No matter what happens in today’s voting, it won’t end the bipartisan support for war or the need for antiwar activism outside the sphere of electoral politics.
Case in point: The bipartisan National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is continuing to work toward recommendations to Congress and the President on whether draft registration should be ended, extended to women, modified to include people with skills in special demand by the military (health care, foreign languages, tech, etc.), and/or replaced with a compulsory national service scheme with both military and civilian components.
The Commission completed its initial round of stage-managed public meetings in September 2018. Here’s more on the activities of the Commission including records of its closed-door meetings and invited briefings, released in response to my ongoing Freedom Of Information Act requests. I will continue to post more Commission documents at Resisters.info as I receive them.
The Commissioners are part-time federal employees, generally meeting for a couple of days each month. Following closed meetings in October, November, and December 2018, the Commissioners plan to release an interim report in January 2019 laying out several possible policy options with respect to the Selective Service System, to test public reaction and set the terms of public debate.
The likely extent of resistance to conscription and the (un)feasibility of enforcement of expanded draft registration or compulsory service aren’t likely to be considered in the interim report, since the Commission hasn’t done any research or invited any testimony on these issues.
At its closed meeting in October 2018, the Commission invited legal scholars to discuss the Constitutionality of compulsory national service. One participant described the panel as "focusing on mandatory civilian service, not just the military kind".
Just after this meeting, an op-ed was published in The Hill which appears to be a trial balloon for at least some of the Commissioners who support a compulsory national service program for all young people.
The Commission plans more formal hearings in 2019 with testimony by invited experts on the issues the Commission thinks are important. Members of the public can still submit comments through the Commission’s Web site or by e-mail, but it’s not clear to what extent they will be considered.
The Commission is dragging its feet on releasing the comments it has already received, saying it will take more than another year to process my FOIA request for them. I assume the reason it doesn’t want to disclose the responses to its request for public comment is that they are overwhelmingly opposed to military conscription or compulsory service.
(There are, of course, supporters of the draft and compulsory national service, but I’ve been able to find no evidence that they mobilized to submit comments to the Commission, as opponents of conscription did.)
The law which created the Commission, as amended earlier this year, requires the Commission to issue a final report and recommendations (including whether to end draft registration or extend it to women) by March 2020.
The Commission is explicitly focused on “creating a national conversation” about military conscription and national service. A major element of its work is planning how to release its interim and final reports in such a way as to shape and set the terms of public discussion. Our challenge will be to make the resistance to conscription part of that discussion.
With the Commission meeting in secret in November and December 2018 to finalize its interim report, the next public development will be the release of the Commission’s interim report, which is planned for January 2019, followed by formal hearings, probably in Washington, with invited expert witnesses.
Even if resisters aren’t invited to testify, those hearings will be a focus of public attention and discussion of the issue of the draft. The antiwar ant-conscription movement needs to be prepared to make our voices part of a national debate on compulsory military and civilian service to which we aren’t likely to be invited.
Edward Hasbrouck works with Resisters.info.