Students Can Object Military Recruitment

Students Can Object Military Recruitment

By Andrew Tonkovich
You can’t help but notice the parade of military recruiters on campus lately. They appear with their flags and promises with increased regularity, and it’s not because we Anteaters are so darn special.

They are spending plenty of time at Southern California high schools, community colleges and universities, and for obvious reasons: U.S. fatalities in the Iraq war exceed 1,500 with – almost never mentioned – 100,000 Iraqis killed. Nobody even bothers counting the Iraqi wounded, but 10,000 U.S. personnel have come home legless, armless, eyeless—less in so many ways.

As a result, military enlistment is down, with as many as 5,000 soldiers gone absent without leave, among them plenty of conscientious objectors.

And now we read newspaper reports of army recruiters trying to extricate themselves from the awkward ethical dilemma of selling young women and men on the terrific “opportunities” in the Army of One. It’s an all-volunteer military, of course. And there’s no draft, not yet. But registration with Selective Service is legally required.

Failure by 18-25-year-old males to register can result in prosecution, though it almost never does. For college students, failure to register means not getting financial aid, federal or state. That bit of governmental coercion probably compels a lot of young men to fill out the form and not think much about the other consequences of giving in to militarism, or about the opportunity they have missed to resist, even symbolically, by declaring their objections to war early.

Objecting is a fairly straightforward process, with a legitimate and honorable history. By writing a simple statement reflecting principled opposition to militarism – before a draft is reinstated by Congress – you are taking the first steps toward creating a record of your intention to file as a conscientious objector in the event of a national military draft. You are creating a file on yourself, written by you, documenting a conscience-based stand supported by many religious, cultural, philosophical traditions over history. You are avoiding taking human life in the future and, perhaps, saving your own life.

This declaration might be as simple as: “I am a conscientious objector, opposed to participation in war in any form, because of my ethical, moral and religious beliefs.” Write it on the Selective Service form available at the post office, make a copy of the form for your file, and then mail in the actual form. Keep it! No, Selective Service does not care about your intentions or sincerely held beliefs. Not now.

But in the event of a draft, your documented statement of this position may indeed become a key piece of evidence in a future request by you for C.O. status. There’s plenty more to learn about the draft, registration and military recruitment and the proud history of conscientious objection to war.

You can check out organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild ( and the national Center on Conscience and War ( Both groups sponsor counseling programs and provide free, confidential information to the public, as well as active duty military and Reservists trying to get out of the military.

Writing that simple declaration on the Selective Service form now is, of course, only a first step. Opponents of war will want to document their public service record, solicit letters testifying to their clear rejection of violence and militarism, and, yes, take concrete actions to stop the current one.

Andrew Tonkovich is a draft and registration counselor and a lecturer of English and comparative literature.

© 2003 by the New University Newspaper

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