The End of the Draft

VIII.      The End of the Draft

In 1967, support for the Vietnam War began to fade. At that time, more than 30,000 young men were being drafted and inducted into service each month.[1] 13,000 men had already died in Southeast Asia. For the first time, polls confirmed that Americans thought that the country made a mistake when it sent troops to Vietnam.[2] Another poll gave LBJ a dismal 28% approval rating for his handling of the war.[3]

When Richard Nixon became President, he established a lottery system. On November 26, 1969, Richard Nixon signed executive order 11497. This created a system that randomly selected inductees.[4] President Johnson wanted to use a lottery system during his administration, but Congress voted against LBJ’s plan.[5] Before 1969, men were drafted based on age, with the oldest inducted first.[6]

A lottery drawing was held on December 1, 1969. This was the first lottery since 1942.[7] Alexander Pirnie, a Republican Congressman from New York and a member of the House Armed Services committee selected the first blue plastic capsule. There were 366 balls in a glass container, each assigned with a birth date. The first men selected by the lottery method were those born on September 14. Men who were born on that day between the years of 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number 1. Numbers were given to each capsule (birth date) selected, which determined the order in which men were drafted into the armed services.[8]

At the start of the war, judges referred to draft resisters as “dangerous criminals” and some accused them of “attempting to overthrow the government.”[9] As the war dragged on, they started to have second thoughts. Many legal professionals lost hope and grew tired of throwing kids in jail. Others continued to push back against the protesters. Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield from Montana raged that draft resisters helped “furnish fodder to Hanoi, Peiping and the Vietcong.”[10] Many felt that draft protests were anti-American, anti-patriotic.

Despite the backlash, in 1971, more than 14,000 demonstrators were arrested at a protest in Washington in May.[11] Judges and courts were reluctant to convict draft resisters and demonstrators. Judges dismissed charges that likely would have stuck and resulted in jail time a couple of years earlier.[12]

In his Memoirs, Richard Nixon admitted that the protests and antiwar sentiment across the nation prevented him from escalating the war in Vietnam further. He acknowledged the power of resistance and vocal, written, and physical protest.[13]  Fewer than 10% of men convicted of draft law violations fled the country. Most who did later returned. Many went to prison upon reentering the United States.[14]

People continued to avoid the war in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. In 1972, for the first time more draft eligible men were legally exempted from service than were inducted into the armed services.[15] On January 27, 1973, two years and three months before the fall of Saigon, Melvin Laird, the Secretary of Defense, announced a “zero draft” policy.[16] From this date forward, the United States Military would heed advisors’ requests and rely on volunteers rather than draftees.

[1] Herring, George C. 2014. America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. Fifth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education. Pg. 220

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Fienberg, Stephen E. “Randomization and Social Affairs: The 1970 Draft Lottery.” Science, New Series, Vol. 171, No. 3968 (Jan. 22, 1971), pp. 256

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Selective Service Commission. “History and Records.” (accessed 12/8/18)

[8] Selective Service Commission. “History and Records.” (accessed 12/8/18)

[9] Kohn, Steven M. 1986. Jailed for Peace: The History of American Draft Law Violators, 1658-1985. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Pg. 88

[10] Ibid, 73 (Kohn cited Congressional Record, Oct 18, 1965, 27252)

[11] Gettleman, Marvin E., Jane Franklin, Marilyn B. Young, and H. Bruce Franklin. 1995. 2nd Edition. Vietnam and America: A Documented History. New York: Grove Press. Pg. 297

[12] Ibid, 500

[13] Ibid, 501

[14] 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. 102

[15] Kohn, Steven M. 1986. Jailed for Peace: The History of American Draft Law Violators, 1658-1985. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Pg. 92.

[16] O’Sullivan, John and Alan M. Meckler. 1974. The Draft and Its Enemies: A Documentary History. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Pg. 278.