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First Peacetime Draft Enacted Just Before World War II

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In 1940, Americans closely followed the news of Germany's armed forces overrunning most of Europe, while Japan was using its military aggressively in East Asia. Public opinion in the United States was changing sharply from isolationism to the possibility of military action against the Axis powers of Italy, Japan and Germany.

World War II draft card.
WWII Draft Card
Huddie Ledbetter’s World War II draft card is shown here. The American folk and blues singer, musician and songwriter, was better known as “Lead Belly.”
Photo By: War Department
VIRIN: 430407-O-ZZ999-001

On Sept. 16, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Selective Training and Service Act, which was another name for the draft. It required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft.

While there were wartime drafts during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War I, this draft was different. It was the nation’s first peacetime draft.

Seated man signs document.
Official Signing
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Selective Training and Service Act into law, Sept. 16, 1940.
Photo By: War Department
VIRIN: 400916-O-ZZ999-001

Following Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, Congress amended the act to require all able-bodied men ages 18 to 64 to register with their local draft board for military service for the duration of World War II plus six months after. In practice, however, only men 18 to 45 were drafted.

During the course of the war, more than 10 million men were inducted into the Army, Navy and Marines through the draft. However, most men who served, as well as a lot of women, volunteered for the military.

Many men who were too old or disabled often served on the home front, doing vital work on farms and in factories. Women also filled in at factories for men who were sent overseas to fight.

Poster of Marine and weapon.
Recruiting Poster
A sense of adventure is used in a World War II recruiting poster encouraging men to enlist rather than be drafted.
Photo By: War Department
VIRIN: 420101-O-ZZ999-102
Poster with Uncle Sam pointing finger.
I Want You
A World War II recruiting poster, attempting to appeal to patriotism, encourages men to enlist rather than be drafted.
Photo By: the War Department
VIRIN: 420101-O-ZZ999-101D

The draft remained in place until 1973. That period included the time when millions of men were drafted during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Among the notables drafted after World War II were singer/actor Elvis Presley and baseball star Willie Mays.

On July 1, 1973, the draft officially ended and the all-volunteer force was established and continues to today. Now, only men and women who volunteered are serving in the nation's armed forces. There's been a consensus among Defense Department leaders that the all-volunteer force is working and is attracting America’s talented, physically fit and motivated youth.

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