Uncle Sam Still Wants You

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Has your son registered for the draft yet? I can hear your incredulity alarm going off from here. "We have an all-volunteer military," you say, "so the draft is an anachronism from World War II or the Vietnam War." And you would be right, except that in 1980, as a nod to Cold War readiness, President Carter reinstituted the requirement for all males 18-26 to register with the Selective Service. Women are exempt from this law.

To coerce participation, the government has enacted punitive laws that can deny, among other things, federal and state financial aid to college students or federal job training to those who don't register. So most of us parents encourage our young men to comply with this requirement without a second thought.

But in so doing, we may be missing an opportunity to have a conversation about war and violence with our children that could remind them of the importance of listening to and trusting their own conscience. Many who have neglected their conscience are now suffering what experts have begun to call "moral injury."

Whether you agree or disagree with the wars in the Middle East, this requirement for young men to register for the draft presents us as parents with an opportunity. Amidst all the shoot-'em-up video games, the cycle of mass killings and our overall culture of violence, what does your son or daughter actually believe about violence and war? Does he or she believe in the myth of redemptive violence, that violence can ultimately save us? Or do they, like Martin Luther King believe that violence is a "descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy"?

One option for those who object to war as a way to solve problems is to file as a conscientious objector or CO. A person's choice to be a CO does not need to be the result of religious conviction, as long as it is what the law calls a "firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war."


So let's not squander this opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with our young people, particularly our young men, who are still required to register for a draft that we hope will never be used.

With a Perspective, this is Geoff Browning.

Geoff Browning is the campus minister for Progressive Christians at Stanford.