President Truman issues peacetime draft

President Truman issues peacetime draft

President Harry S. Truman institutes a military draft with a proclamation calling for nearly 10 million men to register for military service within the next two months. Truman’s action came during increasing Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union.

Following World War II, the United States moved quickly to demobilize the vast military it had constructed during the conflict. During the war, more than 16 million men and women served in the U.S. military; when the war ended in August 1945, the American people demanded rapid demobilization. By 1948, less than 550,000 men remained in the U.S. Army. This rapid decline in the size of America’s military concerned U.S. government officials, who believed that a confrontation with the Soviet Union was imminent.

During the years following World War II, relations between the Russians and Americans deteriorated rapidly. In 1947, the president issued the Truman Doctrine, which provided aid to Greece and Turkey to oppose communist subversion. In that same year, Secretary of State George C. Marshall warned that Western Europe was on the brink of political and economic chaos that would leave it defenseless against communist aggression; the following year, Congress approved billions of dollars in financial assistance to the beleaguered nations. In June 1948, the Soviets cut all land traffic into the U.S.-British-French zones of occupation in West Berlin. The United States responded with the Berlin Airlift, in which tons of food and supplies were flown in to sustain the population of the besieged city. In light of these events, many Americans believed that actual combat with the Soviet Union was not far away. In response to this threat, President Truman announced on July 20, 1948, that the United States was re-instituting the draft and issued a proclamation requiring nearly 10 million men to register for military service in the next two months.

Truman’s decision underlined the urgency of his administration’s concern about a possible military confrontation with the Soviet Union. It also brought home to the American people in concrete terms the possibility that the Cold War could, at any moment, become an actual war. In 1950, possibility turned to reality when the United States entered the Korean War, and the size of America’s armed forces once again increased dramatically.

READ MORE: Soviet Union: Stalin, Cold War & Collapse

All About President Truman's Fair Deal of 1949

The Fair Deal was an extensive list of proposals for social reform legislation suggested by U.S. President Harry S. Truman in his State of the Union address to Congress on January 20, 1949. The term has since come to be used to describe the overall domestic policy agenda of Truman’s presidency, from 1945 to 1953.

Key Takeaways: The "Fair Deal"

  • The “Fair Deal” was an aggressive agenda for social reform legislation proposed by President Harry Truman in January 1949.
  • Truman had initially referred to this progressive domestic policy reform program as his “21-Points” plan after taking office in 1945.
  • While Congress rejected many of Truman’s Fair Deal proposals, those that were enacted would pave the way for important social reform legislation in the future.

In his State of the Union Address, President Truman told Congress that that, “Every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal.” The “Fair Deal” set of social reforms Truman spoke of continued and built on the New Deal progressivism of President Franklin Roosevelt and would represent the last major attempt by the Executive Branch to create new federal social programs until President Lyndon Johnson proposed his Great Society program in 1964.

Opposed by the “conservative coalition” that controlled Congress from 1939 to 1963, only a handful of Truman’s Fair Deal initiatives actually became law. A few of the major proposals that were debated, but voted down, included federal aid to education, the creation of a Fair Employment Practices Commission, repeal of the Taft–Hartley Act limiting the power of labor unions, and the provision of universal health insurance.

The conservative coalition was a group of Republicans and Democrats in Congress who generally opposed increasing the size and power of the federal bureaucracy. They also denounced labor unions and argued against most new social welfare programs.

Despite the opposition of the conservatives, liberal lawmakers managed to win approval of some of the less controversial measures of the Fair Deal.

Americans Should Know these 20 Facts About the History of the Draft

In 1940 the first peacetime draft in American history began to train troops to face the Germans and the Japanese. US Army

15. The first peacetime draft in American history preceded World War II

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Army and Navy, in a rare event of inter-service cooperation during those years, created the Joint Army-Navy Selective Service Committee. Designed to address the issues of manpower requirements for both of the services then extant (the Marine Corps being part of the Navy) the committee completed its work, but Congress refused to fund nor authorize a peacetime draft, out of fear of the isolationists and the America First movements. In 1940, with the Germans sweeping across France and Britain about to face them alone, Congress relented to public opinion polls which indicated that more than 70% of Americans favored compulsory military training for young men.

The Selective Service Act of 1940 was the first peacetime draft, and it ensured that the United States would have at least a trained core for a wartime army. Men between the ages of 21 and 35 were required to register and the draft itself was decided by a national lottery annually. Service for those drafted was to be for one year. The number of men in training was limited to 900,000. In August 1941 the term of service was extended to two and a half years, and the cap on men in training was raised, though many of the army troops being trained lacked basic equipment such as rifles. In December 1941, all men between the ages of 18 and 64 were required to register with the Selective Service System.

The draft dodgers of 1944

Behind the barbed wire of the Japanese internment camp at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, a few men received their orders to report for duty. It was 1944, and they had been drafted.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States feared follow-on attacks would be conducted by persons of Japanese descent living within its borders. FDR issued Executive Order 9066, ordering the military to relocate Japanese descendants into camps. Barely a month later, Congress passed Public Law 503 supporting the order. Over 120,000 people were removed from their homes to remote relocation camps. Two-thirds of them were American citizens.

While the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was quick to make nisei—U.S. citizens of Japanese descent—ineligible for service, by 1944 the war machine was turning at such a pace that nisei were again made eligible, despite the fact they were currently being held in internment camps against their will.

At the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, two men decided to protest.

Kiyoshi Okamoto had founded the Fair Play Committee, a group dedicated to supporting the Constitutional rights of interned nisei. Frank Emi led the group, which had hundreds of followers in the camp, and found its battleground in the draft: members of the FPC would refuse to serve until the status of their citizenship had been clarified and the racial segregation of the Selective Service had been removed (nisei were eligible to serve only in segregated units).

“I believe this draft law was not intended for me. I was evacuated without due process of law I am concentrated without due process of law I was deported from my home state without due process of law I am detained within barbed wire fences by force of military threat without due process of law I exist within this militarily guarded enclosure as a Citizen without a Country without due process of law the whole transaction effecting me is based upon unconstitutional interpretations without due process of law.” – Kiyoshi Okamoto, Draft protest letter

As the group organized, they posted bulletins announcing their intentions and their purposes behind them. Emi helped frame Okamoto’s constitutional protest into action. The FPC’s first bulletin quoted Abraham Lincoln: “If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive the minority of any constitutional right, it might in a moral point of view justify a revolution.” In the second bulletin they stated that denials of constitutional rights cannot wait for the war to end and that their intent wasn’t revolution but a clarification of their rights. The third bulletin, dated March 1, 1944, opened with familiar words:

“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” —Article V of the U.S. Bill of Rights.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary solitude , except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted , shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” —Article XIII of the U.S. Bill of Rights.

And ended with the words that changed protest into civil disobedience.

Thus, the members of the FPC unanimously decided at their last open meeting that until we are restored all our rights, all discriminatory features of the Selective Service abolished, and measures are taken to remedy the past injustices thru Judicial pronouncement or Congressional act, we feel that the present program of drafting us from this concentration camp is unjust, unconstitutional, and against all principles of civilized usage. Therefore, WE MEMBERS OF THE FAIR PLAY COMMITTEE HEREBY REFUSE TO GO TO THE PHYSICAL EXAMINATION OR TO THE INDUCTION IF OR WHEN WE ARE CALLED IN ORDER TO CONTEST THE ISSUE.

James Omura, a journalist at the Denver-based Rocky Shimpo, was the only one to report on the arrests that followed. One in nine men at Heart Mountain refused induction. By the summer of 1944, 63 had been arrested. Shortly thereafter, another 22 were jailed.

At the mass trial in 1944, the 63 men were convicted and sentenced to three years in Federal prison. They were denied a hearing before the Supreme Court. The leaders of the Fair Play Committee had their conviction overturned by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1945. The court ruled their jury improperly ignored civil disobedience as a defense. Omura was indicted but eventually acquitted under First Amendment rights of the press.

The 63 were released in 1946 after serving two years, and the remainder were released on Christmas 1947, when President Truman pardoned all wartime draft resistors, nisei resistors included.

While the members of the Fair Play Committee resisted the draft, others embraced it. The Japanese American Citizens League actually petitioned the government in early 1943 to reopen the draft to nisei. The government responded by accepting volunteers for a segregated combat team led by white officers, the 100th Infantry Battalion. The battalion grew into the nisei 442 Regimental Combat Team, which would become the most heavily decorated unit in U.S. military history, earning over 9,500 purple hearts.

This week marks the 60 anniversary of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, the nation’s first peacetime draft.

Calls for military draft promote illusion of equality

No idea excites self-styled reformers, whether liberal or conservative, more than calls to revive the military draft. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq last year, Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York lobbied for conscription. Last week, it was Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska. Both contend that a draft would spread the burden of sacrifice more justly than our all-volunteer armed forces and make jaded Americans own up to the brutal toll war exacts.

Those seduced by Senator Hagel's call should take note of how deep opposition to the draft has been throughout US history. The idea certainly appeals to Americans' traditional concern for equal treatment. But it often romanticizes the extent to which conscription has been equitable in practice.

Aversion to the draft dates to the Revolutionary War. The Minute Men needed no official orders to rebel against British rule. But the reliance on volunteers sometimes crippled the Continental Army, as in the winter of 1776, when Tom Paine disparaged the "summer soldier and the sunshine patriot."

But although Gen. George Washington wanted national conscription, the Continental Congress denied his request. The select states that did draft soldiers let well-born conscripts hire replacements, who were usually poor and jobless. Military service hardly forged the bond that today's draft advocates imagine.

A decade later, the Constitution's framers broke with European practice and omitted from the founding document any reference to conscription - conferring on Congress alone the power to "raise and support armies." A draft would "stretch the strings of government too violently," argued Virginia's delegate Edmund Randolph. Even when war came, in 1812, Congress refused to allow what Rep. Daniel Webster of New Hampshire warned would amount to "Napoleonic despotism," despite President James Madison's pleas for a draft.

The Civil War did see limited use of the draft by the Union following a drop in enlistment. But again, the policy was hardly fair. Because draftees could escape service for $300, then a hefty sum, critics charged that the conflict had become "a rich man's war but a poor man's fight." Ferocious antidraft riots in New York City killed more than 100 people in July 1863.

Although the World War I draft law prohibited hiring substitutes, the inherent coerciveness of the policy still sparked enormous dissent. An estimated 3 million young men refused to register, and of those called up, 12 percent either didn't report or deserted. Civil libertarians even went to court to argue that the draft violated the 13th Amendment ban on involuntary servitude, though they lost before the Supreme Court.

Even Franklin Roosevelt faced hostility in trying to impose a draft as World War II neared. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R) of Michigan accused the president of "tearing up 150 years of American history and tradition, in which none but volunteers have entered the peacetime Armies and Navies." And although FDR prevailed, the public expected that peace would end the draft, as it did after World War I. Indeed, in 1947, President Harry Truman proclaimed his "earnest desire of placing our Army and Navy on an entirely volunteer basis." Only after the "red scare" set in did Truman allow the unprecedented peacetime draft to continue.

Until Vietnam. By 1969, antiwar sentiment reached record highs, with critics charging, among other complaints, that the jerry-built system of deferments forced the lower classes to face combat disproportionately. Entering the presidency, Richard Nixon endorsed draft reform as a means to quiet the movement. He forced into retirement Maj. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, the head of the Selective Service who opposed draft reform, and created a lottery to make the draft fairer. Ultimately, he put in place today's all-volunteer force.

Since then, every deployment of US forces has triggered high-minded calls to revive the draft, invariably in the name of fairness. But conscription in the US has never been a model of fairness. Indeed, if 225 years of skepticism toward the draft offer any lesson, it's that entrusting our defense to soldiers who actually want to fight is, ultimately, the fairest way to keep the peace.

David Greenberg is the author of 'Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image.' He teaches history at Yale University.

To Field an Army: A Brief History of the Military Draft

Throughout history, civilians—willingly or not—have been called upon to take up arms for their countries. It’s always the young who are taken first.

The Draft in the Cold War

In 1947, President Harry S Truman advocated that the Selective Training and Service Act be allowed to expire and that the armed forces be reduced to lower levels for peacetime purposes. Just over a year later, however, the escalating tension of the Cold War prompted Truman to petition Congress to begin a new round of drafting under yet another Selective Service Act. Men aged 19 to 26 were subject to induction for a period of 12 months. The coming of the Korean War in 1950 resulted in a draft of men between the ages of 18 and 35 for enlistment terms averaging 24 months. In 1951, Congress enacted the Universal Military Training and Service Act, which required all American males between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for the draft. The Reserve Forces Act became law the following year and obligated every draftee or enlistee to an eight-year period of active or reserve status. From June 1950 to June 1953, more than 1.5 million men were drafted. Many of these draftees served in Korea or on occupation duty in Europe and Asia. World War II veterans were exempt from the Korean War draft.

Fueled by the tension of the Cold War, a peacetime draft remained in effect during the late 1950s and early 1960s, although it was considerably limited when compared with that of the Korean conflict. Those called up were required to serve for two years of active duty and often found themselves deployed to Korea or West Germany. The induction of the so-called King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, caused a months-long sensation and was duly documented by the media. Cameras rolled as Elvis sat for his regulation army haircut, and huge crowds followed his every move. Presley was inducted on March 24, 1958, and was discharged from active duty on March 5, 1960, and from the Army Reserve on March 23, 1964. During his military tenure, he served in the 3rd Armored Division and was stationed in Germany for 16 months. Had his illegal-alien manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, not insisted on Presley being called to active duty as a way of deflecting unwanted attention from himself, the singer likely would have been allowed to perform a nonmilitary role in the entertainment arm of the service, perhaps getting by with giving a few charity concerts for the troops. As it was, Presley became addicted to amphetamines while serving in Germany, the first step on a long, sordid spiral of drug abuse, obesity, and early death.

At the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War, the first draft lottery since 1942 was held on December 1, 1969. Representative Alexander Pirnie, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, drew one of 366 capsules from a large glass bowl. It contained the date September 14, which meant that all men born on that date between 1944 and 1950 were subject to the initial call-up in calendar year 1970. Those men with June 8 birthdays found themselves in the enviable 366th position, at the very bottom of the list. All young men of the period still recall vividly their lottery number—the editor’s, for instance, was 334.

Avoiding the Draft: Dodging, Deferments, and Champagne Units

Deferments were a serious bone of contention during the time of the Vietnam War. Prior to reforms enacted in 1971, an individual could qualify for a student deferment merely by presenting evidence that he was progressing toward a college degree and attending classes full time. Afterward, a college student could defer induction only until the end of his current semester, or in the case of a senior, until the conclusion of the academic year. Student deferments favored the more affluent who were able to gain admission to college and finance the cost of their education—or those of the middle class whose families were willing to shoulder the added burden of student loans to keep their sons out of an increasingly unpopular war.

Many sought to avoid the draft by joining the National Guard or some component of the Reserves. A number of sons from wealthy and influential families joined so-called Champagne units, which were often part of the National Guard and much less likely to see active duty. Only 8,700 of those servicemen assigned to Champagne units were called to active duty and sent to Vietnam. The 147th Fighter Group of the Texas Air National Guard, located at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston, was the most famous—or infamous—unit. Its privileged roll included future president George W. Bush, seven members of the Dallas Cowboys professional football team, and the sons of Texas senators John Tower and Lloyd Bentsen and Texas governor John Connally.

An estimated 100,000 young men who were subject to the draft went into self-imposed exile. Roughly 90 percent of that number fled to Canada, which generally welcomed the draft evaders. During the course of the Vietnam War, nearly 210,000 men were identified as violators of the Selective Service laws more than 350,000 others avoided prosecution. A total of 25,000 indictments were issued, with 8,750 individuals subsequently convicted and nearly 4,000 sent to prison. Presidents Gerald Ford in 1974 and Jimmy Carter in 1977 introduced amnesty programs for Vietnam War draft evaders, allowing them to return home to the United States.

An Unpopular War

Well before the 1969 lottery, opposition to the Vietnam-era draft was widespread. Demonstrations, including the burning of draft cards, became common, and violence erupted on college campuses across the United States. Some opponents of the draft called for an end to Selective Service altogether. In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court considered several draft-related cases and widened the interpretation of the conscientious objector provision to encompass those with nontraditional religious beliefs. A year later, President Lyndon Johnson initiated a study of the Selective Service system, and by 1970 the number of conscientious objectors had mushroomed to two and a half times its level three years earlier.

Prior to the December 1969 lottery, President Richard Nixon had directed the implementation of a “19-Year-Old Draft” in which young men not inducted into the armed forces at 19 were exempt from induction unless a national emergency or declaration of war necessitated their call-up. However, deferments for certain types of hardships and various occupations remained a troublesome issue. In 1973, the Selective Service Act of 1967, extended by Congress in 1971, was allowed to expire. Thus ended the authority of the federal government to conscript its citizens for service in the armed forces. During the Vietnam era, from August 1964 through February 1973, a total of 1,857,304 young American men had been pressed into military service through the Selective Service system.

Although the draft had ended and the American armed forces had become an all-volunteer enterprise, the requirement for young men to register for the draft remained in effect until it was also suspended in April 1975. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1980, President Carter responded by reinstating the registration requirement for males aged 18 to 26. These registrants were subject to call-up until the age of 35. Today, the Selective Service, with an annual budget of more than $24 million, has registered some 13.5 million men, and compliance with the law is estimated at 93 percent.

Throughout history, national governments have required young men (and sometimes young women) to relinquish their personal liberty for military service. Often controversial, the conscription of private citizens, slaves, or simply those caught up in the swirl of political events, has enabled nations to raise large armies and wage war on a grand scale. Whether that has been a fundamental blessing to mankind, or a curse, remains very much an open question.

Origins of The Cold War: 1946-1950

Walter Winchell on Russia (2/17/46)

March 24, 1946: Iran: The Soviet Union pledged to withdraw their troops from Iran, but remained for several more weeks. Two more United Nations Security Council resolutions placed additional pressure on the Soviets, until they finally withdrew.

March 1946: Greece: The Greek Communist Party (KKE), funded by neighboring Yugoslavia, fought against the internationally recognized Greek government that was formulated out of the March 31 elections which the KKE had boycotted. Although the British had been active early in the Greek Civil War in helping the pro-democratic forces, a dwindling treasury forced them in late 1946 to request that the United States step in.

June 14, 1946: The Baruch Plan: Bernard Baruch, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission , delivered the Baruch Plan to the first session of the UNAEC, which proposed international control of atomic energy.

November 6, 1946: Robert Oppenheimer, Director of Los Alamos, spoke on Atomic Energy, Problems to Civilization at UC Berkeley.

"the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

March 17, 1948: The Brussels Pact was organized to protect Europe from Communism.

April 3, 1948: President Truman signed the Marshall Plan into law.

November 3, 1948: Harry S. Truman won the presidential election over Republican Thomas E. Dewey.

May 12, 1949: The Soviet Union, somewhat humiliated by the success of the Berlin airlift, finally ended the Berlin Blockade.

February 1, 1950: Congressman Henry Jackson (D-WA), a member of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, offered his support of the H-bomb plan. [Henry Jackson speech]

Americans Should Know these 20 Facts About the History of the Draft

The 1863 New York draft riots of 1863 were the bloodiest insurrection in American history, other than the Civil War itself. Wikimedia

11. The draft riots in New York City in July 1863

With the exception of the Civil War itself, the Draft Riots which rocked New York City from July 13-16, 1863, were the largest insurrection in American history. The majority of the rioters were Irish immigrants or of Irish descent, who resented the presence of free blacks in their neighborhoods competing for jobs and the perceived disparities of the draft, which saw many of them called to service while those able to afford substitution or commutation were not. The city was so out-of-control on July 16 that the regional military commander later said that he should have declared martial law, but did not because he did not have sufficient forces on hand to enforce it.

New York was a hotbed of pro-Confederacy sentiment in the early days of the Civil War, due to its business ties with the Southern cotton market. The blockade led to unemployment of many Irish immigrants, which coupled with the influx of freed blacks following the Emancipation Proclamation made many too poor to avoid the draft. The riots coincided with the drawing of draft numbers in the city. By the time police and federal troops suppressed the riots 119 people were dead, though some sources list the death toll as 120. Because so many recently arrived blacks fled the riots and the city, never to return, the true death toll of the riots was probably much higher.

Why Bringing Back the Draft Won't be Easy--And May Not Be Desirable

Mr. Greenberg is a visiting scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and writes Slate's History Lesson column.

The draft is back—or at least back on the table. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is fronting a group of anti-war leftists sounding a theme more commonly heard in conservative and neoliberal circles: that in our anomic culture we need mandatory service to instill common values, provide a shared experience for young people of all races and social stripes, and equitably spread the burden of military service. Writing in the New York Times, Rangel recently urged a "return to the tradition of the citizen soldier," arguing that "if we are going to send our children to war, the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice."

Cries like Rangel's have arisen in every war and quite often in peace as well. In 1940, inaugurating the first-ever peacetime draft, Franklin Roosevelt argued that the new policy "broadened and enriched our basic concepts of citizenship." A quarter century later, Lyndon Johnson called the draft "a part of America, a part of the process of our democracy." Indeed, appeals to patriotism and democracy have often accompanied the imposition of mandatory sacrifice.

Despite these fine words, though, conscription has always been—and probably will always be—a tough sell. The reason isn't that Americans crave an unjust system, although they haven't shown too much regret over the draft's inequities. Rather, the draft's perennial unpopularity stems from an abiding national regard for freedom from state coercion. For all Rangel's rhetorical bows to the "citizen soldier" and "shared sacrifice," his proposal addresses America's historic concern for equality but skirts its even more primary veneration for liberty.

Indeed, the notion of the citizen soldier of the Revolutionary War to which Rangel hearkens—the common man trading plowshare for sword to fight an imminent threat—actually points up the flaws in the argument for conscription. The Revolution's vaunted Minute Men were, after all, volunteers who needed no official prodding to take up arms against a threat to their liberty. The Continental Army certainly had its manpower problems—in the winter of 1776, Tom Paine decried the "summer soldier and the sunshine patriot"—but even in those trying times, states rejected George Washington's plea for national conscription. When individual states did hold drafts, they allowed wealthy conscripts to hire substitutes, who were predominantly poor and unemployed. Service was hardly a shared experience.

Whatever problems hobbled the Continental Army, the new nation's founders remained convinced that state encroachment on personal freedom was the greater danger. The Constitution's drafters conferred on Congress the power to "raise and support armies" but not to conscript citizens—an omission notably at odds with the practice in Europe. Virginia's Edmund Randolph, one of the few founders to raise the issue during the constitutional debates, argued that a draft would "stretch the strings of government too violently to be adopted." Such sentiments carried the day even when British troops invaded American soil two decades later. During the War of 1812, President James Madison sought a draft. But even though Secretary of War James Monroe promised it would be just a temporary, emergency measure, Congress opposed it, in Sen. Daniel Webster's words, as "Napoleonic despotism." It never got off the ground.

In the Civil War, both North and South continued to rely mainly on enlistment, although they did adopt conscription when the volunteers dried up. Even though the Civil War drafts were extremely limited—only 8 percent of Union's 2 million soldiers were draftees—they were far from successful. The Confederate government gave exemptions to those in certain occupations, sparking popular protest. Meanwhile, the delegation of such vast powers to the Confederate government baldly violated the principle of "states' rights" and undermined the South's rationale for its rebellion.

The North had similar headaches. Its practice of letting draftees buy their way out of service for $300—a laborer's yearly income—led critics to dub the conflict "a rich man's war but a poor man's fight." In New York, enforcement efforts, as anyone who's seen Gangs of New York will know, triggered ferocious riots that killed more than 100 people, including many young blacks who the conscripted Irish workers lynched as scapegoats.

Fifty years later, with Europe at war, Woodrow Wilson courted the animosity of isolationists left and right by pushing through Congress a sweeping (but temporary) conscription program. To ensure fairness, the law barred the hiring of substitutes and the offering of bounties for enlistees. But the draft's more fundamental flaw—its coerciveness—still fueled protest. Waves of conscripts, perhaps as many as 3 million, refused to register for the draft, and of those actually called to serve, 12 percent either didn't report or quickly deserted. Local vigilantes took to shaming or brutalizing resisters into service. Civil libertarians sued the government, arguing that the draft was unconstitutional under the 13th Amendment, which outlawed involuntary servitude, but in 1918 the Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional.

The draft was scuttled when peace returned, but in 1940, when Germany invaded France, FDR sought to resurrect it. Again, opposition was fierce Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, for one, accused FDR of "tearing up 150 years of American history and tradition, in which none but volunteers have entered the peacetime Armies and Navies." But FDR won out, and resistance faded after Pearl Harbor. As it was in so many ways, the experience of the "good" war proved an exception to a historical pattern. Yet FDR's policies also set a precedent for the more questionable Cold War draft, which would last 25 years.

In March 1947, President Truman spoke of his "earnest desire of placing our Army and Navy on an entirely volunteer basis" as soon as possible—a desire that was clearly shared by a public eager to return to normalcy. But one year later, he reversed course, calling for universal service, and a House committee endorsed the proposal, citing the "serious deterioration in the international situation." Critics limited the peacetime draft to a two-year trial run, after which it would have to be renewed. But Cold War battle lines were hardening, and at each expiration date over the next decade, congressional opposition diminished.

It took the catastrophe of Vietnam to end the draft. By the late 1960s, the mounting body counts and anti-war sentiment made it increasingly hard for President Johnson to justify sending young men to die in battle. Until 1969, Maj. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, the head of the Selective Service, blocked efforts to reform or end the draft, but when Richard Nixon assumed the presidency he saw draft reform as a way to silence the peace movement and steal the Democrats' thunder without a precipitous pullout. Nixon forced Hershey into retirement, set up a lottery to make the draft fairer, and indicated he would move toward an all-volunteer force (AVF). In a debate over whether to continue the draft in 1971 or adopt an AVF, it was Nixon and Gen. William Westmoreland who argued for the AVF, while leading Democrats in Congress such as Ted Kennedy and one Charlie Rangel pressed to keep the draft in place.

In an April 17, 1971, piece in the New York Times, Rangel argued that the proposed "volunteer" force would be "a lie." Poor minorities, in need of employment, would wind up volunteering and "doing the white man's dirty work," he wrote, while "white Americans could then sip cocktails and watch the black Hessians make war on their color television sets, just like the plantation owners who sipped mint juleps on their verandas and watched the darkies toiling in the fields." Rangel insisted then—as he insists about his calls for conscription today—that he wasn't being facetious to prove a point, that he believes a draft would be better than our current military.

But Rangel also wrote in his 1971 article, "There is only one way this country can get its young to loyally perform military service. It must begin to institute morally just foreign … policies." He may have been overstating the case whether or not young people will gladly head into battle probably doesn't hinge on the justness of the war. But with this much Charlie Rangel surely still agrees: Without a just war, it's impossible to have a just draft.

This piece first ran in Slate and is reprinted with permission of the author. Click here to see a list of his other History Lesson columns in Slate.

President Truman issues peacetime draft - HISTORY

Introduced into Congress two days before the fall of France and signed into law three months later as Luftwaffe bombs set London afire, the Selective Training and Service Act began the process by which fifteen million Americans were inducted into the armed services during the Second World War. Clifford and Spencer recount a neglected but vitally important development in the transformation of American policies prior to Pearl Harbor—the first time in American history when men were conscripted into military service during peacetime.

Central to the discussion in The First Peacetime Draft is the first important American policy response to Hitler's victory in Europe in the spring of 1940—the Selective Service Act. It marked the effective end of the isolationist tradition in the United States because for the first time while the country remained officially at peace civilians were drafted into the armed forces to face the possible threat of aggression from abroad. Emerging from the initiative of civilians, not from the Army or the White House, the conscription campaign resulted in a colorful three-month public debate that engaged the entire population.

&ldquoFundamental American history from which all adult academic readers can enjoy and profit. . . . Recounts the story of how a most controversial piece of legislation was initiated and driven through Congress by a small group of concerned advocates. The role played by Franklin D. Roosevelt is of great interest. The subject offers a splendid view of how FDR could play the dangerous game of making a virtue of refusing to take a stand on a major issue.&rdquo


&ldquoUsing the Selective Service Act of 1940 as a focus to illuminate the evolution of American policy and attitudes toward the Second World War, this book unites exhaustive research with crisp narrative and trenchant analysis.&rdquo

&mdashArthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., author of The Age of Roosevelt

&ldquoAn outstanding piece of historical scholarship, definitive on the selective service legislation of 1940, and brilliant in establishing the larger context. Exhaustive research, vivid style, and broad sweep . . . &rdquo

&mdashFrank Freidel, author of the four-volume Franklin D. Roosevelt

&ldquoAltogether compelling&mdashand wonderfully detailed, masterfully researched, and graciously and vividly written.&rdquo

&mdashWilliam E. Leuchtenburg, author of In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan

This volume is based on research in more than ninety manuscript collection in the United States, Canada, and Britain, as well as interviews with some two dozen participants. In addition to being a detailed political history of the debate over conscription, it places the draft in the context of Roosevelt's zig-zag path to war and evaluates it in terms of the overall evolution of the American defense and foreign policies since 1940.

The Founding of NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was founded on April 4th, 1949.

The North Atlantic Treaty, signed by twelve nations on a Monday afternoon in Washington DC, saw the United States accept the lead in the free world's postwar resistance to Communist aggression and subversion. Unprecedented in American peacetime history, it was the product of more than a year of political and diplomatic activity in which leading roles were played by Senator Vandenberg and General Marshall of the United States, Ernest Bevin of Britain and Lester Pearson of Canada.

The Treaty bound its signatories to treat an armed attack against any one of them as aggression against all and to react with any action necessary including armed force. It was drawn up by a working party of diplomats from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, which began work in July 1948 and produced a draft text in December. Representatives of these countries and five more (Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark and Iceland) signed the treaty at a long mahogany table in front of the twelve national flags in the auditorium of the State Department building on Constitution Avenue. A distinguished audience 1,500 strong watched as Paul Henri Spaak signed first for Belgium, followed by Pearson for Canada. Robert Schuman stepped up for France and Bevin and Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State, signed last. Each foreign minister used a different pen. In his speech President Truman described the new treaty as 'a shield against aggression and the fear of aggression - a bulwark which will permit us to get on with the real business of government and society, the business of achieving a fuller and happier life for all our citizens'. The ceremony was simple and impressive, though Sir Nicholas Henderson, one of the working party, deprecated the 'insouciant influence' of the US Marine Band, which played Gershwin tunes, including 'Bess, you is my woman now' in apparent homage to Mrs Truman, who had a front-row seat.

The Treaty had still to be ratified by the US Senate, which approved it on July 21st, after almost two weeks of debate. It was powerfully commended by Senator Vandenberg for the Republicans and Senator Connally of Texas for the Democrats, and opposed by Senator Taft of Ohio, who argued that it entailed 'arming Western Europe at American expense'. The final vote was eighty-two votes to thirteen in favour, which supplied the necessary two-thirds majority. President Truman signed the instrument of accession and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was duly established with its secretariat in France.