The Draft in the Vietnam War, 1964-1973

The draft has become one of the most contentious aspects of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Re-established in 1948 after the end of World War II, the draft was often lauded as a hallmark of American democracy until military involvement in Southeast Asia escalated in 1964 and 1965. With the advent of a desegregated military and affordable mass communication devices such as televisions, problems familiar only to the top brass of the military became topics of discussion in many civilian homes. Even though the U.S. military during the Vietnam conflict was overall the best-educated military in history up to that point, men of lower intelligence, disproportionately minorities, often were overrepresented in combat positions due to various reasons.

With a poor understanding of the reasons for being in Vietnam and mounting casualties for little tangible gain, American public opinion turned against the war and the draft. Symbolic burnings of draft registration cards and attacks on draft boards in an attempt to destroy records and impede operations became commonplace beginning in the late 1960s. In 1968, presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon ran on a promise to end the draft altogether and return to an all-volunteer military. Accusations that the draft targeted the poor, minorities, and those of lower educational status led to a modification of the draft procedure beginning in 1969. A commission appointed by President Nixon found that it would be economically and militarily viable to return to an all-volunteer military, and so the bill which gave the government the authority to conduct a draft was allowed to expire in 1973 and not renewed.