As I write this paper, I’m a week away from my 33rd birthday. When I was eligible for the draft, the country was at war, but the United States relied on volunteers. The experience for young men in the mid-1960s and early 1970s was much different than mine. They were called to serve and were arrested if they refused. I was able to watch the war from a distance. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t pull me or most of my friends into the military. Will this remain true for future conflicts? If it does, if the draft is truly dead, then resistance to the draft during the Vietnam War era helped kill it.
As the war in Vietnam came to an end, it became easier to avoid and resist the military draft. Soldiers did not want to go to Southeast Asia, and the country did not want to send them. Protests alone didn’t end the war. Losses on the battlefield, unsustainable military spending, and unrest at home forced the United States to pull out of Southeast Asia. In the U.S., the courts, judges, and parole boards refused to send draft resisters and dodgers to jail. They, like their fellow Americans, were fed up with the war. They were tired of putting kids in prison. They didn’t want to continue the cycle of arrests, indictments, and jail sentences. Like American military leaders and politicians, they wanted to move past the conflict in Vietnam.
From 1964-1973, men were drafted, trained, and sent to Southeast Asia to fight and die. At home, families became disgusted with the draft. Many mothers and fathers lost sons who if not for war, never would have served in the military. Americans didn’t want to see more young men die, so gathered in the streets to end the draft and the war. By 1975, both goals were accomplished. Resistance to the draft wasn’t the main reason the United States pulled out of Vietnam, but it did contribute. Conviction rates of draft offenders fell in the 1970s and reflected Americans’ growing distaste for the war. Anger against the draft, despair over the loss of 58,000 Americans, and the chaotic military and political conditions in Vietnam spelled the end to the conflict in Southeast Asia. The war was dead. Distaste for the draft and the protests against the war helped bring American troops home.