Why I refuse to register

Selective Service television commercials tell the American people that draft registration is “no big deal.” But on Dec. 6, 1984, three FBI agents entered my home uninvited, arrested me and took me away in handcuffs.

My “crime”—if one calls it a crime—is refusing to sign my name on a draft-registration form. Unlike Selective Service, the FBI seemed to think registration was a very big deal. I agree. Draft registration is a big deal and a bad deal for young men and for America.

The draft has no place in America’s tradition of individual freedom. Daniel Webster, who saw the draft as involuntary servitude, said, “The question is nothing less than whether the most essential rights of personal liberty shall be surrendered and despotism embraced in its worst form.”

In a 1980 letter to Sen. Mark Hatfield, Ronald Reagan said, “The draft or draft registration destroys the very values our society is committed to defending.” These “values” have since been abandoned by Reagan, but not by the thousands who continue to resist.

Not only is the draft repugnant to the very freedom for which thousands have flocked to this country, but registration is an insult to young people. The draft implies that we are too cowardly or too unpatriotic to defend our homes unless threatened with prison sentences.

When have the young ever failed to defend this country? Young men in the past volunteered to sacrifice life and limb in World War I, World War II, Korea and even Vietnam.

The draft, on the other hand, is a way to drag young men to foreign military interventions that they may have no stake in, nor any cause to fight. In my lifetime, thousands were forced from homes and families and sent to kill or be killed on the other side of the world.

The freedom of choice to say no to unjust wars is an important check on the politician‘s ability to involve us in such conflicts and, in fact, is what makes a mere stretch of dirt precious and therefore worth defending.

I cannot in good conscience register with such an unjust, un-American, unnecessary and extremely dangerous institution as the draft. My signature on a draft form would be a sign of approval and I do not approve. By resisting this law I am, in my sincere belief, defending my country.

Like a million others, I refused to comply with draft registration. Only 17 men have been prosecuted for draft resistance; all spoke out publicly against the draft. It is indicative of the injustice of forced military service that for such a program to succeed the government feels it necessary to trample on free speech.

Unable to enforce compliance; the government is trying to enforce silence.

In 1981, when threatened with prosecution. I left Arkansas and went “underground.” I did not want to be imprisoned or to be a martyr.

For two years I lived as a fugitive. But I came home. Every human being has the freedom, by right, to be with loved ones. I could no longer do without this freedom even if it caused me to risk arrest.

It might have been legally easier for me if I had turned myself in, but the day never came that would have been better spent in government halls with federal agents than at home with my wife and our infant daughter. I simply wanted to live as a free man at least until the time that freedom was forcibly taken from me. On Dec. 6, 1984, that day came.

Why would I risk five years in prison to fight against what the Selective Service would have us believe is “just registration”? Simply put, it isn’t just registration; it’s registration for the draft. Registration is the essential first step toward sending draft notices. Moreover, it is an important political test to determine if the public will stand for a draft.

I see no reason to wait for Selective Service to begin forcing your men into the Army before taking action. All of us have a duty to stand up for what we believe is right and against what is wrong. The draft is wrong and I will not be any part of it.

The Soviet Union has a military draft. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Libya do. Chile is drafting both men and women. South Africa has a draft, as do Nicaragua and the Philippines. Iran makes use of the draft.

These are the kinds of governments that draft their citizens. I want America to be different.

Paul Jacob, May 17, 1985

This op-ed first appeared in The Orange County Register