Recently, we received a call for assistance from an immigration attorney representing a family of Afghan refugees resettling in the US. Because of the trauma they experienced through decades of war and occupation, the entire family opposes even the possibility of their participation in war in any form. Everyone in the family will apply to take the alternative, nonviolent oath of citizenship. They all believe that, after what they had witnessed and experienced in their country, they could never in good conscience pledge to be a part of war. The family includes a young man who, now that he resides in the US, is required by US law to register with the Selective Service System (SSS), even though he is not yet a citizen. This young man’s entire life has never been free of war, and now his new home – one that has promised him safety and hope to heal from his wounds of war, is forcing him to sign up for a potential military draft. It doesn’t matter to him that there currently is no draft in the US. It is traumatizing enough to simply know that he has to put his name on the list of potential draftees, and that his name will be given to the Department of Defense for recruiting purposes. When (or if) he registers, he will receive phone calls and written propaganda from the US military, with the goal of persuading him to join. Without an accommodation for conscientious objectors, this young man’s new country is contributing to his war trauma, instead of doing everything we can to ease that trauma.
As wars in Yemen, Syria, and now Ukraine continue, and as Russian conscripts and other Russian nationals seek peace and refuge outside of their country, the US will continue to resettle refugees, many of whom will carry with them deep psychological and moral wounds from war. We can and should do better than to coerce young people and their families in these situations to engage directly or indirectly with the apparatus of a military draft and war.
You may recall that as last year ended, so did an effort in Congress to expand draft registration to women. In fact, the final defense bill for FY 2022, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA,) did not make any changes to Selective Service at all, despite the comprehensive education campaign CCW and others have been engaged in for several years. Nonetheless, the grassroots interest and engagement, as well as the media and government attention paid to SSS last year was at a level we hadn’t seen in years!
Let’s keep the momentum going!
The NDAA process has just begun for FY 2023. CCW still stands firmly in support of full repeal, whether such a proposal is entered as an amendment to the NDAA or as a stand-alone bill. We have heard that it is unlikely any members will put forward an amendment to expand the draft to women this year, after the staunch resistance they faced last year.
That’s a good thing, but there is still work to be done! The current male-only system requires a CO to violate their most deeply held beliefs, and if they cannot do so, they are burdened for life with extra-judicial penalties, with no option to defend their beliefs and actions or to appeal their punishment. This is an injustice. The penalties for non-registrants must be overturned and SSS must be abolished!