There was some opposition to the draft even before the major U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The large cohort of Baby Boomers who became eligible for military service during the Vietnam War also meant a steep increase in the number of exemptions and deferments, especially for college and graduate students. VA statistics show that U.S. troops in Vietnam represented a much broader cross section of America than is commonly believed and only 25% of troops deployed to the combat zone were draftees (compared to 66% during World War II). A total of 8.615 Million men served during the Vietnam era and of them 2.15 Million actually served in the Combat Zone so less than 540,000 draftees went to Vietnam. Three-fourths of those deployed were from working families and poor youths were twice as likely to serve there than their more affluent cohorts although the vast majority of them were volunteers. Some draft eligible men publicly burned their draft cards which was illegal but the Justice Department only brought charges against 50 of which 40 were convicted.
As U.S. troop strength in Vietnam increased, more young men sought to avoid the draft. Enlisting in the Coast Guard, though it had more stringent standards for enlistment, was one alternative. Only 15,000 National Guardsmen were activated and sent to Vietnam. Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, because divinity students were exempt from the draft. Doctors and draft board members found themselves being pressured by relatives or family friends to exempt potential draftees.
Other means included finding, exaggerating, or causing physical and psychological reasons for deferment, whether in the temporary "1-Y" classification, or the permanent "4-F" deferment. Physical reasons such as high blood pressure could get a man exempted. Antiwar psychiatrists could often find dormant mental conditions to be serious enough to warrant exemptions. Draft counselors, and the Selective Service System itself, emphasized that there was no such thing as an "exemption" from the draft, only a "deferment". Even the coveted status of 4-F (which by the late 1960s had lost its shameful connotation) was technically a deferment, implying that even 4-Fs might have to serve if America were invaded, as a home guard.
"Draft Dodger Rag", a 1965 anti-war song by Phil Ochs, circumvented laws against counseling evasion by employing satire to provide a how-to list of available deferments: ruptured spleen, homosexuality, poor eyesight, flat feet, asthma, caregiver for invalid relative, college enrollment, war industry worker, spinal injuries, epilepsy, flower and bug allergies, multiple drug addictions, and lack of physical fitness. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie lampooned the paradox of seeking a deferment by acting crazy in his song "Alice's Restaurant": "I said, 'I wanna kill! Kill! Eat dead burnt bodies!', and the Sergeant said, 'you're our boy'". "1001 Ways to Beat the Draft" was a text on draft evasion by the late musician Tuli Kupferberg, a member of The Fugs. Methods he espoused included arriving at the draft board in diapers or feigning homosexuality. Another text popular with men subject to the draft was a 1950s cartoon novella by Jules Feiffer, Munro, in which a four-year-old boy is drafted by mistake. Some men, taking an idea from the book, said they might ask the sergeant at the draft examination to "button me, Mister".
The better educated and economically advantaged were in a better position to obtain deferments through loopholes or technicalities. They had greater access to expert advice, counseling, psychiatric professionals and attorneys.
Many lawyers worked during the Vietnam war "pro bono" as draft counselors for the American Friends Service Committee and other antiwar groups to counsel men on their options. They were aware that laws, on the books since World War I, forbade Americans to counsel draft evasion. Therefore the AFSC was careful to present the potential inductee with his choices in neutral and factual terms.
During the Vietnam War, an active movement of draft resistance also occurred, spearheaded by the Resistance organization, headed by David Harris. The insignia of the organization was the Greek letter omega, Ω, the symbol for ohms—the unit of electrical resistance. Members of the Resistance movement publicly burned their draft cards or refused to register for the draft. Other members deposited their cards into boxes on selected dates and then mailed them to the government. They were then drafted, refused to be inducted, and fought their cases in the federal courts. These draft resisters hoped that their public civil disobedience would help to bring the war and the draft to an end. Many young men went to federal prison as part of this movement.
In 1969, in response to criticism of the draft's inequities, the U.S. government adopted a lottery system to determine who was called to serve. At the same time it implemented new standards that greatly restricted the availability of deferments. They were ended for graduate students and limited for undergraduates.
Conscription ended in 1973. The end came after a series of lawsuits challenged the draft upon its re-enactment and renewed conscription in 1972 without regard to the 90-day waiting period required in the original Korean War era draft law (section 20 of the Act) that remained in the 1972 Act (which U.S. Attorneys defending conscription argued was as a result of a legislative drafting error). A series of challenges to the draft under section 20 in 1971 and 1972 lead by Justice William O. Douglas to issue an injunction against induction that covered the states in the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It became so difficult for the Selective Service System to unwind the mess the Section 20 cases caused (and to draft men according to the priorities required by law—the "order of call" named after the "order of call" defense), that the draft was quietly ended—just in time for the wind down of the Vietnam War.
Among the prominent political figures whose opponents have accused them of improperly avoiding the Vietnam-era draft were Dick Cheney, and Bill Clinton.
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