Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Wartime Wednesday: The U.S. Draft

Wartime Wednesday: The Draft 

Conscription, more commonly known as the draft, has been used by the U.S. federal government since the early days of the country. In colonial times, a militia system was used, and after the nation received its independence, militia laws continues. “Able-bodied men” were required to enroll in the militia, undergo training, and serve for certain periods of time during war or times of emergency. By 1778, Congress recommended that each state draft men from their militia for a one-year period of service in the Continental Army. However, the program was inconsistently applied and failed to fill the ranks. 

An article in the newly-ratified Constitution allowed Congress to conscript and call the Militia to “execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.” Additionally, Congress could organize, arm, and discipline the Militia. The President was commander-in-chief. The Second Militia Act of 1792 further defined the group who could be called up as “free and able-bodied white male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45.” 

National conscription didn’t occur until the Civil War. However, the large majority of Union troops were volunteers, with only about 2% draftees and another 6% paid substitutes. The Confederacy didn’t have much more success with resistance being widespread. Many Southerners equated conscription with slavery. 

During The Great War (WWI), the Selective Service Act of 1917 was crafted to remedy the defects of the Civil War system, only allowing exemptions for dependency, essential occupations, and religious “scruples.” The act established “a liability for military service of all male citizen, with a selective draft of all those between 12 and 31 years of age (later expanded to 18-45). The draft was universal and included African-Americans on the same terms as whites, however, they served in different units. 

Draft boards were local, and unfortunately, many based their decisions on social classes, with the poorest conscripted more often. The most common tactics to avoid the draft were dodging and desertion, with some communities sheltering their draft dodgers as heroes. 

By the summer of 1940, Germany has conquered France, and most Americans knew the U.S. would eventually be drawn into the conflict, therefore supported the return of the draft. Wilson’s WWI plan served as a model, but the 1940 law instituted conscription during peacetime, requiring all men between the ages of 18 and 35 to register. When President Roosevelt signed the bill, it became the first peacetime draft in the nation’s history. The bill also established an independent agency, the Selective Service System, to be responsible for managing the draft. 
Photo: Courtesy of National Archives 
Initially, a cap of 900,000 men who could be in training at a given time, was set, and service was limited to twelve months unless “Congress deemed it necessary to extend such service in the interest of national defense.” An amendment in August 1941 added eighteen more months to the service period, then the law was amended again after the attack at Pearl Harbor to extend the term of service to the duration of the war plus six months, and expanding the age range to include men ages 18 to 64. 

The World War II draft operated from 1940 until 1946 when inductions were suspended. The bill’s legislative authorization expired in 1947 without extension from Congress. During this time, more than ten million men had been drafted into military services. 


The Mechanic & The MD

All’s fair in love and war. Or so they say. 

High school and college were a nightmare for Doris Strealer and being an adult isn’t much better. Men won’t date a woman of her height, and they don’t understand her desire to repair car engines rather than work as a nurse or a teacher. When her father’s garage closes, and no one will hire a female mechanic, she joins the Red Cross Motor Corps, finally feeling at home. Until she comes face to face with her past in the form of Van Toppel, the most popular boy in school. 

On the brink of a successful career as a surgeon, Van Toppel’s plans crumble when he’s drafted and assigned to an evacuation hospital in England, the last place he expects to run into a former schoolmate. The gangly tomboy who was four years behind him in high school has transformed into a statuesque beauty, but a broken engagement in college leaves him with no desire to risk his heart ever again. 

Will the hazards of war make or break a romance between this unlikely couple?

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