"Crimes" and Punishments

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79-0585722-8.
This is my selective service number. I think of it when I read of
Artyom Fyodorov.

Artyom
was conscripted – kidnapped, to use his mother's appropriate
word – into the Russian army on his way to work.
Artyom
is 23 and was a journalist studying law prior to his conscription-kidnapping.

When
I turned 18 I received notice it was time to register for Selective
Service. A soon to be college student of a somewhat nationalist
bent, I duly complied and didn't think too much of the penalties
for non-registrants. (They seemed too draconian to be true, like
something out of Solzhenitsyn or Kafka.)

I
soon received my Registration Acknowledgement Card. The outside
label reads, "Here's your official Registration Acknowledgement
Card." Below it is the number 18, the "1" a pencil
with a candlelight above it – an obscene commemorative linkage in
retrospect.

It's
a new millennium, and the Selective Service System remains. Also
in effect are the penalties: "If you do not register, you could
be prosecuted and fined up to $250,000 and/or be put in jail for
up to five years. Registration
is also a requirement to qualify for Federal student aid, job training
benefits, and most Federal employment."

It
appears so innocuous; after all, unlike Russia, the United States
government isn't seizing the young off streets to maintain hegemony
in Chechnya. "Just sign it and get it done with," says
the zeitgeist.

This
isn't how a free society operates. America's sons aren't supposed
to be threatened with a quarter of a million dollar fine and half-decade
prison sentence for military abstention. Maybe a young man's father
or uncle or brother or friend died in one of America's several interventions
and resents the military. Maybe a young man just doesn't want to
expedite his conscription in the event of a draft.

It's
unlikely that a non-compliant individual would be imprisoned and
fined to the fullest extent of the law, but that's not the point.
The federal government says it could put an individual in
jail until his early twenties and render him an abject debtor. A
government that presumes such power has transcended legitimate purview;
and it is the presumption, not the potential for application, that
is paramount.

Selective
Service is not without congressional opposition. Representatives
Ron Paul and Pete Sparks have respectively introduced the Selective
Service Standby Act and Military Selective Service Repeal Act. Unfortunately,
their peers aren't hastening either's enactment.

After
reading of Artyom's kidnapping I removed my registration card from
my wallet. It's not an act of civil disobedience. Registrants aren't
required to carry their cards.

No,
I'm not going to burn my card in some vapid countercultural protest.
I'll leave it on my desk, a reminder of the former Republic.

January
31, 2001

Myles
Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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