Draft Counseling with the Military Selective Service Act: Boards, Rights, Resistance, Conscience, and Politics


The war in Viet Nam was raging furiously in the s and early s, the military draft was active with millions of young men being drafted, enlisting under pressure from the draft, or being channeled into particular civilian occupations that the Federal government thought were acceptable alternatives, and many young people were frustrated, angry, and opposed. Many others were proud of serving in the U.S. military in Viet Nam, but they were not the ones objecting.

We served the ones who were resisting. We were draft counselors, mostly civilians who were not lawyers. Some of us believed in a formula for every person we counseled: everyone should resist in the same powerful way, as a way to bring the war to an end. (We were within walking distance of the so-nicknamed Peace Pentagon, which recently closed, its tenants moving together downtown.) Some of us believed in respecting each counselee’s choices, presenting a wide range of them, both those allowed by law and the illegal, and discussing in depth whatever someone was interested in without requiring precommitment to one path. If it was illegal, we didn’t say to do it, because that itself could be illegal, but we said some people did it, and some of them had publcly spoken or written about it. I was in the latter group, among the counselors who presented options, and very good at it. While conscientious objection tended to be the most complicated kind of case for most counselors, and the most interesting for many counselors, one of my most complicated was a family support case (we won).

We often knew the regulations, statute, court decisions, and official literature better than the Selective Service System did and better than most attorneys did. One nonlawyer even represented the New York Civil Liberties Union arguing cases in Federal court, Ed Oppenheimer, on their staff. We circulated various newsletters with the technical information and subscribed to a professional-grade loose-leaf law reporter. And our services were free. Some folks donated funds; some didn’t; we went tabling on Saturdays with peace buttons and to accept donations; and when the draft was winding down, people kept coming in for counseling as often as before but were less likely to help pay our rent, until we closed.

A few of us stayed aware of the issue. When registration was started again, we opened up new places, young people with concerns joined, and we trained counselors and published a manual and some other literature, but registration stayed just that and inductions and draft board activity did not resume, so demand for our services wound down again. I see on the Internet that one person is still counseling, apparently to boost a major church’s membership recruitment.

I saw that one of the principal publishers in support of our work, Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), largely closed, the main office closed and only one California office open but the website domain lost as a premium name for sale by who-knows-who and the archived website shrunk to very little before it got copied into the Wayback Machine. It felt like I was watching someone die. (And it may since have died.) (The National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors (NISBCO) was similarly focused and useful; I haven’t been in touch with it in years so I don’t know what it’s like now, but it has become the Center on Conscience & War (CCW).) The national director of the Selective Service System who got the job during the height of draft resistance just recently died, in . He had been more or less cooperative with us. He took over from a director who had once been popular among the public who thought being drafted was a duty no one should question but who had become a target of antidraft and antiwar opposition and maybe a lightning rod. One local SSS official was charged with accepting a bribe and I think went to prison, but public corruption of the agency was likely low, the agency being known more for other problems. One person who was with us trashed files at a draft board; that was almost certainly both a Federal felony (destruction of the records) and a local crime (entering the building depending on permission); there was newspaper coverage but possibly no arrest; I’m not condoning it and didn’t and most people in the movement would not have, either; trashing may have prevented or distorted some drafting especially before computers were in much use (SSS recovery procedures were undisclosed) and in maybe a couple of cases nationally the political effects were significant. People with us scattered far and became a physician in public health near wars, a murder victim while a driver of cars for hire, a printer, a lawyer who did antidiscrimination cases and criminal defense plus one already a lawyer got into civil liberties, energy, and politics, a married couple, a spouse and parent, political activists, a religious activist, a professor, a writer, a messenger, and I don’t know what else; some seem to have disappeared or died (it’s been a while).

We criticized the militarization of civilian society. I don’t know if we were much criticized for being soft on communism or as outright supporters, but probably hints of it arose in the s. I don’t recall any actual Communist. If anyone had socialist leanings, our issue was not economics and the subject didn’t come up much, if at all, and wasn’t an organizing tool. Peace was. Liberty was. And some of us weren’t much into organizing. We listened, counseled, wrote, taught, and spoke.

Draft Counselors Achieved

Massive Effect

We draft counselors, loosely organized, were one key to the virtual end of the draft, especially of inductions and most classification actions. Ours was not the biggest key; the opposition to the war took some larger forms, including massive demonstrations; but we discredited the draft’s former image and we, along with unorganized ad hoc resisters, discredited the notion that being drafted was just a duty beyond question. We told people about their rights and how to exercise them; and exercise them they did, to the annoyance of the official draft boards. The draft boards were volunteer once-a-month operations, aided mostly by one full-time staff member, and most of them were devoted but much less than legally skilled. The law was complicated and they didn’t know much of it. We knew it better than they did. And some SSS procedures were simply illegal. Accelerating someone’s induction on an allegation of delinquency was done by classifying that person as available for induction and enclosing an induction order in the same envelope, to be complied with in ten days, with no prior notice or hearing. That was declared unconstitutional and the SSS had to scramble to cope. The courts voided quite a few procedures (or lack thereof) as unconstitutional or as violating a statute. Clerks in most of the nation who aided draft boards were effectively forbidden to make long-distance phone calls even to their own headquarters, so they weren’t going to ask for legal advice that way (the main exceptions were New York City and the District of Columbia (the SSS counted those as among 56 states) and probably state capitals). We weighed in on regulatory proposals; one was stopped after the SSS received seven sacks of mail (we didn’t have email or online petitions then). In court, lawyers challenged inductions through collateral attacks, saying someone else should have been called instead and therefore that the defendant should not have been called, and that annoyed the government, but we won there, too.

I don’t know how many of us operated under the law of privilege allowing confidentiality even in court, usually under either a minister or a lawyer. There may have been one challenge in the nation. The American Bar Association issued an opinion on whether what people like us were doing was the unauthorized practice of law, a violation of state law. No, they agreed with us. We were nonprofit and free and without us people would go unadvised (there was another point I’ve since forgotten). Giving advice mattered. My understanding about people who went to Canada is that those we counseled did better at assimilating into Canada and becoming productive there while those who went on their own just hung out with other Americans. Also, the ones we counseled were probably more knowledgeable of their various options, of which Canada was only one. It was sad to read of the fellow who got drunk and smashed his arm with a hammer so he would fail the medical; it’s hard to imagine any draft counselor who would have lacked better ideas.

My colleagues and I often spoke with prosecutors and SSS legal officials to get cases cleared out. We wanted to clear out cases where that would help our counselees. The officials wanted to clear out cases they’d lose in court. We didn’t agree on the politics. Going out for dinner together was unlikely. But we cooperated in clearing out cases. And it wasn’t very hard. We prepared counselees for the draft boards. The law and the courts recognized rights where draft boards didn’t. Nor was that likely to change, at least not without making the SSS a much more expensive agency to run, and I don’t think that was ever discussed in Congress. Rights grew as resistance to the draft grew, until induction authority was not renewed and even while it was available it was no longer being used. Registration came back under a Democratic President, but, other than that, a military draft has been a dead idea under Presidents of both parties ever since. Even registration violations were sanctioned administratively rather than by indictment, partly because when indictments were brought refusals to register locally increased.

Maybe we were looked at by the FBI. They were busy looking at various political radicals and they probably looked at us and we talked about it, but, if they did look and if one encounter I had was with an FBI informant or agent, I likely was cleared. The person who might have been an informer was supposed to teach a class on draft counseling with me, but she backed out early and I did it myself. Not very well, because I didn’t know how to teach, but I barely winged it for an hour or so. So maybe I got a silent stamp of not-a-problem (or at least not-a-priority and never again one) from the FBI. I started asking for files on me, but I didn’t pursue it much, and never got anything. We were disapproved of by the Hells Angels down the block, but mostly they left us alone, partly because they liked our landlord and partly because they had agreed to be nice on the block (well, sort of nice, and with an exception).

Even a big-city board of education added draft counseling in their high schools and put an official in charge of it, relying on a lay book on the law, a book that was reasonably reliable for the purpose. One retired lawyer met the official and came back and told us that the official had a very big desk. The lawyer told us he once had to buy a desk like that. High school draft counseling by official mandate: That’s mainstreaming.

In Service and Past Service

Some of us also counseled military servicemembers and veterans. Servicemembers included AWOLs (and UAs) who were exploring whether to return, usually having been absent without leave for at least a month, many of them for years. The military cooperated by quietly giving us criteria, because the inquiring soldiers trusted us and the military could get them off their rolls. We’d tell them that if they socked a sergeant in the nose on their way out the door, charges would be waiting for them and we wouldn’t know about that, but the AWOLs would tell us there was nothing like that. We’d tell them how to prove that they were never deserters in law. Usually, as far as we knew, they got through a few weeks okay and got their discharges. The criteria usually were about the branch of service and the duration of unauthorized absence and eventually the duration became unlimited at the upper end as long as it was at least 30 days. Then Congress heard about it and it was shut down. We did have one drug addict AWOL who was never willing to go through the military process and who probably declined drug treatment, but he liked us and was helpful. I don’t know what eventually happened to him. We could get military regulations without stating a need to know; we were civilians. Some of us went to military bases to follow up on cases, including of AWOLs. One sergeant disagreed with me once and then apparently decided that he’d rather not disagree with me twice. I’m a civilian, which means I’m allowed to talk back, and I did. When I wanted to make a phone call and have the AWOL, then in light custody, with me at the coin phone in a more public area, the sergeant appointed me to be the prisoner’s guard. If he had run away, probably the worst that would have happened to me is that I would have been barred from coming back onto the base. After the call, the prisoner happily walked up the stairs back into normal custody.

Veterans needed upgrades of bad discharges. We weren’t the ones who knew much about benefits or did peer coounseling (though many vets needed both and other organizations addressed them), but some of us knew about Discharge Review Boards and Boards for the Correction of Military Records. Those were usually complicated technical cases. Training on that was usually one-to-one and we read regulations. The military had, and let me use a technical term here in its literal sense, a ton of them. Probably much more. (A naval commander said that would be okay if they threw them at the enemy, but they didn’t. An army official told draft counselors around that they received ten pounds a week of regulations and hinted that maybe they didn’t read all of them.) We found the regs that mattered. The military often told soldiers to accept general discharges because upgrades to honorable would be automatic in six months. Six months would pass and they’d apply and be told no, there’s no automatic upgrade. They’d been lied to, to get them to accept bad discharges they likely would be stuck with for life, making job-hunting harder and benefits way fewer. I eventually met a Marine who had a dual job: as a personnel clerk, he had to tell them about the automatic upgrade; at the same time, he had to draft many a reply on behalf of the commander responding to a complaint that someone had been told of the automatic upgrade but it wasn’t available, and the drafted reply was that the matter has been investigated and no one had said any such thing. Liar pursuant to command.

Our Own Media

We published newsletters. We gathered vital news and a few opinions, printed them, mailed them, and got some subscription income even with small circulations for specialized readerships. It could be just a few pages and people wanted it, because it was packed with what they were looking for. We were often ahead of the SSS and the military in official news, like new policies. Some publishers covered political news, like Congress, demonstrations, and our own mostly left-wing affiliations, but I didn’t care to. I went for the technical legal content.

Tips, just as valid for a website: Don’t wait for people to call you with news; some don’t realize that they know something important. You get on the phone and call around to see what’s new. Apply good journalistic standards, just like at the major news organizations, although you can vary, just like the majors do from each other. Be ready to say “no” even to important people and close friends who threaten never to talk to you again. I got a call from an organization telling me about a coming nuclear war and they wanted me to publish this and send over my subscription list (and something else I’ve forgotten, maybe they wanted money, too). I said no and the caller said the war is imminent. I didn’t think so. I mentioned the calls to a lawyer who said that if I published anything from that group no one would read my newsletter again. The lawyer likely was not far off; the organization had a bad political reputation, but I likely didn’t care about that, but about the information. I said I didn’t publish the story because he didn’t have anything newsworthy but if no one wants to read my newsletter that’s their business.

I came up with one approach for which I could think of no ethical limitation: I suddenly started getting a bunch of subscriptions from Florida for a national newsletter I ran, so I started calling Floridians for news. I found useful news and reported it, not about subscribers but about the work we wrote about for the rest of the country, using the same criteria for what to report as I did for elsewhere.

I had sources among counselors whom I often trusted and I had an argument with one because he wanted me to publish about a new form. I agreed it was important, but I asked him for the form and he didn’t have it, or an identifier for it. I refused to run the story at all. Later, I went to a meeting of people in this field. Someone I didn’t know, early in the meeting, asked me, with us two having everyone’s silent attention, whether I’d be willing to have one of my newsletters put under a committee. I wasn’t ready for this. I said that you can gather the news and write a newsletter, you can take it to a printer, and here’s the name of a mailing list I use, but I’m not turning over the newsletter I run to anyone. That ended that discussion. The person who had tried to get me to publish about the form said who had been organizing to get a committee to take over, who was another of my frequent sources and who hadn’t run the idea by me, and the person who told me who it was said that he trusted me “over any committee.”

And yet I did make one editorial blunder. I had heard that the Navy was claiming to have not much of a backlog (maybe only a month or so) in discharge upgrade cases at one of its boards. I called the Navy and confirmed their claim and published it without comment. My mistake. A lawyer wrote me anbout their pile of cases with major backlogs. I thought I didn’t have to go to that step of getting that side of the story because I thought my readers would all be skeptical anyway, saying of the Navy’s view some version of “yeah, riiiiiiiiight, suuure you have no backlog”, but it turns out I shouldn’t have assumed people thought so and I should have made more calls and maybe asked for a couple of upgrade applicants’ file release permissions so I could publish selective data from the Navy contradicting the Navy’s own official claim, and then, before publishing, asked the Navy to explain the contradiction. I should have, but I didn’t.

But mostly I did well, achieving high renewal rates, and I think most publishers whose work I saw did good jobs with theirs.

Becoming Draft Counselors

An Easy Way

Training as draft counselors probably wasn’t very long for anyone. I took a four-week course that included teaching, books, use of the law reporter SSLR, and a simultaneous apprenticeship. The apprenticeship was in observing several counseling sessions under each of several established counselors followed by doing several sessions ourselves under the eyes of each of several experienced counselors without our being introduced as apprentices (lest counselees not take us seriously) and with experienced counselors taking over only if we got into trouble so serious our recovery was unlikely. After the apprenticeship, a general meeting of counselors would consider whether we could counsel on our own. Other counseling organizations probably did things differently. Maybe this worked for me because I’m geeky and reading law fit, but I didn’t know about nerdiness and I liked how this worked.

And it didn’t always fit. Joe did counseling, was nice, and had no ethical problems. When two Hells Angels confronted us, an Angel and Joe were on opposite sides of the issue they were discussing and the Angel swung a stick over Joe’s head, but Joe didn’t flinch, so the Angel decided he was okay and then the hassles were directed at the rest of us. But, on other days, some of us wondered if Joe, as a draft counselor, knew what he was doing. Some counselors started sitting in on his counseling sessions, but he kept turning to the observer with questions, so we didn’t know what he did when no one was observing. So one of us called one of the past administrators, who had moved on, and found out that Joe had never been cleared to be a full counselor, only to answer some basic questions. That was a counseling status no one else had, so he fell between the cracks, so to speak. I don’t remember what we did about it, but I guess we did something so we wouldn’t have problems to worry about. Maybe we let him answer basic questions. He stuck with us, I think until we closed.

Another Model

About a decade or so later, when registration ramped up and new people wanted to learn counseling, some of us co-taught a six- or seven-session course of about two to three hours a session for which we produced a manual and recommended books on which we trainers did not always agree. Trainers agreed on most things but would disagree without resolution on various points, which let trainees see that there were valid debates that they’d have to resolve for themselves and there could be more. Few counselees came in those days, so we included mock counseling sessions at the end of training. One innovation was that we taught about medical exemptions by describing unorthodox tactics used by various registrants who had been called for induction, each trainer who had counseled giving at least one or two examples we knew of and that had worked. Then, we’d explain that generally these tactics work once but not twice. When the tactic is original, the Army is concerned about what else you’ll do while in service and prefers to not see you again. When the tactic has been seen before, your using it means you’re a copycat and the Army loves copycats, because that’s what they’ll train you to become. It doesn’t work the second time.


Various kinds of ethics came up. If you’re counseling so people can make their own choices, would you help someone who wants to join the Mafia and kill people? or the Ku Klux Klan? Where would you draw the line? There were legal issues that had similarities. People learning about conscientious objection sometimes thought you had to be a life-long absolute pacifist, never violent since birth (or at least say so). Not exactly; the law didn’t require that. One counselor promised that he could get anyone out of the draft; I don’t think he could, although he was smart on law and likely thought he had advice anyone could follow. One counselor raised an issue about guaranteeing an outcome even though we knew it couldn’t be guaranteed, it was just likely; he didn’t want a counselee to decline to go through the process and then come back later to start again while I didn’t want to make unreliable promises. I guess it’s like a doctor promising a child it won’t hurt a bit.

One issue wasn’t our fault. A counselee who spoke only Spanish brought an interpreter with him. The counselor, who spoke only English, went step-by-step through many options, and the interpreter helped. They weren’t sitting in a tall cubicle (we had built two or three for privacy). One of our counselors arrived and he was bilingual. That was fortuitous timing. He realized that the interpreter was changing everything the counselor was saying into see-a-psychiatrist, making it seem like that was all the counselor had been saying for about an hour. The counselor probably talked about that option no more than once, so everything else had been lost. The bilingual counselor took over and probably saved the effort.

When inductions were zero or near it and many eighteen-year-olds were not registering when the law said they should, the SSS reached out to a college for help with registering, and the college said we have a professor who knows that subject, and the professor said, I’m a Quaker, a pacifist, and a draft counselor; and, according to him, the SSS said, “Great! We need you.” So, this draft counselor became an official registrar. Who shows up? A lot of men who were already late, months and I think years late. The professor interviews each one before registering them, gives them options, and usually, maybe always, discovers some reason why he hadn’t registered earlier, something that would at least drop a fog into any possible prosecution for being late. The SSS might hesitate to prosecute late-comers anyway; being late is a five-year felony but it can backfire to prosecute them if others who are late haven’t come forward yet and the SSS wants all of the eligible males to register. The professor wrote each guy’s explanation on an official SSS form and included it with the registration and I think he gave a copy to the new registrant. He eventually donated a set of copies of those explanations on the promise that I would remove the names (I did, razor-blading them out, and probably other identifying information, too).

One counselor did cross a line with us. He’s counseling for another organization, which specialized in serving people who were already in the military and wanted out. He’s overheard offering to write a psychiatric letter even though he’s not a psychiatrist, and he’s kicked out. He goes to a well-respected Quaker organization, but they won’t use his services. He comes to us. We don’t know his background, but he seems to know the subject, so we start including him in some capacity or other (I don’t remember exactly what). The well-respected organization calls us because they thought we’d reject him, too, but we hadn’t, so they call us to tell us his background. I take the call and relay the information to our other counselors. We have a large meeting. This counselor says something about being married or divorced (I forgot which) and one of our counselors asks him to bring in his paperwork the next week to support what he’s saying, just for credibility. He agrees. The next week, he doesn’t show up. One of our counselors wants to call him but doesn’t have his phone number, so he calls 411 or 555-1212. He calls the number given and asks for this counselor in question. His face goes slack and then he thanks the person he’s talking to. He hangs up and tells the rest of us that the person answering said, “Oh, you want Doctor [name] . . . . I get his calls all the time.” We did not try calling this counselor any more. We didn’t see him, either. But it’s not quite over.

Years go by. The draft has faded for years. Then, registration comes back and I start working with other people on the issue. I tell people about this counselor, not because the name is crucial (although I tell them that, too), but because of the ethics of illegally pretending to be what you’re not, in this case, a psychiatrist. We’re counseling and training and ethics are important.

He shows up. I’m not in the office right then, but he speaks with other people. He seems to know the subject, and he offers to counsel. He asks who’s involved with the group, and, I’m told, he recognizes my name. That’s pretty good, since it’s been about a decade. He shows up at one of our training sessions and joins us as a co-trainer. (I don’t remember if I was told about his visit before or after I saw him at a night class.) He can co-train, because we’ll catch any mistakes. We go out for coffee afterwards. As we’re walking to the coffee shop, we’re kind of spread out on the sidewalk. I point out to my walking companions, You remember the guy I told you about who offered the fake psychiatric letters? (I’d been talking about him in our classes, as an ethical/legal lesson.) That’s him, right in front of us, I tell them. He probably doesn’t hear me but my walking companions do. We get to the coffee shop. We enter but the counselor doesn’t, because he doesn’t have the time to stay. Okay, but I tell him we have to discuss what happened last time. He agrees, but he doesn’t want things dragged out. That’s okay by me. He’ll come the next week.

This time, he does come the next week. He takes part in the class, I think co-training and definitely making no big blunder, and joins us at the coffee shop afterwards. Two others of us are at the table. Immediately, the other two decide to converse with each other and leave the questionable counselor and me to ourselves. One of them told me later they didn’t want to pressure him. The questionable counselor and I talk. I say he has to say what the issue was last time; I wouldn’t tell him. He does say it. I don’t remember his words now, but at the time he clearly acknowledges the specifics. He also explains why he did it, that he had a weak ego and that he’s now in psychotherapy. He probably gives me his therapist’s name; he does give me his therapist’s address, which I recognize for an unrelated reason. We talk some more, and then he leaves, and then the two counselors and I talk. It has been ten years since his offense. We decide we don’t want to get involved in his therapy, so we don’t want a letter, but we’ll let him counsel while we keep an eye on him.

I go a step further. I unilaterally decide that he has to bond with other counselors and not with me, that I would distance myself from him, so that I would not become his savior and he’d work with other people to supervise his work. If I get information that he might need for counseling, training, or anything else he was responsible for, I’ll give it to him. But once I come across a funny document that would have been no help at all in his work; it’s just funny. He and two other people and I are standing near each other. I introduce the document and then hand it to one of the people, who laughs and hands it back to me, and I hand it to the second person, who laughs and hands it back to me. But I do not pass it to the counselor with whom I do not want to bond. I do not pretend not to notice him or not to realize he’s standing about a foot from me. I just don’t hand it to him. He doesn’t say anything. I go about my business.

People found him frustrating to deal with, but he didn’t cross any lines, at least to our knowledge.

It’s possible I saw him about a quarter-century later, at a major political campaign’s phonebank, as we were riding the elevator a quick two flights down to go home. He knew me and brought up some memories, and mentioned that he was teaching in a public school, but I couldn’t quite place him. After we parted, I figured out who he probably was. But in the phonebank room there was a list of people who were present. I don’t remember if my name was on it; maybe I added it. I did not recognize any name on that list. That suggests two possibilities: he hadn’t added his name to the list yet or he had changed his name. I’ll never know.

Return of the Draft is Unlikely


The military has won wars without a draft since it ended. It lost a big one in Viet Nam with a draft. There’s little likelihood that, short of a protracted World War III, which some people say is a contradiction in terms, inductions will ever come back. That’s my political opinion.

The main arguments in favor of a return are that more of the public should support those who put their lives on the line; and that a draft increases democratic participation in decisions whether to go to war. On the first point, there are many ways to support the troops, including by paying for them, so if one would be good at investment banking, then let the person become that and tax the person; ditto for rock musicians; and ditto for people who shop in malls, thereby paying sales taxes and generating revenue for the stores, which turn over their sales taxes, pay income taxes, and, through rent, help landowners pay real estate taxes. On the second point, the military limits expression and demands unquestioning obedience to command right up to commands from the Commander-in-Chief, whom we elect. Threats against servicemembers are usually enough to squelch overt opposition. Neither argument has caught the fancy of the electorate, the Pentagon likely wants nothing to do with a draft unless they need massive numbers rapidly, the economy would be hurt by a draft, and very few members of Congress have publicly called for a draft in any year so far.

Conscientious objection will likely eventually re-arise as a political issue, through pursuit in Congress of selective CO status. That would let someone to object to one war but not a different one. During the war in Viet Nam, some people who were against it would have fought in World War II. They were not waged at the same time and a repeat of World War II would only have been hypothetical, so people with those beliefs could still be COs, but recognizing selectivity in law is easy to grasp and had some popularity behind it and likely will again.

And maybe resistance is a more effective choice, when it underscores sincerity. Whether draft resistance slowed any war is complicated to analyze; small-scale resistance from civilians can beget large-scale resistance which can make a war more controversial; resistance from servicemembers is much more difficult and individually costly with lifetime damage, but also widespread ambivalence in the military reduces military effectiveness. As draft counselors, most of us knew that had to be someone’s choice that we could not demand, as the steep cost would not be ours. We could, however, share experiential and legal information, and that we did, in spades.


I don’t want to be the one to restart lay counseling if inductions do get revived. But modeling a counseling program is easy enough.

Counselors will mostly, or all, be volunteers. If you want to make money at this, join a law firm as a lawyer or paralegal.

Alliances help. People in the demographics most likely to be drafted are likely to be your strongest allies, some strongly opposed but some strongly agreeing with you; that would at least be young men and teenage males. Four-year college and university students, undergraduate and graduate, typically have other plans and don’t want the disruption to their careers of being drafted. Religions have helpful people; look for the traditional peace churches, in the U.S. the Friends (Quakers), the Mennonites, and the Brethren, all of whom are small in numbers but historically closer to pacifism and more outspoken when they decide on a position. With other faiths, especially the larger ones, look for internal peace organizations and don’t worry that other faith leaders may support the war and support a draft. Among lawyers, look for civil liberties organizations. Civil rights organizations may help if you find the draft discriminating against their natural constituents. Political opponents of a war then underway are also good allies. Some are radical; some are Democrats; they may not talk with each other, but you can talk with both. Republicans include libertarians who may well agree with your work. People sympathetic with the nation where we’re at war may be on both sides of that fence. If not everyone is willing to be under your roof, you can train them and they can work under their separate roofs.

Get started on your own. While relationships with lawyers are helpful, since some cases need lawyers, don’t plan on a lawyer helping you set up your own counseling operation, because they won’t want the liability for your mistakes. Once you become credible at what you do, which may take months, a lawyer or a minister may agree to let you counsel under them for the sake of legal confidentiality. If that’s compatible, consider it. Also find a few doctors who can diagnose disqualifying conditions and are sympathetic but won’t write fake letters; in the last draft, about half the draft-age males were not fit, because military standards tend to be demanding. One counselor used to ask if you can jump off the back of a truck wearing an 80-pound backpack and run; if not, you might be unfit for service. You could be fine as a civilian but not with military duties. An Army recruiter’s list of disqualifying conditions left out a lot of those conditions, because recruiters were only looking for things like missing legs. The full exam is more detailed, especially for people who bring medical documentation. Doctors, including psychiatrists, who write fake letters (in the case of psychiatrists, not technically fake but applicable to nearly everyone) lose credibility, so that if that kind of doctor writes a letter about a real problem it won’t be believed. You don’t pay for lawyers and doctors; counselees do, if they want them. If you advocate on behalf of a counselee to any government agency, don’t repeat what the counselee says as if it’s true, but instead say that he says such-and-such is true, and don’t even say that until after the counselee has already written it and sent it in themself, so your credibility is preserved. You can be antidraft and antiwar and still be a credible and effective advocate on behalf of counselees to government draft agencies.

You’ll have expenses that have to be paid for somehow, and foundation support may not be forthcoming when a draft is an element of patriotism and national security. You may be paying for this out of pocket, yours and a few friends’. Some colleges may finance small student-run offices from student activity fees. The counseling itself likely has to be free, so you’re not engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

You won’t have idle time. You may not be flooded with visitors right away, but between the ones who do come in you should spend time researching the law from various sources, promoting your services, recruiting people, cultivating alliances, and raising funds. You can get tax deductibility but take care of the paperwork. You’re not nonprofit just because you’re well-meaning and nice; not even losing money counts as being nonprofit; you have to file official forms with two or three government agencies to get the recognition. Either that or get under an existing nonprofit’s wings; they’ll be your fiscal agent, so they have to be someone who trusts you and likes your work. Take care of that before anyone with a badge calls on you, and, even better, before you start counseling or fundraising.

Government agencies have legal information, but it won’t all be correct. Agencies like to push the envelope in their favor. Draft opponents also won’t always be right about the law. If you don’t know how to research law, find out how, from a lawyer, law student, or, maybe, a paralegal (exactly what is a paralegal is not defined). Even if you have just one person who does the deep research and keeps it up to date, every counselor still has to be able to read it, and has to be willing to. If they’re not, there’s other work they can do in support, like finance or politics.

No one has to know everything by heart, but every counselor has to know the basic legal outline of every major option and has to practice how to look up much of what they don’t know. That was a principle in the course I took. Every counselor has to consider how to counsel; simply reciting a formula to everyone who walks in the door is not good counseling. Listening is a key. Offering options is also a key; you’re not preselecting just the ideal answer. Counseling one-to-one is usually the best; draft-age people should usually be counseled separately from their parents, so options can be more openly considered. If parents want to ensure their values are followed by their children, they’ve already had eighteen years for that. A kid in the Army doesn’t have parents around and the draft is also important. For cases where hearings are likely, and if the subject is complicated, set up a mock board composed of counselors who know tough questions to ask the counselee, even for two counselors to ask at the same time to rattle the counselee.

Readable media will need to be published, to disseminate legal points to other counselors quickly and cheaply. The Internet will be the best way, because you can create a few websites, making separate ones for lay counselors, attorneys, political organizers, and people facing draft issues. They need to be separate, because of concerns that the lay counselors’ website be understandable by people who are not trained as lawyers but intend to be helpful, that the lawyers’ website be objective in reporting law so it can be trusted by users on both sides of the issues and by judges, that the counselees’ website be understandable and not require agreement on the politics, and that the political organizers’ websites (plural) focus on their perspectives, one per site. Different people may have to edit the different websites. Websites cost very little to have if someone has the skills. Rapid updates and frequent announcements to your visitors will keep them engaged; weekly or a few times a week will be normal. Consider a paywall, not for everything but for some content. For your lawyers’ website, get in touch with many lawyers who practice in the field and invite them to send you copies of court opinions that have not been officially published, and you can publish them even if the official publishers don’t, although you should definitely publish both pro and con, because lawyers need to know what they’re up against as well as what’s on their side. You’ll also need to publish nearly identical opinions from different parts of the country, because your readers will be practicing in different parts of the country and some practitioners will find some opinions binding and other practitioners will find other opinions binding, because of where their cases arise. It’s a lot of work, but necessary to the field.

Future Law

For the most part, draft law is likely stable for now. Other than if a war is about to start, I don’t think most political forces are interested in taking up the subject for any content most of us would notice. Congress isn’t willing to do much on it or even to debate it, the military is not likely to use a draft without Presidential approval, and there isn't much reason for courts to rule on draft issues. A surprising court ruling was reported in news media in early , but I don’t think much will come of it once it runs its legal course. What can make a major difference is a war or kindred national emergency.

Proposals come up every once in a while. In March, 2020, one publisher anticipated a proposal that could include total abolishment, drafting women, drafting for advanced skill sets and therefore collecting information on people’s skill sets, drafting everyone for military and civilian service, and drafting industry (I’m not sure why that’s there since that authority has existed for decades). A history professor suggested in a prospect of including women.

Framework and National Emergency

The principal statute was the Military Selective Service Act (since , 50 U.S.C. 3801 et sqq.), and it likely still is, although in case of a war or major national emergency declared by a President there may be a bill to be introduced in Congress only during those days, which could offer many major changes, probably not to be announced in advance, which means it’s secret now. Congress enacting previously-secret major legislation within one day of the President declaring a national emergency or a war may be unlikely, given recent analysis of emergency planning in case Washington gets hit by an enemy’s nuclear bomb; reportedly, Congress has done little to plan for its own continuity of operation, and if many members of Congress die or are lost within a few hours, reconstituting Congress may depend on many governors appointing replacements, leading to chaos, in the midst of which important legislation has to be considered. In that situation, Congress might be a rubber stamp, but it might take a while to convene, which could leave the government in a bind. And courts constitute a separate branch of the Federal government. Courts don’t like to get involved in how wars are fought and led, so it could take years for new legislation to be settled enough for the courts to consider specific implications.

Little Things Grow

Ordinary problems could turn up, too. Here’s one likely misunderstanding that could lead to many felony charges if the government so desires: A young male registers for the draft by going to the post office and giving their information, including their address. Within a few years, he moves (as many do in that age range). He uses an official form to tell the post office of his change of address. The post office mails him a confirmation. He thinks that therefore the draft files are now updated, that the SSS knows. However, as of the last time I checked, the SSS would not know. He’s supposed to send a separate notice to the SSS and he won’t have. My guess: Probably half the men don’t. It wouldn’t matter if they’re not qualified for military service. They could still be suddenly treated as felons. Draft counselors will likely find it often helpful to recommend introducing a record of the reason for unintentionally not updating the address in the particular way required by the law for the SSS, hoping for the best, and then keeping it up-to-date in the legal way with the SSS, but the larger point is that draft counelors will have work to do and options to discuss.

Females and Feminism

Whether women will be included in a draft or in registration is an interesting question. Ca. , a SSS spokester said 4,000 females had attempted to register (the post office was required to accept all registration submissions and leave it to the SSS to disapprove any, but many post offices probably rejected some out of hand anyway, so the number was likely substantially higher). The politics are different than for allowing enlistments or officially allowing combat as an occupation. But the politics are gradually evolving. Right now, the registration law would not be amended to include females, but the political pressure for inclusion would slowly grow once any draft becomes acceptable. The popular pressure would come from males of draft age and from older women, both on principle and because for men it would dilute their risk and for women old enough to be exempt from a draft it would cost little to advocate it as an expression of genderal equality. The arguments that women are the people who create and raise the next children (feminism won’t have entirely equalized that division of labor yet), that women, unlike men, are naturally peace-makers, that other feminist equality goals have not been fulfilled, that fewer females are fit for the job (likely true but not answering why they shouldn’t register and then be selected out like unfit males), and that females being ordered into war when the people who decide to have a war are men (paralleling an argument about generations between males) will arise as major counterarguments, in addition to arguments that also apply to men. The naturally-mother view will be more popular; the peace-maker argument will gain support from the peace movement (which will slowly grow because a draft revival will be part of a war and with time opposition to the war will be expressed in a peace movement composed of newly-arising groups, mostly small); both arguments will gain religious support, but not from the same quarters. Feminists, especially mainstream, liberal, and equity, will support it, but dissent will arise from difference and third-world feminists (depending on which nations the war is against). In implementation, women are more likely to apply for exemption as mothers than men are as fathers (the legal standard being, in part, the emotional, physical, and maybe financial necessity for one’s presence because no one else can and will take care of the dependents who otherwise could not care for themselves (finance is less critical or persuasive when welfare is available)), and probably more of those applications will be approved, because many draft boards will be uncomfortable with feminist implications and will be less willing to tell dads to stay home and draft moms. Women will also be more likely to be conscientious objectors and boards will be more likely to agree. But, also, if a women’s draft is legislated (it likely can’t be done by agency regulation alone now), women will be drafted and will serve, some leaving early and some being issued medals for their service, some dying in war, the objectors (like male objectors) mostly not commemorated for their contributions to peace.

Literature Back Then

Guide to the Draft, by Arlo Tatum and Joseph S. Tuchinsky, Handbook for Conscientious Objectors, about COs and the draft, and Advice for Conscientious Objectors in the Armed Forces were usually the most useful books for lay readers. You might still find copies online, but try to get the latest editions, and even those will be significantly technically outdated, thus will have errors. You’ll also read primary sources, so you’ll mentally fix the errors. The Selective Service Law Reporter (SSLR) had laws, including the full text of court opinions pro and con, and a practice manual, which was a narrative about the law with footnotes, written for attorneys. It was several thick loose-leaf binders. It hasn’t been published in decades but some law libraries still have this, although it’s probably useful mainly for history and as a model for designing a future law reporter. Since many cases came from the west coast, the Ninth Circuit Draft Digest was useful to some lawyers.

Not much is online today about back then. Some memories are collected at http://www.vietnamwardraftlottery.com/.


Someone tried to recruit me away from this work for something unspecified (he said “we serve the people” a few times until I said we serve the people by doing draft counseling, do you do draft counseling? and he came up with another answer, but, by then, his communication method had already lost my interest). Many branches of work contribute to good ends. I did this one. It came out well.