11 ways people dodged the Vietnam draft
If you’re looking for tips on how to shirk military service, you’re about forty-some years too late. And if you’re looking to dodge a draft, you are also probably not our target audience.
For those unfamiliar with their civic duty, U.S. law says all male citizens of the United States and male immigrants (and bizarrely, illegal immigrants, too) have to register for the Selective Service System (SSS — aka “The Draft”) within 30 days of their 18th birthday. You are not joining the military but registering with the government to be available in a time where a draft would be necessary.
The U.S. first started drafting civilians during the Civil War. Back then, rich men had many other options open to them avoiding Civil War service. To dodge the Civil War draft, people could pay a less wealthy person to take their place in the draft, pay a crooked doctor to give them a bad health exam, or outright bribe draft officials.
The modern Selective Service system was established to raise an army to fight in Europe during World War I. It was used again from 1940-47 to raise troops to fight World War II, and then again to meet the needs for the Korean War. Between the end of WWII and the Korean War, men could just be drafted to serve, regardless of the demands of a national emergency.
After Vietnam, President Gerald Ford abolished the draft entirely in 1975 but President Carter established the draft system in place today as a response to the potential threat posed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
President Nixon established a draft lottery in 1969 but stopped drafting military-age males in 1973 when the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force, but not before an estimated half million people avoided conscription.
There were two kinds of methods to avoid being drafted when you number was called: illegal and legal. There were a few laws in place relevant to Selective Service meant to keep necessary men in their homes and with their families. Purposely pursuing a legal waiver or deferment for any reason is draft avoidance. Those who could not meet the criteria for legal would mitigate their responsibilities by illegal means, this is called draft evasion or more popularly known as “draft dodging.”
Those who received deferments (especially politicians and other people who like to closely associate themselves with the military) will fervently argue there is a distinct difference. Here are 11 ways people beat the draft in the 1970s.
1. Be a Conscientious Objector
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonites, the Amish, and Quakers are all considered Peace Churches who are opposed to any kind of military service. They were allowed to serve in other ways, however, but in a civilian capacity. Dishonest conscientious objection would be illegal. You can still be awesome as a CO, by the way. Clergymen and missionaries were also exempt from the draft, which is how Mitt Romney deferred while spending two years in France as a Mormon missionary.
2. Make up a health condition
The military is surprisingly strict about the medical conditions of those it enlists, even if they really need the manpower. Gastritis, ulcers, hepatitis and anemia are all common, treatable conditions the military will flat-out reject you for having. Diabetics are out, too.
If you don’t have one of these or you’re in perfect health, just make up a health problem! During the Vietnam draft, people would stay awake for days ahead of their medical screening, do a lot of illegal drugs, or otherwise make themselves appear generally unhealthy to avoid being draft. Ask Ted Nugent about doing meth and crapping his pants to avoid the draft.
3. Have children who need you
Men with children and families who depend on those men for their livelihood are in a lower draft priority than single men or childless husbands.
4. Be a homosexual
And if you’re not a homosexual, pretend to be! In the 1960s and 1970s, it was perfectly fine to both ask and tell. If men out to dodge the draft were afraid they wouldn’t be asked, they would wear women’s underwear to the medical exams.
5. Run away to Canada
Upwards of 40,000 draft dodgers fled to Canada between 1965 and 1975. Many stayed in Canada after the war’s end, and some even stayed after President Carter pardoned them all on his first day in office. Those who stayed became Canadian citizens.
6. Go to college
Student deferments were very common ways of beating the draft, though many students were really in school to be in school and not simply to avoid Vietnam. Notable examples of those receiving student deferments include Bill Clinton (1 deferment), Joe Biden (5 deferments), and Dick Cheney (5 deferments).
While a college deferment was very common, it is still a major point of contention for politicians seeking office today.
7. Have a high lottery number
366 plastic capsules, each with one date of the year, were dumped in a large glass container, then drawn, opened, and assigned sequentially rising numbers. The first capsule was September 14. So all men born on that date, from 1944 through 1950, received the first priority for call to duty.
The remaining capsules were drawn and assigned a number. A second lottery was also conducted for the 26 letters of the alphabet, to determine the order of priority (by last name) for each date. The highest draft number drawn was 195.
8. Hold an “essential” civilian job
These are also known as “reserved occupations” and are so necessary to a country’s war effort, drafting them is illegal. The jobs cannot be done by others and cannot be completely abandoned, but those men were required to continue working that job.
9. Get married
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson changed the draft law to allow married males to be drafted, if they didn’t have children. Before August 26, 1965, however, getting hitched was a Get Out of Vietnam Free card. Johnson quietly changed the rules to keep up with the demands of the war. Hundreds of couples on the West Coast ended up in shotgun marriages to avoid serving.
10. Forge military ID or reserve papers
Some men in Northern states formed groups which made fraudulent National Guard or Reserve papers, identifying men who bore them as having already enlisted. For upwards of $5000, men could acquire these papers and take them to the local draft board to be relieved of their obligation.
11. Enlist anytime
Even during Vietnam, men received credit for serving. If you completed a military service obligation, you couldn’t be forced to re-enter the military. If you called up to be drafted, you could avoid it by enlisting and choosing your service.
If you couldn’t remember any of these tips, you could just learn the words to Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag”
Failing to register for the draft could mean ineligibility to hold a government job, the inability to apply for student loans through the Department of Education, and a condition of citizenship for immigrants who arrived before their 26th birthday. It is also punishable by a 250,000 fine and up to five years imprisonment, among other consequences.
So it’s a good idea to register. The U.S. is unlikely to have a war which requires national conscription anytime soon and there hasn’t been a real draft since the last days of the Vietnam War.