to the lottery, young men would be called up for duty starting with number 1 until the military had all the troops that it needed.  If after 12 months you had not been called up, you were no longer eligible.  The next year another lottery would be held for all able bodied 18 year old males.

While the draft was in effect, full-time college students got student deferrals.  The lottery didn't change that policy.  Each quarter as a part of the registration process, we were required to submit a form proving that we were enrolled in college.  If we didn't submit the form, we were eligible for the draft immediately, but under the lottery if you failed to submit the form, you would be called up immediately if your number was low enough.  That's one important reason why college enrollment exploded during the 1960s and 1970s.

Like B.C and A.D., the first lottery in the fall of 1970 divided my life on earth into two distinct parts: before this and after this.  In advance of the lottery, military experts had informed us that people with numbers lower than about 150 were sure to see action in Vietnam.  My number was 83.  At age 20, I was forced to consider the very real possibility that after graduation I was going straight to Vietnam and that I might die.

Like most of my fellow classmates, I was young and foolish.  Under the draft, there was at least a chance that I might not be called up, but my number in the lottery was so low that I was guaranteed to see action in Vietnam, or so I thought.  Thus, I decided to forego the student deferral process beginning the next quarter and take my chances.  I reasoned that I would be better off going to Vietnam before I graduated than postponing the inevitable until after graduation.

At the same time, President Nixon was winding down the war in Vietnam so my number was never called, but the thought process that I went through matured me in a hurry.  For a calendar year, I believed that my life would end in a matter of months.  That may sound like torture, but looking back on it, it wasn't.  In fact, it's a part of my maturation process that I cherish, and one of my regrets in life is that I did not serve in the military. 

Most young males in this country today don't have to go through that process, so they are free to fritter away their time playing on their Xboxes or marching with the Occupy Wall Street gang or getting into all kinds of mischief without having to consider the consequences of their actions.  Because of the draft and the lottery we didn't have that luxury.  If we got into trouble, we knew where we were going, and many of us went even if we didn't get into trouble. 

In September 2011 when Occupy Wall Street began, the first thing that entered my mind was that we need to reinstate the draft or the lottery because those young people needed something meaningful to do with their time.  Think of it as an attitude adjustment for young men with the side benefit of helping our nation.  Unfortunately, they are growing up during a time when most of our citizens don't even pay federal income taxes.  Even worse, most of them are the beneficiaries of government handout programs that produce noting of significance except deficits and debt. 

It's time to put an end to this madness, and sequestration may be a blessing in disguise because it could force us to reconsider the draft.  Bridget Johnson raised that possibility yesterday in an article for PJ Media titled "Will Obama's Defense Cuts Lead to a Military Draft?"  She said,

If the military continues to be gutted under Obama, fewer men and women are expected to walk through the doors of recruiting offices. If there aren't enough men and women in uniform come the next conflict, will this administration or the next -- which will be left to mop up the damage at the Pentagon -- be forced to institute the draft?

Personally, I hope that we do reinstate the draft because it will help to reduce the cost associated with defending our nation.  Additionally, although they may not realize it, those young people who are protesting because of the perceived lack of fairness in our society or campaigning for green energy to reduce  C02 emissions or complaining about whatever will benefit more than they can imagine if we do. 

The draft is a sobering process, and it sure beats paying people to do nothing.  That's what the Occupy Wall Street crowd was doing for days, weeks, and months on end.  It's obvious that they didn't have jobs.  How were they supporting themselves?  The answer: either they got money from the government or from mommy and daddy.  In either case, they were learning to be dependent in an already dependent society, and that's got to change.  The draft can help us move in the right direction.

As an aside, if my mother-in-law reads this, she will finally know what was going on in my mind when I met her daughter in the fall of 1970.


Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia.  His blog,, is posted daily.