On September 16th of 1940, Congress passed the Burke Wadsworth Act, by which the United States government imposed the first peace time draft on American men, in anticipation of its entrance into World War Two. Young men between the ages of 21 and 36 were required to sign up for the draft at a draft board office, under the provisions of the Selective Training and Service Act.
Fifty percent of the 20 million young men who registered for the draft were rejected in the first year, either for health problems or for illiteracy. One out of five men who initially tried to register at the draft was illiterate.
Exactly one month after the Selective Training and Service Act was passed, the government began registering American men between the ages of 21 and 35. Then Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson started drawing draft numbers out of a large bowl. The draft was conducted by way of a lottery system. Men who were chosen must serve for 12 months.
However, by early summer of 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt had asked Congress to extend the American soldiers' tour of duty. On the 12th of August, the extended tour of duty was approved by a single vote. The soldiers revolted on hearing the news, and insisted that they would desert at the end of the initially agreed upon 12-month term. Many of them painted the letters O H I O on the walls in protest. The letters were an acronym for Over the Hill In October. It meant they were going home when they had said they were going home, and not a moment later. At the end of the 12-month tour of duty, some soldiers deserted, but the habit was not widespread.
On December 7th of 1941 was the attack on Pearl Harbor. By November of 1942, the United States was actively participating in the war. At that point, the government developed a new selective service, with the age requirement for the draft then increased to 45. African American men were ineligible for the draft because of racism. But even this changed in 1943, when a “quota” was imposed on black soldiers to reflect their percentage in the American population. African Americans were restricted to labor units at first, but this too ended as the war intensified. Finally, African Americans were found useful in combat.
Conscientious Objector (CO) status could be given to people who could prove sincerity of belief in religious teachings and a moral aversion to war. CO status was awarded mostly to people of the Quaker faith. Still, three out of four Quakers who were drafted fought. Also, Conscientious Objectors had to do some kind of alternate work in civilian public service camps, with long hours and for no pay. Those who refused to serve their country at all (about 5,000 to 6,000 men) were jailed if they were caught.
By the war's end, roughly 34 million men had registered, and approximately 10 million men had served.