History describes the draft in World War Two as an arbitrary, straight-forward, yet fair method of selecting young me to serve in the armed forces. We all understand men between the ages of 21 and 45 registered for the draft. Local draft boards would determine the fitness of each man and his ability to serve. A man could be excused from service for several reasons: family and dependents or possibly essential occupations. Yet rarely is the arbitrary nature of the draft explained.
Each man receives a number. The numbers are drawn from a lottery in Washington, D.C. But, how are these numbers assigned? And, how does Washington determine the quota for each state?
Shortly after the creation of the draft process in 1940, the Sherburne County Star News explained the process to readers. According to the newspaper, local draft board registered and examined between 6,000 and 6,500 men. Based on the population of Sherburne county in 1940, in all likelihood, one draft board examined the entire county. After all men were registered, the local board shuffled the cards and assigned numbers to each card. When young men speak of their draft number, this is the number they reference.
During the process, the board placed each potential soldier into four categories:
1- available for immediate service.
2- Deferred as a result of an essential occupation
3- Deferred because of family and dependents
4- Deferred by law, such as legislators, judges and others.
Drafted men received an examination to determine their physical ability to serve. If the quota, assigned to the state and the local draft board, could not be met by men available for immediate service, the board then drafted from the deferment categories.
Washington D.C. assigned a quota to each state. The number took into consideration the population and the number of men already serving in the army or navy.
The World War Two draft started October 1940. The requirements quietly expanded so the men ages 18 to 45 eventually registered for the draft. The arbitrary assignment of numbers provided a sense of fairness to the draft, something that had plagued earlier call-ups from wars dating back to the Civil War.
The World War Two draft, the first peace time draft enacted in the United States, provided an equitable method to build an army. By the end of the war, the United states armed forces totaled 16 million. Almost 11 percent of the total population served. The draft, with the limited deferments, provided an equitable method to call men into war.