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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Pen That Turns into a Sword

It’s a promotional giveaway pen, a rather nice one by BIC, white with red and blue writing that at first I found puzzling:

MEN: Don’t lose benefits! Use this to register with Selective Service.

Benefits from (or through, or with) Selective Service? When I turned 18 several years before the Vietnam era I registered for the draft with Selective Service and served nine years in the U.S. Navy. Although I received many benefits, I never regarded the experience as a net benefit.

So I considered the possibility that the benefits of being in the military might not be (all) the benefits referred to in the enigmatic exhortation on the little red, white, and blue pen. What other benefits, then, might men lose by not registering with Selective Service? The answers surprised and disheartened me—and struck me with a vision of 51 predatory governments endlessly revolving around the draft-age (18 to 25) male in ever-tightening circles. Among those governments, it turns out, are the 50 once-sovereign states whose own powers and prerogatives are steadily being absorbed by the black hole of the federal government, which runs the Selective Service System.

Much of what I learned about the benefits of registration, and the consequences of not registering, are outlined on the Selective Service website. The benefits one “gains” in many states include the “privilege” of operating a motor vehicle on the government roads. That’s right—in at least 41 states the law denies any male 18 to 25 the right to apply for issuance or renewal of his driver’s license if the SS computer doesn’t confirm that he’s registered.

The denial of benefits can go even deeper. Many states refuse to issue a government identification card to males who can’t prove they’ve registered with the draft board. In those states if Selective Service doesn’t know who you are and where you sleep, you’ll have no official identity. You might never become able to order a drink in a bar, for example, unless you look old—or fly on a commercial airline.

Of course, as Selective Service literature constantly repeats, registering for the draft (provided you haven’t yet reached 26) is as simple as checking a box on practically any of the many government forms on which you disclose your name, date of birth, and address. And it may be easier than that. Many people, such as my draft-age son, don’t even know whether they’re registered. They may have been registered by stealth, as the young customers of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour famously were in 1983.

But I checked (that’s easy, too—just go online and check on the men in your family), and it turns out that he is registered, which is a “good” thing, since it became impossible for him to register when he turned 26 last July.

That’s right—as simple as it is to register between the ages of 18 and 25, it becomes utterly impossible once your birthday cake sports 26 candles. And from this arises a Catch-22 that Joseph Heller could be proud of: Federal benefits for males of any age require proof of registration—and if you pass 25 without having registered, you’re out of luck unless you can prove either that you somehow weren’t required to register or that you somehow never heard that you were supposed to. This is, of course, all spelled out on an extensive website, though the title of Heller’s novel isn’t used there.

And in this age of the welfare state, in which sustenance itself may soon be unobtainable without the favor of the State, the benefits denied may not be trivial. With some exceptions, noncitizen males are also required to register. So citizenship itself, if you didn’t inherit it, is denied those who fall afoul of the Catch-22. Depending on what other citizenship(s) you may have access to, this can be a big benefit indeed to lose, since the governments of the world have banded together to make statelessness a parlous condition for anyone who wishes to live outside a correctional facility.

Immigration Statistics

The statistics of the Department of Homeland Security (immigration is now chiefly a security issue to the grantor of citizenship) reveal what must be primarily the effect of the registration requirement on the male/female ratios of naturalizations. Since 2005 the lowest percentages of males have been in the 30–34 age bracket and the second-lowest percentage have been in the 25–29 bracket—every year. In the younger bracket, would-be American males have the option to cure their nonregistration in their 25th year. In the first two years of the older bracket (through age 31), as well as in the last four years of the younger, applicants must prove that they weren’t required to register, the most common reason being that they had not yet entered the United States. Some applicants simply failed to register: Ineligible. Others weren’t required to register, but can’t prove it: Ineligible. Others weren’t required to register but don’t care to go to the considerable trouble and expense that can be required to prove it. They also don’t become citizens—ever, in many cases. (Forgiveness is possible after 31.)

From 2002 to 2009 about 2.9 million women were naturalized, while about 2.4 million men were, roughly 21 percent more females than males. Obviously, external factors can affect the gender ratio of those who apply for citizenship and who complete the often lengthy, expensive, and demanding process. But the requirement to register for the draft, or to have registered for it, is the only citizenship requirement that impinges differently on each gender. In the world population men outnumber women in the four age brackets spanning the critical years 18–31, but over half the shortfall of about a half-million men is in these four age brackets even though only 37 percent of the women naturalized were in those brackets (compared with 34 percent of the men).

Further Limits

Failure to register also denies people access to many government aid programs that provide loans and grants to students for attending college or vocational schools. Yes, if you passed your 26th birthday without registering, you’ll never qualify for this benefit. This denial is echoed among the state laws with the added bite that unregistered males are barred from admission to state colleges and universities if they happen to live in Colorado, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, or Tennessee.

Of course, these so-called benefits should not exist in the first place, but these rules demonstrate how military considerations set the boundaries.

Perhaps the most lucrative “benefit” withheld from the unregistered is the right to prey on fellow citizens through government employment. The federal government and a large number of states bar you from employment if you aren’t registered. If you’re over 26 and didn’t register, you’ll need a lawyer if you wish to render “civil service.”

Involuntary service in the military may be the greatest abrogation of civil rights that can be imposed on the citizens of “free” countries without judicial process, but registration with the draft board, particularly the “stealth” registration that seems to be stipulated in the driver’s-license laws of many states, is yet another violation of a dwindling civil right—of privacy. Of course, failure to report a change in one’s address—or in other words to perform self-surveillance—is also a violation of the law, though so far such a violation seems unlikely to lose you your benefits short of an “activation”—that is, the issuance by Congress of a draft call-up.

The draft, as well as registration for a future draft, violates natural rights, the 13th Amendment forbidding involuntary servitude, and every possible conception of equal treatment before the law (in this case, on the basis of gender), notwithstanding the Supreme Court decision to the contrary. This is the answer to those who would ask why the State can’t require military service in return for its various “benefits” or even citizenship. The dozens of state laws enacted in support of this system merely extend this trampling of civil rights, simultaneously broadening and deepening it.