Students protest the Vietnam War

Students protest the draft and the Vietnam War (1970).

Two days into the new decade, #WWIII was trending on Twitter.

As of Jan. 8 the president and Iran appear to have taken a step back from the edge of war, but for nearly a week talk of a potential war in Iran dominated both the news cycle and meme pages. From the first reports of a U.S. drone strike on an Iranian general, jokes about the draft dominated Instagram feeds and Reddit threads. 

Despite the jokes, the draft has a long history as relevant to college students and, through the Selective Service System, is still relevant today.

During the Vietnam War, many but not all college students were eligible for deferments or exemptions that allowed those whose number had been called to either delay their service until after they had finished their degree or avoid it entirely. Nonetheless, college age Americans made up the bulk of U.S. combat forces in Vietnam. College protests in this era cemented the university’s role as a place where political critique and action is born. For those who stood against the war, these protests weren’t always a safe affair. In 1970, 4 students were killed and 9 were wounded by National Guard members who fired upon protestors at Kent State University.

The draft ended in 1973 after almost a decade of protest and U.S. armed forces have moved to an all-volunteer system. Still, the government reserves the right to reinstate the draft as and the Selective Service System gathers and keeps information on those who would be eligible for the draft, men between the ages of 18 and 25.

Despite the end of the draft, failing to register for the is a crime. Penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and 5 years in prison. And as particularly relevant to those looking to attend college, Federal financial aid such as  Pell Grants, Stafford Loans and Plus Loans are open only to those who comply with registration requirements.

Students and the draft: A look beneath the memes at the recent history of universities, war and the Selective Service

A Selective Service registration form.

In February 2019 a federal court ruled that a male-only draft is unconstitutional. Since then, the Department of Defense has commissioned a study to see what the effects of including women in a draft would entail. If the Selective Service is expanded to include women, women wishing to attend college would have to register to be eligible for most forms of financial aid.

Casey Parker, 21, said that the change would only serve to add another barrier towards education.

“What [the Federal government] is saying here is that you have to be willing to potentially die for us or you can’t get money for education,” Parker said. “I think that is evil.”

 Parker added that she also disapproves of the current requirement that men must register in order to be eligible for financial aid. She also criticized the military’s current recruitment efforts.

“Yes they’re all volunteers, but recruiters target neighborhoods with bad schools, people with low income. They target people who don’t have as many options,” she said.

Parker said that although the draft has not been used since Vietnam, she takes issue with the continued existence of the Selective Service. She said that even as only a contingency plan, the registry is in opposition to democratic principles.

Aiden Davis, an engineering student, said that while he understands the philosophical objections to the draft he is unconcerned with the Selective Service registration requirement.

“I understand why it was a problem, but since the draft is practically dead I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “I don’t really see a situation where they would need to reinstate it.”

A student protest against war in Iran was planned for Saturday Jan. 11 but was cancelled due to inclement weather.


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