Draft Dodging during Vietnam

I was talking to a guy the other day who told me that during 'Nam he was a medic at one of the centers where they gave physicals to the draftees to see if they were fit to serve. He told me that it was common practice in the one he worked at to ask the draftee if he wanted to go or not. If the draftee said, “No” the guy would write that the draftee failed the physical exam and was thus unable to serve. Anybody know if this was a common practice? I can’t imagine that it would be, but still, knowing how the country was divided on the war, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if it happened elsewhere.

You might to take a look at a famous article about the draft during the Vietnam War: “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?” by James Fallows, which originally appeared in The Washington Monthly in October, 1975, although it’s been reprinted in various books. He says that the doctors doing the physicals tended to be quite strict, but there were some things that richer, more knowlegeable kids could do to make themselves undraftable. Fallows, who was very thin back in his late teens and early twenties (heck, he’s still thin in his early fifties), starved himself down right before the physical so that he was just below the minimum weight for his height. He had to make sure the doctor who measured him put down the weight given by the scale (since the doctor was about to adjust it upward to just above the minimum weight). Because of that, Fallows wasn’t drafted. The poorer, less knowledgeable kids didn’t tend to know about these tricks.

As I recall it was incredibly easy to get out of the draft during Vietnam. This was one of the most cogent arguments agains it.

The poor people and minorities didn’t know about this and were drafted.

Having a brother that was killed in Vietnam my experience shows all the black people I knew were in the draft. All the white people were in college on deferments.

Another good book on this subject is “Chance and Circumstance - The Draft, the War, and the Vietnam Generation”, by Baskir & Strauss. It detailed how many people got out of the draft, and how the procedure was extremely unfair to minorities.

The one that got me was to drink a pint or so of your own blood shortly before your physical. This would cause you to vomit the blood, allowing you to claim you had an ulcer and get a deferment.

A lot of rich individuals bribed their doctors to write letters confirming that they were insane or had some other medical condition, thus avoiding the draft.

President Johnson didn’t want to alienate the middle class voters, so he allowed College Deferments to allow kids who mainained a certain grade point average to stay in school and avoid military service. (Some of these people are now in charge of our universities today!) One of the strongest arguments in favor of an equitable and fair conscript military is the political fallout that is inevitable with misguided deployments and “police actions”; under an all volunteer force, nobody outside family members particularly cares one way or the other whether we’re at war or not, apparently. “Well, they volunteered, didn’t they?” seems to be the order of the day.

“Join the Army or Go to Jail” was another effective recruitment technique, which in retrospect probably didn’t fill the ranks with high quality folks.

The “McNamara 500,000” project was a bid to relax entrance requirements even further, essentially enlisting semi-retarded individuals in some cases. Thankfully, these people have long since been thrown out or retired , although I could swear I had a couple of these jokers in charge a time or two.

The actual induction centers (Now called Military Entrance Processing Centers) varied somewhat in their overall ‘strictness’; and apparently when one was drafted, it was not specifically necessary to report to the nearest center, so it was not uncommon for people to travel far and wide in hopes of being rejected for military service.

It stands in stark contrast to the World War II time period, when anyone not in uniform was seriously ostracised.

Along with student deferments, a legitimate, though questionable, draft dodge was to join the National Guard. President Johnson decided early not to do a general mobilization of the NG as was done for WWII and Korea. As soon as this became known the NG filled to establishment strength and it took some pretty sophisticated string pulling to get in.

During the war when the NG came to regular army posts for their annual two weeks of playing soldier, they were not joyfully welcomed as brothers in arms. The debacle at Kent State University did not help the Guard’s reputation and standing among active duty soldiers. It is noted that both Vice President Quail and President G. W. Bush were in the NG during Vietnam.

Yep, another one of Johnson’s schemes not to arouse the passions of the ‘silent majority’ by calling up the Guard.

In 1969, I believe, they instituted a “Lottery” system which was supposedly a more fair way of calling up citizens for military service.

One interesting tidbit that I heard about the whole process at the induction centers was the actual act of induction involved everyone taking one step forward, and then the oath of enlistment. If anyone refused to take the oath, then they were technically disobeying a lawful order, since they were now officially members of the armed forces at the point of taking the step. So, the “draft resister” types of course refused even that step forward. Don’t know how true that was, though.

A friend’s dad was called up, and he jogged the five miles to the induction center. The doctor saw him, saw he looked like hell, heard the speed his heart was beating, and didn’t approve him.

I find this difficult to swallow (pun intended). Where are you going to get a pint of your own blood? By donating to the Red Cross, swiping the bag and walking out? Who the hell is going to drink a pint of their own blood?

This had nothing to do with Johnson. College deferments were in place years before the Vietnam War heated up. In addition, once someone left college, they still had a target on their forehead. What generally happened at that point (and this was true in the 50s as well as the 60s) is that if your local board had already filled their quota from among the 19-year-olds, then a graduating college senior was frequently ignored.

There were two ways to avoid the induction at graduation:

  • One was to continue on for a Masters or Doctorate, hoping that there were enough 21-year-olds in your district to buffer you or that you could stay in school until you were 25, at which point the draft board generally ignored you regardless (since Vietnam never required as many bodies per year as WWII);
  • The other was to go into a deferred job. This included such disparate jobs as farmers and FDA inspectors. Again, these options preceded the large build-up. They were already in place before “Vietnam.” The war (and the mounting death tolls) simply accentuated the disparity between the options open to the poor and the rest of society.

Similarly, while “some” professional students are now in charge of universities, it is also true that “some” draftees and “some” volunteers and “some” guys who took refuge in the National Guard are also in charge of universities, today.
The lottery was intended to create (the illusion of) a more level playing field. If your number came up you were gone; with a high enough number you were safe. However, they never eliminated the deferment system, so the lottery simply saved a few poor kids while hardly affecting the middle class college kids, at all. A college kid with a low number might have chosen to stay for a master’s degree instead of getting a job with a bachelor’s degree, but if the local draft board was filling their quota, he wouldn’t necessarily even do that.

They did change the college deferment during the Vietnam conflict. From the Selective Service:

The pressure for more troops was real, and drafting college age men would have been ideal, logistically speaking, as the manpower requirement for the war escalated dramatically after '66 and it’s well known Johnson wasn’t about to piss off such an important bloc as the middle class.

Interestingly though the majority of Americans were still in favor of US ‘involvement’ in Vietnam until after Tet, despite rapidly growing protests and riots on campuses.

I just meant that the demographic bubble of anti-war “protesters” and other assorted leftists and anarchists are grossly overrepresented in academia today as a result of their increased thirst for knowledge during the draft years of the Vietnam era… sorry for any misunderstanding.

People who don’t want to get shot and killed, or are unwilling to do the same to others. Read the book. There were many outrageous schemes people employed to get out of having to go to Vietnam. Can’t say I blame 'em.

Wasn’t an easy way to avoid the draft simply to say you were homosexual? Or did the military want proof (eek!)?

Whatever Johnson might or might not have wanted, Johnson never made any substantial changes to the draft laws. The lottery and the later changes (as noted in the correction to my comment) were instituted under Nixon.

As to leftists being “grossly overrepresented” in academia, it fails on two points: leftists have always been highly visible at the university level, and they are not really more prevalent now than in previous generations. It is very popular to complain about the leftists, today, just as it was popular to complain about the leftists in the early 1950s and the mid- to late 1930s. (You can actually find the same sort of comments written about the Sorbonne and Oxford in the 1700s.) There are also some basic attitudes that began in the 1960s that have taken a firmer hold (the whole PC schtick). However, the actual presence of “leftists” or “anarchists” has remained rather steady throughout history.

It’t true that it was much easier for middle class kids to escpape the draft than poorer kids but it was not quite so easy to escpape the draft as some posters have made out. If you didn’t claim CO status, weren’t a student, didn’t have a brother killed in the war, etc. Uncle Sam would really try to get you. The docs at the induction centers weren’t hired for their indifference to the armed forces’ need for bodies and I doubt that many of them were either sympathetic to draft dodgers or complete fools. As for the various medical ruses (e.g., drinking blood, putting sugar in your urine sample), there were to complications: (1) the draft board could often keep people who failed their physical overnight and then test them again the next day, and they could call them back month after month to be examined, and (2) having a history of an ulcer or diabetes or whatever (even though bogus) could, at least potentially, complicate getting desirable jobs or buying insurance in later life.

I think it should at least be noted here that not everyone wanted out of serving in the military or going to Vietnam in those days.

AFAIK, the ban on gays didn’t begin until Ronald Reagan’s first administration in the early 80s. Before that, they really didn’t care that much.


While it may well be true that the armed forces didn’t much care whether a draftee was a homosexual or not during Vietnam, once they got in they were frequently court martialed for sodomy or discharged under the administrative regulations for unsuitability or unfitness. In other words, the service took them but threw them out with a mark on their record. As long as a young soldier was discreet there would be no punitive action, if not, all hell broke lose. At one post where I was stationed there was a constant run of sodomy prosecutions from the stockade, where there was little privacy and even less discretion, and lesbian scandals in the WAC barracks at eighteen-month intervals