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Draft Dodgers

Draft Dodgers

Author: John Lewis
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Developing Effective Teams

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The Big Idea

Why did people become "draft-dodgers" and what was the reaction to them? Do you think people have a duty to serve their country when asked?

Learning Objective: Students will be able to explain what a draft-dodger is, why Muhammad Ali refused the draft, and why American opinion about the war began to change. 

11.8 Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II America.

11.9 Students analyze U.S. foreign policy since World War II.

Draft Dodgers

During the Vietnam War, about two-third of American troops were volunteered, the rest were selected for military service through the drafts. In the beginning of the war, names of all American men in draft-age were collected by the Selective Service System.

Most of U.S. soldiers drafted during the Vietnam War were men from poor and working-class families. The least political power sections were mistreated. As a matter of fact, American forces in Vietnam included twenty-five percent poor, fifty-five percent working-class, twenty percent middle-class men, but very few came from upper-classes families. Many soldiers came from rural towns and farming communities.

Even though there was some opposition to the draft even before the U.S. direct involvement in Vietnam, the conflict saw new levels of opposition to the call-up. As American troop strength in Vietnam shot up, more young men of call-up age sought to avoid or delay their military service and there were some legal ways to do that. Men who had physical or mental problems, were married, with children, attending college or needed at home to support their families might be granted deferments. It is worth noticing that many men received deferments were from wealthy and educated families. Prominent political figures accused of avoiding the draft includes Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Dick Cheney.
While President Johnson ended marriage deferment on August 26, 1965, some men claimed to be homosexuals while many others chose to flee to a neutral country such as Canada and Mexico to avoid the draft. These people were derogatorily referred as “draft dodgers” – a term made popular during the Vietnam War.
In the beginning, many people looked at draft-dodgers with contempt as being “cowards”. As American casualties rocketed up while the U.S. could not see the light at the end of the tunnel as claimed by its government, the conflict in Vietnam became more and more unpopular. As a result, more people got involved in the anti-war and draft resistance movement and backed these draft-dodgers. The draft process was also scrutinized carefully owing to the increasingly unpopularity of the Vietnam War.

Muhammad Ali on Draft Refusal

Sports Illustrated Article on public response to Muhammad Ali

“The governor of Illinois found Clay "disgusting." and the governor of Maine said. Clay "should be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American." An American Legion post in Miami asked people to "join in condemnation of this unpatriotic, loudmouthed, bombastic individual," and dirty mail began to  arrive at Clay's Miami address.”

My Lai Massacre changes opinions

On March 16, 1968, a company of U.S. infantry entered the village of My Lai, and although they did not receive a single round of hostile fire, methodically slaughtered some five hundred Vietnamese peasants, mostly women and children. The freelance journalist Seymour Hersh heard the story, but the major media ignored his efforts to publicize it. Finally, in December 1969, Life magazine carried Ronald Haeberle's horrendous photos of GIs pouring automatic rifle fire into trenches where Vietnamese women, babies in their arms, crouched in fear. The military arrested Lieutenant William CaIley, a platoon leader at My Lai, who had ordered the shootings. Many officers were
involved in the incident and then the cover-up. However, only Calley received a jail sentence. His life sentence was reduced to five years by the intervention of President Nixon. He served three and a half years under house arrest and was then released. 

The Big Idea Revisited

Answer both questions in complete sentences to the best of your ability.