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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A draft dodger is a term, usually pejorative, that refers to a person who avoids ("dodges") the conscription policies of the nation in which he or she is a citizen or resident by leaving the country, going into hiding, or other attempts at fraudulent means. Avoidances involving nonviolence or conscientious objectorships are sometimes referred to as draft evasion or draft resistance.

Although the term originated earlier,[citation needed] the term became popular during the Vietnam War to describe citizens of the United States who dodged the mandatory conscription policy, in order to avoid serving in the war, by leaving the country, originally to Sweden[citation needed], but later in greater numbers to Canada and Mexico.

The United States has employed conscription (mandatory military service, also called "the draft") several times, usually during war but also during the nominal peace of the Cold War. The U.S. discontinued the draft in 1973, moving to an all-volunteer force.

Today, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency; young men aged 18–26 are required to register so that a draft can be more readily resumed. The U.S. armed forces are now designated as "all-volunteer", although, in 2004 as well as during the 1991 Gulf War, some personnel were kept in the military longer than they expected. However, this was consistent with their enlistment contracts because of a clause that permits retention based on the needs of the military.[1] In 2003, legislation to reintroduce general conscription was defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives due to widespread disapproval among lawmakers and the American public. Similar legislation has been proposed for reintroduction recently but it has not yet been approved.

The motivations for draft dodgers and resisters are manifold. Some are individuals who merely wish to avoid the dangers of combat (and may otherwise support the war in question). Others have political or moral objections to warfare in general, or to the circumstances of a particular conflict in which their country is fighting; or may identify with a different country altogether.

Refusing to submit the draft is considered a criminal offence in most countries where conscription is in effect. In the United States, refusal is punishable by a maximum penalty of up to 5 years in Federal prison and/or a fine of US$250,000.


Avoidance, evasion, resistance and desertion compared

It is possible to draw a contrast between draft evasion and draft avoidance. Just as tax avoidance is defined as reducing or eliminating one's tax liability through legal means, draft avoidance is the elimination or mitigation of a potential conscript's military service obligation through some lawful procedure. The term draft dodging is sometimes used more loosely (and to some inappropriately) to describe draft avoidance. Some means of draft avoidance:

  • Becoming a conscientious objector, whether one's anti-war sentiment is religious or otherwise. Peace churches, such as Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, and Quakers, oppose any kind of military service for their members, even in non-combatant fields, but are not opposed to alternative non-uniformed civilian service. Note that many people who support conscription will distinguish between "bona fide" conscientious objection and draft dodging, which they view as evasion of military service without a valid excuse. Conscientious objection would be considered evasion if the sentiment was not genuine.
  • Seeking excusal from military service due to health reasons - this would be considered evasion if the purported health issue was feigned or overstated.
  • Claiming to be homosexual, when the military in question excludes gay people - this would be considered evasion if the claim was false, and avoidance if the claim is true.
  • Marrying and/or fathering children, if the military in question will grant deferments to spouses and/or parents.[citation needed]
  • Seeking and receiving a student deferment as in the cases of Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Dick Cheney. This would be considered evasion if false or misleading academic credentials were used.
  • Enlisting in a branch of the military, such as the United States National Guard during the Vietnam War, whose members were less likely to be deployed into combat. U.S. politicians who come from well-established political families, such as Dan Quayle and George W. Bush, have been accused of using family influence to secure Guard assignments that would be unavailable to ordinary citizens. This could be considered evasion if such influence was used unlawfully.
  • Applying for a job in an "essential" civilian occupation and seeking deferment on those grounds - often this required a letter from the potential draftee's employer to be accepted. After receiving deferment as a student, 2008 U.S. Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani received further deferment after his occupation as a law clerk was deemed "essential" by the Selective Service.
  • Non-pacifist churches have at times deferred missionaries as "divinity students". During the Vietnam War the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became embroiled in controversy for deferring large numbers of its young members. The LDS church eventually agreed to cap the number of missionary deferments it sought for members in any one state, however this generally did not stop LDS missionaries who lived outside Utah (such as 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney) from receiving deferments with relative ease.[2][3]
  • Simply declining to enlist, if the potential conscript appears likely to avoid the draft through sheer "luck of the draw." During the Vietnam War, not all eligible young men were drafted; many who had a high lottery number simply took no action, knowing that they were unlikely to ever be drafted. Declining to enlist is not evasion, however some hold the view that young persons (or young men) of combat age have an affirmative duty to enlist in the military during wartime, even if not drafted. Both Giuliani and Romney drew high lottery numbers after exhausting their deferments.[2][3]
  • Paying a stand-in to take one's place if drafted. In most countries this is no longer legally sanctioned, but it was a lawful and very common practice in the U.S. Civil War.
  • In some countries it is often possible to evade military service by bribing corrupt draft officers, or by finding a doctor who will certify one as medically unfit.
  • Moving out of the country.

The term draft resister specifically refers to someone who explicitly refuses military service - simply attempting to flee the draft is draft evasion.

Draft dodging should not be confused with desertion - a conscript cannot "desert" until he is inducted into the military and has thus submitted to the draft. Strictly defined, a deserter is someone who, after being inducted into the military, then absconds from the service without receiving a valid leave of absence or discharge, and with the intention of never returning to the service.

By conflict

World War I

During World War I, many Canadians who did not want to be conscripted left for the US. This part of Canadian history and American history of WWI is little researched and often the research is highly suppressed for political reasons. It is historically understood that the number of Canadians avoiding conscription via going to the US was in relative population terms less than the equivalent numbers of Americans coming to Canada during the Vietnam War. However, because Canada has always had a brain drain with respect to the US since 1830—sorting out those avoiding conscription from the ongoing stream of economic or social migrants is difficult.[citation needed]

World War II

Vietnam War

North America

Anti-Vietnam War protesters at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A placard reads "Use your head - not your draft card"

There was some opposition to the draft even before the major U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The large cohort of Baby Boomers who became eligible for military service during the Vietnam War also meant a steep increase in the number of exemptions and deferments, especially for college and graduate students. This was the source of considerable resentment among poor and working class young men including African-Americans - who could not afford college.[citation needed] Large groups of draftees publicly burned draft cards.[citation needed] Of all the service members who served in Vietnam, 10.6% were black, 88.4% were Caucasian (including Hispanics) and 1% other. At the time, Blacks represented 12.5% of the total U.S. population and 13.5% of the military age cohort, so they were significantly under represented in the war zone. Casualty data shows 86.8% of those killed in action were Caucasian, while 12.1% were Black. Although slightly higher than the proportion serving in combat, it was significantly below the Black military age cohort in the general population at the time. (Source: Combat Area Casualty File of 11/93 (CACF1193), and The Adjutant General's Center (TAGCEN) file of 1981.[4]

The overall effect was that a large proportion of the ground troops in Vietnam were from the working class, reinforcing the perception of a "Rich man's war, poor man's fight". Some soldiers committed fratricide otherwise known as fragging against their officers. The word relates to the use of a fragmentation grenade for this purpose. It should be noted that when fragging did occur, it was done by both African-American and Caucasian enlisted soldiers. Such incidents of fragging) were typically the result of servicemen who thought their officers were too aggressive in pursuing the enemy.[citation needed]

As U.S. troop strength in Vietnam increased, more and more young men were drafted for service there and more and more of those still at home sought means of avoiding the draft. For those seeking a relatively safe alternative, service in the Coast Guard was an option (provided one could meet the more stringent enlistment standards). Since only a handful of National Guard and Reserve units were sent to Vietnam, enlistment in the Guard or the Reserves became a favored means of draft avoidance. Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, as divinity students were exempt from the draft.[citation needed] Doctors and draft board members found themselves being pressured by relatives or family friends to exempt potential draftees.

Other means included finding, exaggerating, or causing physical and psychological reasons for deferment, whether in the temporary "1-Y" classification, or the permanent "4-F" deferment.

Physical reasons such as high blood pressure could get a man exempted. Various methods to worsen physical reasons included, in at least one case, a man who went to the movies, at the Biograph Theater in Chicago, every night on the week before the draft to eat buttered popcorn.[citation needed] In addition, antiwar psychiatrists could often find dormant mental conditions to be serious enough to warrant exemptions. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie lampooned the paradox of seeking exemption from a war many people thought crazy, by acting or being crazy, in his song Alice's Restaurant: "I said, 'I wanna kill! Kill! Eat dead burnt bodies!', and the Sergeant said, 'you're our boy'".[5]

Many lawyers worked during the Vietnam war "pro bono" as draft counselors for the American Friends Service Committee and other antiwar groups to counsel men on their options. They were aware that laws, on the books since World War I, forbade Americans to counsel men on how to evade the draft, therefore the AFSC was careful to factually and neutrally present the young man with his choices.

Less sober texts on draft "avoidance" (as opposed to "resistance" as described below) included "One Hundred and One Ways to Avoid the Draft" by musician Tuli Kupferberg, a member of The Fugs. Methods he espoused included arriving at the draft board in diapers or feigning homosexuality. Another text popular with men subject to the draft was a 1950s cartoon novella by Jules Feiffer, Munro, in which a four-year-old boy is drafted by mistake. Some men, taking an idea from the book, said they might ask the sergeant at the draft examination to "button me, Mister", but usually these schemes came to naught in an era where homophobia was normed, and only partly deconstructed by the antics of the counterculture.

Draft counselors, and the Selective Service System itself, emphasized that there was no such thing as an "exemption" from the draft, only a "deferment". Even the coveted status of 4-F (which by the late 1960s had lost its shameful connotation) was technically a deferment, implying that even 4-Fs might have to serve if America were invaded, as a home guard. The reasons for this were historical: during the first American draft of the Civil War, rich men or their parents could purchase an actual exemption for the then-large sum of three hundred dollars, and this caused the New York Draft Riots of that era, a major civil disturbance.

Evading the draft through loopholes or technicalities took planning, literacy and education; therefore, it was much easier for young men with middle or upper class backgrounds to finagle a deferment, even after deferments were ended for graduate students and limited for undergraduates in 1969.[6] These men were more likely to have access to college educations, letters from psychiatrists, and pro bono advice from lawyers. Men without these resources were less able to avoid being drafted. To compensate for this inequality, the U.S. government changed to a lottery system which would treat all citizens equally in 1969.[6]

The draft was unpopular both for its impact on those drafted and as a focal point for opposition to a controversial war. Therefore, beyond the evasive methods identified above, methods of more positive and assertive resistance existed.

Rather than submit to conscription, tens of thousands of young men migrated to Canada, which did not support war in Vietnam. Conscription ended in 1973. The end came after a series of lawsuits challenged the draft upon its re-enactment and renewed conscription in 1972 without regard to the 90-day waiting period required in the original Korean War era draft law (section 20 of the Act) that remained in the 1972 Act (which U.S. Attorneys defending conscription argued was as a result of a legislative drafting error). After a series of challenges to the draft under section 20 in 1971 and 1972, leading to an injunction against induction in the geographical area encompassed by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by Justice William O. Douglas(Where, legend has it, Justice Douglas posted the injunction on a tree near a camp site while hiking in the Cascade Mountains). It became so difficult for the Selective Service System to unwind the mess the Section 20 cases caused (and to draft men according to the priorities required by law—the "order of call" named after the "order of call" defense), that the draft was quietly ended—just in time for the wind down of the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam War, about 100,000 draft dodgers, in total, went abroad; others hid in the United States.[citation needed] An estimated 50,000 to 90,000 of these moved to Canada, where they were treated as immigrants. Though their presence was initially controversial within Canada, the government eventually chose to welcome them. Draft evasion was not a criminal offense under Canadian law (during the two World Wars when conscription was enacted in Canada, those who attempted to evade the draft illegally were pursued by military officials, forced into the Army and then court martialed if they refused to obey an officer). The issue of deserters was more complex, because desertion was a crime in Canada, and the Canadian military was strongly opposed to condoning it. In the end, the government maintained the right to prosecute these deserters, but in practice left them alone and instructed border guards not to ask questions relating to the issue. Eventually, tens of thousands of deserters were among those who found safe refuge in Canada, as well as in Sweden, France, and the United Kingdom.

Those that went abroad faced imprisonment or forced military service if they returned home. The U.S. continued to prosecute draft dodgers after the end of the Vietnam War. President Gerald R. Ford issued conditional amnesty for the draft dodgers and then in 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued unconditional amnesty in the form of a pardon to all remaining draft evaders, as part of a general climate of "cultural reconciliation" after the end of the controversial and unpopular war.

Some draft dodgers returned home to the United States after the 1977 amnesty, but according to an estimate by sociologist John Hagan, around 50,000 settled in Canada. This young and mostly educated population expanded Canada's arts and academic scenes, and helped push Canadian politics further to the left. Notable Canadians who were draft dodgers include Jay Scott and Michael Hendricks.

During the Vietnam War, an active movement of draft resistance also occurred, spearheaded by the Resistance organization, headed by David Harris. The insignia of the organization was the Greek letter omega, Ω, the symbol for ohms—the unit of electrical resistance. Members of the Resistance movement publicly burned their draft cards or refused to register for the draft. Other members deposited their cards into boxes on selected dates and then mailed them to the government. They were then drafted, refused to be inducted, and fought their cases in the federal courts. These draft resisters hoped that their public civil disobedience would help to bring the war and the draft to an end. Many young men went to federal prison as part of this movement.

Australia & New Zealand

Draft dodging was also common in Australia at the time, though locally it was known as Draft Resistance or active non-compliance, see conscription in Australia. There was a film made about a draft dodger in Australia during the later stages of the Vietnam War that is often shown as part of Australia's film heritage at Screen Sound Canberra. Because of Australia's lesser involvement in the Vietnam War, New Zealand did not emerge as a destination for Australian draft dodgers.

Present ramifications

Long after the Vietnam War, military service, or its avoidance, remains an issue for politicians in the United States. Some U.S. politicians are labeled as draft dodgers by their opponents, though no prominent political figures in the U.S. were among those who went to Canada or otherwise broke any laws. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Joe Biden, Howard Dean, Dan Quayle, and Dick Cheney have all been accused of being draft dodgers on the grounds that they never saw combat in Vietnam, even though none of them received a conscription notice (Bill Clinton received one that arrived after the date he was to report, due to having been sent by surface mail to the United Kingdom. As he had already begun another term at university, regulations allowed him to complete the term before reporting, but he applied and was accepted for an ROTC program 11 days before the new induction reporting date [7]).

George W. Bush did serve two years on active duty and several more years of part-time duty during the Vietnam War,[8] all stateside in the Texas Air National Guard as an F-102 pilot, in a unit assigned to the defense of the continental United States and hence unlikely to be deployed overseas. His service in the Guard (and the question of whether his father used undue influence to secure a Guard position for the younger Bush) was an issue in both the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections with his Democratic opponents claiming that he, "protected Texas airspace from invasion by the Vietnamese".

In 2006, the long-standing rumor that Ben Barnes may have been involved was confirmed in his memoir "Barn Burning, Barn Building: Tales of a Political Life, From LBJ to George W. Bush and Beyond" [9]. Ben Barnes was Speaker of the Texas House and from 1969 to 1973 was Texas Lieutenant Governor (In Texas, the Lt. Gov. is the most powerful state official, significantly more powerful than the Texas Gov.). Barnes was instrumental in enabling numerous sons of Democratic and Republican politicians to avoid service in Viet Nam. Barnes said that he did this on his own initiative, as a political favor to George H.W. Bush without it being requested. Barnes further states:

"I did make the call to the National Guard on George W. Bush's behalf, and he did jump ahead of others in line. Considering how many young men were on the waiting list at that time, there is absolutely no way Bush could have gotten into the Texas Air National Guard so quickly unless he had special help. All those who claim that Bush got into the Guard without having any strings pulled on his behalf are just flat wrong. Those are the facts..."
"I want to make clear how ashamed I am of what I did. I thought at the time that I was simply doing political favors, but as I got older, I came to realize I'd been playing God. For every privileged boy like George W. Bush that I helped, another young man was shipped to Vietnam. In the years since, I've wondered about the fates of those anonymous men, who were possibly killed or injured in Vietnam because of the strings I pulled. No one should have that kind of power, and I'll always be sorry that I used it in the way I did."

Dan Quayle served in the Indiana Army National Guard during Vietnam, which became an issue during the 1988 election. Dick Cheney, in explaining why he kept seeking deferment after deferment in a war that he supported, has publicly stated, "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service."[10]

Although there is no longer a draft in the United States, the issues of desertion and conscientious objection remain for soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some military personnel, both active and reservist, have attempted to find asylum in Canada and Europe, though not in the numbers that did so during the Vietnam War. A recent ruling in Canada supports asylum claims based on "being forced to participate in military misconduct, even if it stops short of a war crime",[11] however, a Canadian Court has now deported an Iraq era deserter for the first time (there are reported to be at least 50, perhaps 200, currently in Canada).[12] A second deserter, female, and her family, have been ordered to leave or be deported.[13] Two Iraq era serving soldiers have also applied for asylum in Germany (one application later withdrawn).[14]

In 2004, the European Union passed a directive "requiring member countries to grant asylum to soldiers protesting unlawful wars".[15] In the same story; "The U.S. Army says 71 soldiers deserted from its European bases last year, a mere sliver of the roughly 3,500 soldiers who deserted world-wide over the past year. It says it doesn't actively pursue most deserters, who make up less than 1% of the enlisted force in any given year."

Many deserters and draft evaders from the Vietnam era still remain in Canada and Europe, despite the general pardon granted to the evaders by President Carter.

See also


  1. ^ "DD Form 4, Block 9.c." (PDF). Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  2. ^ a b "Rudy and Romney: Artful dodgers". Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  3. ^ a b "Mormon church obtained Vietnam draft deferrals for Romney, other missionaries - The Boston Globe". 2007-06-24. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  4. ^ "Vietnam War Statistics". Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  5. ^ "Alice's Restaurant - Lyrics. Arlo Guthrie". Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  6. ^ a b "The Vietnam Lotteries". Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  7. ^ "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Bill Clinton Draft Dodger?". Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  8. ^ Romano, Lois (February 3, 2004). "Bush's Guard Service In Question". The Washington Post: pp. A08. Retrieved September 1, 2008. 
  9. ^ "Barn Burning Barn Building: Tales of a Political Life, From LBJ to George W. Bush and Beyond", Bright Sky Press, 2006 (ISBN 1-931721-71-8)
  10. ^ Dionne, E.J. Jr. (2006-01-17), "Murtha and the Mudslingers", The Washington Post (Washington, DC),, retrieved 2008-01-01 
  11. ^ Carter, Lee (2008-07-05). "Canada ruling boosts US deserter". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  12. ^ "Canada deports U.S. deserter who opposes Iraq War". 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  13. ^ "Americas | Canada expels US woman deserter". BBC News. 2009-01-08. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Esterl, Mike (2009-01-29). "U.S. Deserter 'Having Time of My Life' as He Seeks Asylum in Germany -". Retrieved 2009-07-12. 

Further reading

  • Cortright, David. Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War (Re-issue). Chicago: Haymarket Books. 2005.
  • Foley, Michael S. Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2003.
  • Hagan, John. Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada. Boston: Harvard University Press. 2001.
  • Halstead, Fred. GIs speak out against the war: The case of the Ft. Jackson 8. 128 pages. New York: Pathfinder Press. 1970.
  • Kasinsky, Renee. Refugees from Militarism: Draft-Age Americans in Canada. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books. 1976.
  • Michener, James A. The Drifters. Ballantine Books. 1971.
  • Simons, Donald L. I Refuse: Memories of a Vietnam War Objector. Trenton, NJ: Broken Rifle Press. 1992.
  • Todd, Jack. Desertion: In the Time of Vietnam. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001.
  • Williams, Roger Neville. The New Exiles: American War Resisters in Canada. New York: Liveright. 1970.

External links

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