Stories of Draft Resistance
V. Stories of Draft Resistance
Early in the war, when people were sent to jail in higher numbers, a stepfather was charged with violating the Selective Service Act after he tried to convince his stepson not to register for the draft. He was convicted of “advocating” nonregistration.
In Cleveland and New York City, 38 fathers and their sons were arrested and accused of paying as much as $5000 to obtain illegal draft deferments. A New York draft board official was arrested after he was caught trying to sell deferments for $30,000 each.
- Muhammad Ali
One of the most famous draft resisters was Muhammad Ali. He dodged because he refused to fight in a “white man’s war.” In 1964, he was granted a 1Y (below physical or mental standards) deferment. Muhammad Ali converted to Islam in 1964, the same year he won the heavyweight title. He claimed his religion, especially the story of Elijah, helped him become a champion.
On February 17, 1966, a reporter called Ali and informed him that his status was changed to 1A and that he most likely would be called to serve in a matter of weeks. Ali requested a conscientious objector exemption, but the Kentucky draft board denied it because they didn’t find him sincere.
The Kentucky Draft Board in Louisville, KY listed Ali as draft eligible in 1967. Ali appealed the designation and requested to be exempted from service as a conscientious objector. The Kentucky Appeal Board contacted the Justice Department and asked them for advice. The Justice Department denied Mr. Ali’s request to legally avoid the war. The Appeal Board made him eligible for the draft, but they did not provide reasons why his conscientious objector request was denied.
On April 28, 1967 Muhammad Ali, then in Houston, TX, refused to be inducted into the armed services. The same day, the World Boxing Association and the New York Athletic Commission revoked his Heavyweight title. Ali was no longer the champion of the world.
On June 20, 1967, Muhammad Ali was convicted of violating the Selective Service laws. Federal District Judge Joe E. Ingraham charged him with a felony and sentenced the boxer to five years in prison and fined him $10,000, the maximum penalty. Up until that day, the only offense on Ali’s record was a minor traffic violation. During the trial, Ali didn’t seem phased. He sketched pictures as he listened to the proceedings. He likely expected the conviction and seemed more concerned about the airplanes and ships that he drew than the thought of jail time.
In 1971, George Foreman was the Heavyweight Champion of the World. That same year, the United States Supreme Court overturned Ali’s felony conviction. He had been out of boxing for more than 3 and ½ years. Many people did not want Ali to fight because of his opposition to the draft and his religion. Muhammad Ali never went to prison, but 100 Muslims who weren’t champion boxers did.
- Professional Baseball
Professional baseball players didn’t have to go to court to avoid the war. Many of the nation’s star ball players and prospects joined National Guard units to sidestep the draft. Despite Major League Baseball’s desire to keep their players at home, the league projected a patriotic tone and supported efforts in Vietnam, especially in the early years. Many professional players visited hospitals in Southeast Asia. In 1971, one of the last years that the MLB sent players to Vietnam, Bob Gibson, Bobby Bonds, and Danny Frisella, well-known players in the league, visited hospitals in Guam, Japan, and the Philippines.
In the mid to late 1960s, as the draft expanded, politicians criticized the prevalence of top athletes in National Guard units. Lucien Nedzi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, complained of “hanky panky” between professional athletes and the National Guard. In response, the Pentagon released a report in 1967 that listed 360 professional athletes who were exempt from the draft due to their membership in National Guard and Reserve units. The athletes included 197 football, 145 baseball, and 18 basketball players. Tall basketball players didn’t have to worry about the draft because men over 6 feet, 6 inches were excluded. John Murphy, a baseball player with the New York Mets, told the New York Times that the higher concentration of athletes in National Guard units was the result of “alert career planning.”
Jackie Robinson tried to convince Martin Luther King Jr. not to speak out against the war in Vietnam. Robinson worried that King would make political enemies if he protested the war. Robinson didn’t want MLK or anyone else to imperil recent Civil Rights victories. But, King ignored Robinson’s request and became an outspoken critic of the war. In April 1967, King spoke in front of the Manhattan Riverside Church. He told the crowd that he was disgusted when he watched “Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”
Several major league players served in Vietnam. Al Bumbry, Mark Belanger, Bill Campbell, and Jim Bibby were veterans who returned from war, played, and made a name for themselves on the ball field.
The MLB did not lose any men to the Vietnam War. All who served survived, but several players, possibly as many as six, who had minor league contracts while at war did die in Southeast Asia. Several players missed portions of the baseball season to serve in the military. Key players who were absent of the field due to service in Vietnam included Tony Conigliaro (Boston Red Sox), Mickey Lolich (Detroit Tigers), and Ken Holtzman (Chicago Cubs).
Professional athletes were not the only men to find ways to avoid the draft. Many famous people avoided service in Vietnam for a variety of reasons. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were exempted from the draft and service in Southeast Asia.
- College Campuses
The ROTC program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln faced a serious problem on May 4, 1970. Earlier that day, thirteen students were arrested after they marched in protest to the Lincoln Draft Board. That evening, students participated in a sit-in at the Military and Naval Science Building, which housed the ROTC. As many as 1800 students crammed into the building. Leaders of the protest demanded the University suspend the ROTC program, release the thirteen students who were arrested, and they wanted the university to support a national student strike to protest the Vietnam War. The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN), the student government, called a three-day strike to show their disapproval of the government’s actions in Vietnam. At 10 am the next day, May 5, 1970, the protesters walked out of the Military and Naval Science Building. A University town hall took place the following day and 9,000 students showed up, an estimated half of those who attended classes at UNL. After the three-day strike, students returned to campus, but tension remained. Luckily violence, like the tragic events at Kent State and Jackson State, did not occur in Lincoln.
At Stanford, protests against the ROTC and the draft were more destructive. When it was announced that faculty approved an ROTC program, students inflicted more than $200,000 worth of damage on campus. From 1969 to 1970, the FBI recorded 1,785 student demonstrations on college campuses in the United States. Students protested in and occupied 313 buildings. By September 1973, the Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) failed to reach its quota for the sixth straight month.
From 1964 to 1965, a wave of incidents of draft card burning swept the country. In August 1965 Rep. Mendel Rivers introduced a bill that made the destruction of draft cards illegal. President Lyndon Johnson signed it and made it law on August 30, 1965. The penalty for destroying a draft card was a maximum of five years in prison.
David O’Brien burned his draft card in Boston. He was arrested, and he fought his way to the Supreme Court. The highest court ruled that lighting his draft card on fire was not a protected form of free expression.
On November 1965, Norman Morrison went a step further. Instead of his draft card, he lit himself on fire outside the Pentagon. The thirty-two-year-old, father of three burned his body and gave his life in protest to the war. A week later, pacifist Roger LaPorte lit himself on fire at the United Nations. In Detroit, Alice Herz, an eighty-two-year-old burned herself to death.
In October 1967, 300 draft cards were returned in San Francisco. Many more stuffed their cards in bags and physically returned them to the Justice Department. In Australia, drafted men also burned draft cards, but there, it wasn’t illegal. As in the United States, the war was a controversial subject in Australia. In 1972, Gough Whitlam was elected prime minister and in his first two weeks he ended the draft, withdrew troops from Vietnam, and he granted amnesty to draft violators.
 Kohn, Steven M. 1986. Jailed for Peace: The History of American Draft Law Violators, 1658-1985. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Pg. 66
 Gettleman, Marvin E, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Blatt Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. 2nd Ed., Rev. and Enl ed. New York: Grove Press, 1995, 11
 Ibid, 12
 Zinn, Howard. 2001. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. New York: Harper Collins. Pg. 485
 Lipsyte, Robert. “’I’m Free to Be Who I Want’: ‘I’m Free to Be Who I Want (Cont.) The Name is Ali.” NY Times. May 28, 1967. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.: The New York Times. Pg. SM15
 Baskir, Lawrence M. and William A. Strauss. 1978. Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, the War, and the Vietnam Generation. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. Pg. 97
 “Clay v. United States.” Oyez. Accessed December 1, 2018. https://www.oyez.org/cases/1970/783
 Waldron, Martin. “Clay Guilty in Draft Case; Gets Five Years in Prison.” New York Times. June 21, 1967. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. Pg. 1
 Erenberg, Lewis A. “’Rumble in the Jungle”: Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman in the Age of Global Spectacle.” Journal of Sport History. Volume 39, Number 1, Spring 2012. Pg. 89
 Baskir, Lawrence M. and William A. Strauss. 1978. Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, the War, and the Vietnam Generation. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf., 97
 Briley, Ron. 2008. “Baseball and Dissent: The Vietnam Experience.” Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Volume 17, Number 1, Fall 2008. PP. 5
 Ibid, 59
 Ibid, 62
 Gettleman, Marvin E, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Blatt Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. 2nd Ed., Rev. and Enl ed. New York: Grove Press, 1995, 311
 Briley, Ron. 2008. “Baseball and Dissent: The Vietnam Experience.” Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, Volume 17, Number 1, Fall 2008. PP. 64
 Ibid, 66
 Gettleman, Marvin E, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Blatt Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. 2nd Ed., Rev. and Enl ed. New York: Grove Press, 1995, 7
 “Students Arrested.” The Daily Nebraskan. Tuesday, May 5, 1970. Vol. 93, No. 93. Pg. 1
 “Demands.” The Daily Nebraskan. Tuesday, May 5, 1970. Vol. 93, No. 93. Pg. 1
 Tobias, Mike. "We Had to Do Something": Vietnam Protests At UNL And One Tense Week In 1970. NET Nebraska. http://netnebraska.org/article/news/1095577/we-had-do-something-vietnam-protests-unl-and-one-tense-week-1970 (accessed Dec. 1, 2018)
 Gettleman, Marvin E, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Blatt Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. 2nd Ed., Rev. and Enl ed. New York: Grove Press, 1995, 331
 Zinn, Howard. 2001. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. New York: Harper Collins. Pg. 490
 Ibid, 491
 Kohn, Steven M. 1986. Jailed for Peace: The History of American Draft Law Violators, 1658-1985. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Pg. 77
 Ibid, 485
 Gettleman, Marvin E, Jane Franklin, Marilyn Blatt Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. 2nd Ed., Rev. and Enl ed. New York: Grove Press, 1995, 297
 Baskir, Lawrence M. and William A. Strauss. 1977. Reconciliation after Vietnam: A Program for Relief for Vietnam Era Draft and Military Offenders. A Report of the Vietnam Offender Study. Center for Civil Rights. University of Notre Dame. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. Pg. 21