The military draft brought the war to the American home front. During the Vietnam War era, between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2.2 million American men out of an eligible pool of 27 million. Although only 25 percent of the military force in the combat zones were draftees, the system of conscription caused many young American men to volunteer for the armed forces in order to have more of a choice of which division in the military they would serve. While many soldiers did support the war, at least initially, to others the draft seemed like a death sentence: being sent to a war and fight for a cause that they did not believe in. Some sought refuge in college or parental deferments; others intentionally failed aptitude tests or otherwise evaded; thousands fled to Canada; the politically connected sought refuge in the National Guard; and a growing number engaged in direct resistance. Antiwar activists viewed the draft as immoral and the only means for the government to continue the war with fresh soldiers. Ironically, as the draft continued to fuel the war effort, it also intensified the antiwar cause. Although the Selective Service’s deferment system meant that men of lower socioeconomic standing were most likely to be sent to the front lines, no one was completely safe from the draft. Almost every American was either eligible to go to war or knew someone who was. The Vietnam War draft was controversial because people who did not support the war and had no say in formulating war policy were nevertheless being forced to fight. Draftees could be under 21 (18 at the youngest), and at that time, nobody under the age of 21 was allowed to vote. Thus, many 18-year-olds protested that they should not be forced to fight in a war if they had no say in electing the leaders…
History of the Draft
Conscription during the 1960s took place under the legal authority of the peacetime draft, because the United States never formally declared war on North Vietnam. Legal authority for a peacetime draft came from the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in order to mobilize American civilian-soldiers in anticipation of entry into World War II. During the Korean War, the Selective Service began the policy of granting deferments to college students with an academic ranking in the top half of their class. Between 1954-1964, from the end of the Korean War until the escalation in Vietnam, the “peacetime” draft inducted more than 1.4 million American men, an average of more than 120,000 per year. As part of their Cold War mission, many state universities required ROTC training by male students, although campus protests caused administrators to begin repealing mandatory ROTC in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Broken Promises Lead to Discontent
Lyndon Johnson ran as the “peace” candidate in his 1964 campaign against conservative Barry Goldwater, who wanted to escalate the military offensive against North Vietnam and the Viet Cong guerillas. In October, at a campaign appearance in Ohio, Johnson promised that “we are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” But in the months after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Johnson rapidly increased the U.S. military presence in the defense of South Vietnam, with 184,000 troops stationed there by the end of 1965.
America Had No Choice But to Escalate?
Feelings Towards the Draft
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