« PreviousContinue »
different and better. But there has been little interest in the potential of the system as it now exists for achieving large and important things. Two Presidents have tried to arouse such interest, but without success. However, the recent disclosure in the HEW publication, American Education, that 67.5 percent of Negroes are failing these Selective Service mental tests could raise the issue once more, and possibly in a more favorable climate. In one sentence, the implication of the statistic is this: The American armed forces, having become an immensely potent instrument for education and occupational mobility, have been systematically excluding the least educated, least mobile young men. Government awareness of the importance of the Selective Service System as a gauge of social problems, such as poverty and discrimination, goes back to the summer of 1963. The Kennedy legislative program was dead in the water. The confrontation with the steel companies in the spring had critically affected attitudes in Congress and in the nation. The nation was drawing apart, choosing sides again. The stalemate that had locked most social legislation for nearly a generation was settling in once more after the brief thaw of the 87th Congress. Some dramatic device was needed to argue the urgency of such measures as the Youth Employment Act-once again, S.1 in the Senate, but clearly headed for defeat in the House. Moreover, the administrators of programs that had been enacted in the preceding two years were beginning to encounter difficult in making contact with those individuals for whom the programs were designed. Thus, while two-thirds of the unemployed had not graduated from high school, two-thirds of those signing up for the Manpower Development and Training Program, enacted the previous year, had done so.
In this context, the director of the Selective Service System (a four-year extension of the program having been approved in Congress in the spring with scarcely a word of debate), issued his annual report announcing that, as usual, 50 percent of the persons called up for pre-induction examinations in 1962 had been rejected for failing the mental or physical tests or both. The announcement merited two inches at most in The Washington Post, but an idea flashed in the policy planning staff of the Department of Labor: Either there was something wrong with that statistic or something the matter with the country. I was a question worth examining. The Selective Service System was (and is) the only screen through which all male Americans must pass. It clearly was the place to pick up those who weren't making it, who needed the kinds of help the administration's programs were designed to provide.
On inquiry, the Defense Department turned out to know more about the situation than was being made public (e.g., that 56 percent of Negroes were failing the mental test). But much less than one would wish. Because the manpower pool then was more than sufficient for the needs of the armed forces, the Defense Department had not felt pressured to examine why over 50 percent of those youths called in had failed to meet its standards. Clearly though, a systematic inquiry was needed. This was proposed to the White House. On September 30, 1963, President Kennedy established a Task Force on Manpower Conservation made up of the directors of the Selective Service Systems and the secretaries of Defense, HEW, and Labor, with the latter as chairman. The presidential directive was simple enough: "The Selective Service System provides for us a unique opportunity to identify those young men in our nation who-for reasons of education or health, or both--are not equipped to play their part in society. So far, we have been wasting this opportunity. The youths are examined, rejected and sent home and no more. The time has come-in view of the ever-rising education and training standards required for employment, and the ever-rising rate of youth unemployment . . . to consider what greater use might be made of the opportunity and information the Selective Service System provides."
The task force considered the medical and mental aspects of Selective Service separately. The situation in the former was not unfamiliar. A majority of the medical rejectees were manifestly victims of inadequate education and insufficient health services. Most such rejectees needed medical attention and very few were made aware of it. Persons with the most horrendous ailments were simply being rejected without a word of advice or comment: No socialized medicine in the armed forces. Further examination of this problem revealed that the Public Health Service was experimenting with techniques for referring rejectees to local medical care. The logical course for the task force was to propose that this be extended, a program now slowly taking effect.
The principal interest of the task force focused on the mental rejectees. The Armed Forces Qualifications Test is a direct and validated measure of ability
to perform. It cuts off at about the seventh or eighth grade level of schooling, but it is neither an intelligence test nor yet one of education: The object of the test is simply to determine whether a person will work out as a soldier. But as the President has pointed out, "A young man who does not have what it takes to perform military services, is not likely to have what it takes to make a living." A national sample of 2,500 recent rejectees was assembled and interviewed. The result was a startling profile of poverty in the 60's.
These were young men already in trouble. Four out of five were dropouts. One in 10 had a court record. Three-quarters worked in unskilled, semi-skilled or service jobs. Their unemployment rate (28 percent) was four times that of their age group. Moreover, they came from families in trouble: Twentyone percent came from families that had received public assistance in the preceding five years, 31 percent came from families broken by divorce or separation. But the single most dramatic fact to emerge was that 47 percent came from families with six or more children. A tiny fraction of all families, producing only 11 percent of all children in the United States, was producing half the mental rejectees. Seven out of 10 rejectees came from families with four or more children. The ethnic ratio was askew and so was the regional one. Where only 3.6 percent of the youths called up in the state of Washington failed the qualifications test, 51.8 percent of those from South Carolina failed. To be raised in the South was bad; to be raised in a large Southern family, worse; to be raised in a large Southern Negro family . . . these young men were headed nowhere and they knew it as the interviews showed. Because draft calls were low, the age of examination was approximately 22 to 23, four or five years above the legal draft age. The task force estimated that if an entire age cohort were to be examined at age 18, one in three would fail to meet the medical or mental standards or both.
That task force report, One-Third of a Nation, was submitted to President Johnson, January 1, 1964. He accepted the principal recommendation that as soon as possible all youths turning 18, out of school and otherwise available for service, be examined to learn who would be rejected, and to refer them to manpower conservation units in the US Employment Service, "to draw on the full spectrum of available services . . . such as manpower development and training, vocational education, and vocational rehabilitation."
The task force report was an important document in shaping the poverty program and probably influenced the decision to incorporate into it the Youth Employment Act which emerged at Title I. (Job Corps, Neighborhood Youth Corps.) Selective Service rejectees are specifically mentioned in the Economic Opportunity Act. However, in December 1965, the 18-year-old testing program was quietly discontinued.
The poverty program was an effort to find ways to do something about the situation of Negro Americans under a more inclusive heading, which would permit the support or acquiescence of Southern congressmen and political leaders. (That there were millions of whites who would also benefit from the program was simply an added argument.)
The Selective Service Study had made it clear enough that perhaps the largest single area of de facto job discrimination (lacking a better word) faced by Negroes is the armed forces. Negroes were simply not getting in because of the testing standards. In the Third Army Area, roughly the Old Confederacy, 67.7 percent of Negroes failed the mental test alone. Obviously, volunteers ran into the same difficulty. Representing 12 percent of the population, Negroes made up eight percent of the armed forces. The power of these ratios is hardly to be overestimated. If, in 1964, Negroes had had their proportion of the service and the number of their males unemployed was correspondingly reduced. and had the reverse process occurred for whites, the unemployment rate for non-white males in the relevant age group would have been lower than that for whites. The argument for increasing the Negro representation in the armed forces was immensely persuasive. For one thing there was a clear interest among Negroes in such careers, as compared to what they perceive as their other options (Negroes in the army have a fantastic reenlistment rate. 49 percent one army sergeant in six is Negro). The next step in the logic of the task force report would have been to systematically increase the Negro's share of military employment. That this has not happened is on of the ironies, and in a small way one of the tragedies of the politics of the past two years.
The Defense Department was at first decidedly reluctant to have anyone messing around with the service their disposition, thanks be to God, is not to do good. However, the revelation of what the lower third of American youths were like, had an extraordinary impact. It was not unlike the impact of the discoveries the English made about themselves after conscription was introduced during World War I. In 1964, Secretary McNamara proposed that he be allowed to induct a limited number of persons who failed to meet the mental standards, and see if they could not be brought up to standards. There was a solid precedent for thing this could be done, based on experience with 303,000 such persons inducted after manpower grew short in World War II. (Department of Labor demonstration projects have since added to this evidence.) The proposal, however, got nowhere in the armed services committees; explanations were not offered, but it is fair to suppose that the concern for impoverished Negroes behind the proposal was plain to the Southerners who control the committees and that the advantages of military service to Negroes were known. (Look what came of letting James Meredith into the air force.)
Civil rights groups were never much interested in the subject anyway, but as war mounted in Asia, they became, if anything, suspicious. There is, of course, a deep pacifist element in the civil rights movement which would not wish to be associated with violence on any terms. More ominously, the political left which had associated itself with the movement now began to present its due bills: To be against the war in Vietnam became yet another test of true allegiance to the cause of the Negro.
Negroes are concentrated in the combat infantry type unit that is naturally the subject of much TV coverage from the battle zones. At the end of last year, the latest count available, Negroes made up 15 percent of army personnel in Vietnam and accounted for 18 percent of army casualties (22 percent of enlisted casualties). But altogether, Negroes make up only 12.5 percent of the forces in Vietnam-about their proportion of the age groups involved, and only 9.5 percent of the over-all strength of the armed forces.
History may record that the single most important psychological event in race relations in the 1960's was the appearance of Negro fighting men on the TV screens of the nation. Acquiring a reputation for military valor is one of the oldest known routes to social equality-from the Catholic Irish in the Mexican war to the Japanese-American Purple Heart Division of World War II. Moreover, as employment pure and simple, the armed forces have much to offer men with the limited current options of, say, Southern Negroes. By rights, Negroes are entitled to a larger share of employment in the armed forces and might well be demanding one. Yet when Secretary McNamara went to Montreal to announce that he was going to enlist rejectees anyway, Adam Clayton Powell cried, "racist," which is hardly what happened.
A LOST GENERATION?
When Congress enacted a peace-time GI Bill retroactive to 1965-a massive transfer of public support away from the poorest segment of the population to a relatively well-off one-liberal spokesmen were silent. There ought to have been such a bill, but its passage ought also to have given rise to widespread insistence that if this is going to be done for non-poor whites and Negroes, then the poverty program appropriations ought at the same time to be increased
If there is to be any change it is likely to come from the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service, established by the President in July under the direction of Burke Marshall. One may hope this time we take a longer look at the rejection figure. There are now new statistics reporting the experience of the 18-year-olds who began to be tested in July 1964, which certainly confirm the findings in One-Third of a Nation, and suggest matters may indeed be worse. The task force estimated that a "true" mental rejection rate-i.e., if all members of the age group were called up and examined at the same time-would be 16.3 percent, and that stiffer standards then being imposed might raise it as high as 20 percent. Now, however, it appears that the rejection rate for the 383,000 18year-olds examined during the period July 1964-December 1965, was 25.3 percent. These young men were only a fifth of the age group involved, but may have been more representative than was thought. It may be that the task force was wrong
in deflating the 1962 rejection ratings. The "true" rates may be as high or even higher. In the 18-year-old group, 19 percent of whites and 68 percent of Negroes failed the mental test. These are exactly the rates which the task force found for 22- to 23-year-olds in the Third Army Area in 1962. The current 18-year-old rejection rates in the South are horrendous: For Negroes, 86 percent in South Carolina, 85 percent in Mississippi, 71 percent in Tennessee, 79 percent in Georgia. But they are not so much better elsewhere: 54 percent in New York, 56 percent in Illinois, 49 percent in California. White rates are no more reassuring: 44 percent in Tennessee, 38 percent in Kentucky, 28 percent in Hawaii. Clearly, the place to send children to public schools is the state of Washington or Minnesota (but not necessarily Negro children--the mental rejection rate is 25 percent in the former and 37 percent in the latter.) One-quarter is the lowest Negro rate anywhere.
The Defense Department has not yet released any but the raw statistics and has not made clear how they are to be interpreted. But I would hold that a whole generation of poor Negroes and whites are missing their chance to get in touch with the American society. Once they pass through and beyond the Selective Service screen they are very near gone for good in terms of the opportunity to become genuinely functioning, self-sufficient individuals. Civil rights as an issue is fading. The poverty program is heading for dismemberment and decline. Expectations of what can be done in America are receding. Very possibly our best hope is seriously to use the armed forces as a socializing experience for the poor-particularly the Southern poor—unless somehow their environment begins turning out equal citizens.
[From the Public Interest, Fall, 1966]
THE CASE FOR A LOTTERY
The problem of the draft has surfaced. The President, Congress and the public now know that the process by which we procure our military manpower is defective. The mounting casualties in Vietnam have unquestionably helped focus attention on this issue: the fact that a high school graduate is 50 percent more likely than a college man to serve in the Army may be glossed over in times of peace, but will not go unnoticed once the number of wounded and dead begins to mount. The Act under which young men are drafted is entitled the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1951, as amended. Today, this concept of "universality" is defined by the fact that only 46 percent of all men reaching 26 have served in the military.
The coincidence of military escalation in Vietnam and the jump in the number of young men reaching eighteen-reflecting the rise in the birth rate after World War II-have precipitated the debate that successive Administrations and Congresses have assiduously sought to avoid. Since, under existing arrangements, the Pentagon obtains without difficulty the number and quality of manpower it needs, and since the colleges are assured of the student flow which they need to operate optimally, it is understandable that policymakers have avoided disturbing the status quo. But they can avoid doing so no longer.
It is relatively easy to identify what is wrong with the draft as it presently operates. It favors those who have the financial and intellectual resources required for college attendance; until recently, it encouraged young men to marry in order to be deferred; until the recent expansion of the Armed Services from 2.7 million to 3 million, older men were more likely to be drafted than young men—a double disadvantage since men's lives are more likely to be disrupted at an older age and the military prefer younger men. A less obvious but still clear debit has been the influence of the draft in encouraging many students to enroll in college or graduate school for no reason other than to avoid the draft. Above all, it violates the concept of universality and has helped to make a mockery out of the democratic principle that the responsibility to bear arms rests equitably upon all males.
This list of shortcomings can be enlarged by noting that many presumably eligible men are rejected from military service: the accident of where a man is registered plays an important part in whether or not, and when, he is called up; and there has been no uniformity in the criteria which local boards follow in granting deferments.
THE MERITS OF SELECTIVE SERVICE
Nevertheless, there are strengths in this system which help explain why the American people were willing to accept it for more than a decade.
First of all, the draft has been a highly flexible instrument. During the year when the Korean buildup reached its height, 587,000 men were drafted; a decade later, the annual intake had dropped to 60,000; during a recent twelve months (July 1, 1965-June 30, 1966) 335,000 men were drafted.
Secondly, the draft has contributed markedly to enabling the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps to rely overwhelmingly on enlistees. Many men "volunteer" for these services because they know that otherwise they will be drafted. According to a special study of the Department of Defense, 38 percent of the regular enlistees "volunteered" for this reason, as did 41 percent of the officers and 71 percent of Reserve and National Guard enlistees. To the extent that the Armed Services gain from having their requirements met by enlisteesthey serve longer and they are likely to have better morale than draftees-to that extent much of the credit belongs to the draft.
Finally, the draft has been operated so as to inhibit an inflow of large numbers of men who could not be readily absorbed into a military organization, whether because of lack of aptitude or because of other shortcomings. Not all of the selectivity in "selective service" has been unreasonable.
General Hershey would call attention to some additional benefits. He believes in citizen responsibility for the operations of the Selective Service System. He sees great merit in a system whereby call-ups and deferments are made by informed persons who live in the same communities as the registrants. The inventory of draft eligibles, maintained by the Selective Service System is a major support of our mobilization base. In addition, General Hershey would note the remarkable freedom from bribery and other forms of chicanery which characterizes the Selective Service System.
There can be no doubt, then, that the draft has many assets as well as some liabilities. Since no system is perfect, why should we not leave it alone? Besides, there have been recent improvements. Since August, 1965, marriage has not been a ground for deferment, though it still often works out that way; the Armed Services have revised their criteria for selection and now accept certain men whom they formerly would have rejected; Congress has recently passed a new GI bill which is at least one step towards greater equity; and the Armed Services' requirements are such that they now induct men shortly after their twentieth birthday. What more can one system do?
The demographic imperative
If the demographic picture were to remain unchanged: if the strength of the Armed Services were to remain at the present ceiling of 3 million; if the Department of Defense were to cease its efforts to substitute civilian for military personnel then there would indeed be a strong case for preserving selective service. However, we face a certain and continuing rise in the number of eighteen-yearolds to a level of over 2.1 million in 1974, which will represent more than a doubling of the number available during the early 1950's and a 40 percent increase over 1964. At pre-Vietnam force levels this would mean that, in 1974, only 1 out of every 3 young men reaching twenty-six would have served in the military; and even at the current force level the number would be only slightly more than 2 in 5. And such a surplus of eligible manpower would again threaten to force up to the age of induction: our selective service system, operating to catch men before they reach the escape age of twenty-six, takes older men first. The Armed Forces would receive the wrong type of manpower; therefore, before long the present system will have to be changed because the Department of Defense itself will demand a change.
Before discussing desirable changes in the draft, we should explore the alternatives to the draft. Possibly we can get on without it; possibly not. A small number of people, including General Hershey, continue to favor the institution of universal military training, which was the proposal of the War Department at the end of World War II, but which was ceremoniously buried despite strong support from the Compton Commission and the advocacy of General Marshall. Such a proposal would mean that every young man capable of military service at the age of eighteen would undergo four to six months of military training, and from this total group the Armed Services would obtain-by enlistment or