Tuesday, June 29, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The End May Be Near For Selective Service -- Future Of Draft Registration Hangs On Senate Vote


WASHINGTON - Ten college students crammed into a dormitory room, opened their beers, turned on the television and waited tensely to learn whether their lives would be interrupted by military service and, perhaps, death.

That was the scene more than two decades ago in a room at the University of South Carolina and at countless campuses across the country the day the first draft lottery numbers were drawn.

At the time it was hard to imagine a world without the Selective Service System, and draft registration, and the little cards that young men had to carry at all times to indicate they were available to serve their country.

But the House, in a frenzy of frugality, voted 207-202 yesterday to get rid of the Selective Service System for a savings of $20 million. That leaves to the Senate the last word on ending or extending an era.

Most Washington state lawmakers voted against the bill. A "yes" vote denotes a vote to keep alive the selective service system. Democrats Maria Cantwell, Mountlake Terrace; Norm Dicks, Bremerton; Jay Inslee, Selah; Mike Kreidler, Olympia; Jim McDermott, Seattle; and Al Swift, Bellingham, voted no. Republican Jennifer Dunn, Bellevue, voted yes. Jolene Unsoeld, D-Olympia, and House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Spokane, did not vote. By tradition, the speaker seldom votes.

There has been no draft since 1973, and in 1975 registration requirements ended. But registration was reinstated in 1980 and the system now has computerized data on some 14 million men aged 18 to 25.

The Selective Service System was born in controversy during World War II, traumatized teenage music lovers by drafting Elvis in the 1950s and went on to become the target of antiwar outrage in the 1960s and 1970s.

Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali sought and ultimately won a religious exemption during the Vietnam era, but it took him five years and a Supreme Court ruling to get it. Campuses were ablaze with burning draft cards. Draft offices themselves were torched.

Sometimes the system was more selective than others: Student deferments and doctors' notes ensured that well into the Vietnam War, white middle-class boys had a way out; working-class whites and blacks usually did not.

Then came the lottery. No more deferments. No place to hide. And no need to hide if you were lucky.

The first numbers were chosen in 1970. That's when Bill Carrick, now 42 and a Democratic political consultant in Los Angeles, huddled in that crowded room in Columbia, S.C. They waited for their birth dates to be pulled out of the hat, and if theirs was picked above the 110th round, Carrick recalls, they probably wouldn't be drafted.

"There was an enormous amount of tension and anxiety," Carrick remembers. "The people who got low numbers looked like they'd just been hit with a two-by-four."

His own was 279.

It was a confusing system. His mother thought he was supposed to get a new number annually; when his birthday came up No. 1 the following year, "she almost had to be hospitalized," Carrick said. He explained, quickly, that he was No. 279 for life.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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