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Preparing for the draft: Arizona registers men between 18 and 25 who sign up for drivers licenses

Arizona Daily Star | Jan 01 2004

America hasn't had a military draft since 1973, but Arizona intends to be ready if it ever happens again.

Under a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1, men between 18 and 25 will be automatically registered for selective service whenever they apply for driver's licenses or state identification cards.

The change will make Arizona one of 30 or so states with similar compulsory sign-ups for draft age men.

"We are going to use the driver's license for the purpose of seeing that young men are registered," said Tucsonan Victor Schwanbeck, director of the state's selective service system.

But "this doesn't mean that the draft is coming back," said Schwanbeck, a lawyer.

He said the state is simply seeking a fairer and more efficient way of ensuring that young men comply with a decades-old federal law that requires them to register for selective service.

Until now, draft-age males have been allowed to register voluntarily, usually on the Internet or by filling out a form at a post office.

But nearly 40 percent of the state's 18-year-olds typically don't register, often because they don't know about the requirement, state officials say. And no one actively hunts them down to make sure that they follow through.

There are indirect penalties for those who fail to register. For example, they are barred from attending state-funded universities or from holding government jobs.

Under the new system approved by the Arizona Legislature, "probably 95 percent of them will be registered because they want to drive," Schwanbeck said.

Lt. Col. Gerald Paulus, an Arizona National Guard member and commander of the state's selective service system, said he's not aware of any plans to resurrect the draft, even with the nation now involved in two simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the 1940s to the 1970s, conscription was a favored method for raising large number of troops to supplement U.S. military missions, Paulus said.

But the modern volunteer military, with its advanced weaponry and longer firing ranges, doesn't require the same large numbers of people to "sit in the trenches," he said.

"We can deliver a lot more firepower with fewer individuals," he said.

Still, he said, the government maintains the selective service system as a potential "third tier" of national protection - behind the regular military and reserve troops - just in case America ever faced a situation so dire that the draft had to be reintroduced to deal with it.

These days, there are differing philosophies about the desirability of having conscripts involved in military operations, Paulus noted.

Some think it's preferable to have the military made up of volunteers rather than forcing unwilling civilians to serve. Others think that the presence of conscripts tends to make governments more careful about going to war since the cost, in casualties, is more widely shared throughout society.
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