The White House may have been unhappy with the apparent lack of enthusiasm over the new draft registration that began this week. But Northern Virginia opponents of the first peacetime registration since Vietnam were delighted.
"I guess you could say the draft isn't selling," said opponent Ralph Lugbill of Fairfax.
At most post offices in Northern Virginia Monday, the official opening day for registration, a few registrants straggled in, but, for the most part, they were conspicuous by their absence.
At Merifield Post Office, in central Fairfax, protesters outnumbered registrants 20 to 1. But, unlike the Vietnam era, no one chained themselves to a door, nor was there any violence.
Instead, the protesters, part of a loosely organized group call the Northern Virginia Coalition Against the Draft -- made up of eight different organizations with an unknown number of members -- stationed themselves outside the post office, passing out leaflets and quietly urging potential registrants to examine their consciences and consider registering under protest.
Merrifield, one of the state's largest post offices which Northern Virginia officials had expected to be the largest registration site, was the unofficial center for anti-registration activities in Northern Virginia.
As far as opponents were concerned, the scene at Merrifield couldn't have made them happier.
Stamps were sold, letters were mailed and packages were weighed, but the stack of white draft registration forms remained virtually untouched.
By noon Monday, according to one count, only five prospective registrants had arrived at the post office.
Draft protesters approached almost every male who appeared to be within 10 years of draft age to talk about the registration and the meaning of war. One after another, the men shook their heads, indicating they were not there to register, and dodged into the post office where they conducted routine postal business.
However, two young men who were there to register took the anti-draft literature and returned to their cars.
"It's something to think about," said one young man, who refused to be indentified. "There's just something sneaky about the way this whole thing's been handled."
Some members of the anti-draft coalition said the weekend's developments -- a Philadelphia court's ruling that a men-only draft was unconnstitutional and Justice William Brennan's have caused some confusion.
"This is what we expected," said coalition leader Ruth Fitzpatrick as she surveyed the blazing hot pavement in front of the post office -- empty except for anti-draft people armed with leaflets and Kool Aid. "A lot of kids just don't know what they're supposed to do. The headlines Saturday said 'No Draft,' then on Sunday the Supreme Court ruling reversing that was not as prominent."
Northern Virginia's anti-draft movement, born like many others during the war in Vietnam, is rapidly reemerging. It is drawn together by the threat of an actual draft and a common distrust of nuclear power.
The members are a vintage 1960s blend of peace groups -- one protester even managed a weak rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind" -- solar power proponents and religious people opposed to war and an arms build-up.
One thing all of the members seem to have in common is a strong dose of cynicism about President Carter's contention that registration is not necessarily a prelude to reimpositon of the draft.
Many of the anti-draft organizers say an actual draft is just around the corner. Their major fear, they say, is that American leaders are gearing up for another war. Some even suspect that American leaders see a wartime economy as the answer to the current recession.
"There has never been a registration without a draft," said Fitzpatrick. "And there has never been a draft without a war: The next war will either be a nuclear war or an intervention in a country like El Salvador, Iran or Afghanistan."
Alexandria attorney Bradley Stetler, an outspoken opponent of the draft, shares Fitzpatrick's concerns.
"You don't have a registration and go to all that expense if you're not going to have a draft," Stetler says flatly.
Stetler, a member of the National Lawyer's Gild, which has taken a stand against peacetime registration, says the draft makes "slaves" of young people. Stetler predicts a myriad of legal problems with the draft's peacetime implementation and says he expects to work on draft resistance cases in the future.
Another member of Alexandria's anti-draft movement is Methodist minister Steve Hundley of Downtown Ministries, who has been engaged in draft counseling since the registration move began when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan last winter. Hundley says he hopes to organize other pastors who either oppose registration themselves or who want to help members of their parish who oppose it. Hundley says he believes the silent majority in America are now the "doves.
"I feel we as a public have been manipulated to believe we need our military built up," Hundley says. "There's been so much talk about building up that people are beginning to believe it."
Among those who showed up earlier this week to register at the McLean Post Office, few believed the draft necessary.
"I don't think the draft is necessarily the best way to get recruits," said 20-year-old Clint Briggs of McLean. "If we went to war I'd enlist . . . I guess you could say I think it's my civic duty."
Other men who complied with the law voiced their concerns about a possible draft.
"I don't like the idea of a draft because it might make it hard to get a job," said Rick Woods, 20, a business major at Northern Virginia Community College. "Employers might shy away from you if they think you might get drafted -- that's what happened during Vietnam."
Others, like 20-year old Stuart Knapp of McLean, said they hoped the registration was just an attmept by the government to "get its book straight -- to see what's really out there."
If the draft is reenacted, Knapp says he will not automatically cooperate.
"I'd have to think thing over if it got to that point," said Knapp. "I don't want to go to war or anything."
But they probably all would have agreed with Clint Briggs as he stalked out of the post office.
"Well, we're all draft material now," he said to no one in particular.