This film is part of Free

America Prepares

Anxious young men scan the news for the draft lottery results to see if their number has come up in a film which documents a historic event: the first peacetime draft in US history.

1941 19 mins


From the iconic Uncle Sam ‘I Want You’ poster, to shots of Sherman tanks manoeuvring in graceful formation, this March of Time issue shows the ambition and scope of America’s 16 billion dollar programme for National Defence in 1940. The film features some nicely understated dramatisations which balance the more bombastic moments: a taxi driver who has just been drafted ruefully reflects, ‘I guess I can make more money driving a tank’.

The draft was initiated in Congress by the 1940 Burke-Wadsworth Act (also known as the Selective Training and Service Act), which made it compulsory for young men aged 21-35 to register for military service. The lottery system shown in the film was a way of determining the order in which the men were drafted: the trays marked Class 1 to 4 show how the recruits were categorised: from immediate acceptance to rejection. The state of the US army in 1940 can be gauged by the fact that in this film the recruits are seen training in ‘doughboy’ helmets from the First World War. These were similar to the headgear worn by British soldiers in both world wars and very different from the iconic M1 helmet which was adopted by the US army in 1941.