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U.S. anti-Vietnam War protesters at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A placard to the right reads "Use your head - not your draft card"

Draft evasion is an intentional decision not to comply with the military conscription policies of one's nation. Such practices that do not involve law breaking or which are based on conscientious objection are sometimes referred to as "draft avoidance." Refusing to submit to the draft is considered a criminal offense in most countries where conscription is in effect.

Those who practice draft evasion are sometimes pejoratively referred to as "draft dodgers", a term which was made popular during the Vietnam War.

Draft evasion is distinct from desertion in that only an active member of a military service can become a deserter by absenting himself or herself from the army without receiving a valid leave of absence or discharge and without any intention of returning to the army.

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 Vietnam era version of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1968) simply defined draft dodger as "one who avoids military service" regardless how it was done.[1] Some means of draft avoidance:

  • Being a conscientious objector, whether one's anti-war sentiment is religious or otherwise. Peace churches, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, Christian anarchists, Rastafari 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.
  • Marrying and/or fathering children, if the military in question will grant deferments to spouses and/or parents.[citation needed]
  • Claiming to be homosexual, when the military in question excludes homosexuals—this would be considered evasion if the claim was false, but if the potential conscript is in fact a homosexual, it would be the rules of the military body that prevent him from enlisting, even if he wished to do so.
  • Seeking and receiving a student deferment. This would be considered evasion if false or misleading academic credentials were used. Some notable US figures avoided the draft as students, such as Bill Clinton,[2] Joe Biden, and Dick Cheney.
  • Being employed in or applying for a job in an "essential" civilian occupation and seeking deferment on those grounds. Farmers are usually exempt as are individuals employed in defense related industries. 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 (LDS Church) became embroiled in controversy for deferring large numbers of its young members.[3] 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. This cap was church wide in the United States and was not limited to Utah. Only two missionaries a year were allowed from each ward.[4] Utah[3] (such as 2008 and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney) from receiving deferments with relative ease.[5][6]
  • 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.
  • 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 American Civil War. Grover Cleveland, who later became the Twenty-Second and Twenty-Fourth President of the United States, paid a substitute during the Civil War, an act for which he was criticized when he ran for President.
  • 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.
  • Deliberately making oneself medically unfit for duty. This could include consuming large quantities of drugs and alcohol for some time before the medical examination in order to appear addicted, or in more extreme cases, amputating a body part that is critical for service such as trigger fingers or even an entire limb. This could also include self-starvation, as in Abstinence (conscription) practiced by some Jewish conscripts in the Russian Empire.
  • Moving out of the country (which, depending on the laws in question, may or may not exempt a citizen from the draft).

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

By country


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Draft dodging was also common in Australia during the Vietnam War, 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.


Canada employed a military draft during World Wars I and II, and some Canadians chose to evade it.

World War I
Masses of people on big-city street.

Anti-conscription march in Montreal, Canada, May 1917.

During the First World War, Canadians who did not want to be conscripted left for the US.

World War II

Canada introduced conscription in 1940 via the National Resources Mobilization Act.[7] While the move was not inherently unpopular outside of French Canada, the true controversy lay in the fact that conscripts were not compelled to serve outside of Canada (i.e. in combat zones). This changed in 1943 when the 13th Canadian Brigade of the 6th Canadian Infantry Division was embarked for combat employment against the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. Several men deserted rather than embark; in the end, the brigade did not meet the enemy, which had fled. The fact that the Aleutians were technically North American soil had permitted the employment of the draftees, who were still not permitted to serve abroad by the conditions of their employment.

N.R.M.A. men were derisively known as "Zombies" by "G.S. Men" (those who had volunteered for General Service, or in other words, consented to serve in combat zones). Conscription had been a dividing force in Canadian politics in the First World War (precipitating a political crisis) and Prime Minister Mackenzie King vowed in the Second to introduce "conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription."[7] In November 1944, following costly fighting in Italy, Normandy and the Scheldt, approximately 16,000 N.R.M.A. men were sent to Northwest Europe on the heels of a second crisis.

The number of men who actively sought to evade the draft in Canada is not known. Because of the delay in deploying them overseas, historians do not consider their number significant.

New Zealand

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Although New Zealand did have a system of compulsory conscription commonly known as national service, it sent only "full time all volunteer professional soldiers" to Vietnam. Nevertheless, many New Zealand men refused to register for national service and lost their right to vote and were denied or removed from government employment.[citation needed] The government never acted on its threats of lengthy jail time for refusal. National Service, including its registration process, was abolished in December 1972.

United States

Unionists throughout the Confederate States resisted the imposition of conscription in 1862.

The United States has employed conscription (mandatory military service, also called "the draft") several times, usually during war but also during the Cold War. It discontinued the draft in 1973, moving to an all-volunteer force. However, males aged 18–26 are required to register with the Selective Service System, which remains as a contemporary plan in the event that a draft is needed. Knowing and willful refusal to present oneself for and submit to registration as ordered is punishable by a maximum penalty of up to five years in Federal prison and/or a fine of US$250,000, although there have been no prosecutions of draft registration resisters since January 1986.[8] Failing to register though, makes the male ineligible for certain benefits, such as FAFSA aid, federal/state jobs, and in certain states, even driver's licenses(since certain states will automatically register a male with the Selective Service System).

World War I

The Selective Service Act of 1917 was carefully drawn to remedy the defects in the Civil War system by allowing exemptions for dependency, essential occupations, and religious scruples and by prohibiting all forms of bounties, substitutions, or purchase of exemptions. In 1917 and 1918 some 24 million men were registered and nearly 3 million inducted into the military services, with little of the overt resistance that characterized the Civil War.[9]

In the United States during World War I, the word "slacker" was commonly used to describe someone who was not participating in the war effort, especially someone who avoided military service, an equivalent of the later term "draft dodger." Attempts to track down such evaders were called "slacker raids."[10][11]

Vietnam War

A Vietnam War era draft card. Registration and retention of the card was legally required so some resisters destroyed them in public.

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. VA statistics show that U.S. troops in Vietnam represented a much broader cross section of America than is commonly believed and only 25% of troops deployed to the combat zone were draftees (compared to 66% during World War II).[12] A total of 8.615 million men served during the Vietnam era and of them 2.15 million actually served in the Combat Zone so around 540,000 draftees served in the Combat Zone in Vietnam[citation needed]. Three-quarters of those deployed were from working families and poor youths were twice as likely to serve there than their more affluent cohorts although the vast majority of them were volunteers.[13] Some draft eligible men publicly burned their draft cards, which was illegal, but the Justice Department brought charges against only 50, of whom 40 were convicted.[13]

As U.S. troop strength in Vietnam increased, more young men sought to avoid the draft. Enlisting in the Coast Guard, though it had more stringent standards for enlistment, was one alternative. 15,000 National Guardsmen were activated and sent to Vietnam.[13] Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, because 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. Antiwar psychiatrists could often find dormant mental conditions to be serious enough to warrant exemptions. 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.

"Draft Dodger Rag", a 1965 anti-war song by Phil Ochs, circumvented laws against counseling evasion by employing satire to provide a how-to list of available deferments: ruptured spleen, homosexuality, poor eyesight, flat feet, asthma, caregiver for invalid relative, college enrollment, war industry worker, spinal injuries, epilepsy, flower and bug allergies, multiple drug addictions, and lack of physical fitness. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie lampooned the paradox of seeking a deferment by acting 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'!"[14] "1001 Ways to Beat the Draft" was a text on draft evasion by the late 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."

The better educated and economically advantaged were in a better position to obtain deferments through loopholes or technicalities.[15][16] They had greater access to expert advice, counseling, psychiatric professionals and attorneys.

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.[citation needed] They were aware that laws, on the books since World War I, forbade Americans to counsel draft evasion. Therefore, the AFSC was careful to present the potential inductee with his choices in neutral and factual terms.

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.[citation needed]

In 1969, in response to criticism of the draft's inequities, the U.S. government adopted a lottery system to determine who was called to serve. At the same time it implemented new standards that greatly restricted the availability of deferments.[16] They were ended for graduate students and limited for undergraduates.

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). A series of challenges to the draft under section 20 in 1971 and 1972 lead by Justice William O. Douglas to issue an injunction against induction that covered the states in the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 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.

Among the prominent political figures whose opponents have accused them of improperly avoiding the Vietnam-era draft were Dick Cheney, and Bill Clinton.[17]

Emigration during the Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, 30,000 of the 210,000 Americans accused of dodging the draft left the country. Those deserters and draft evaders combined went to Canada.[13] Though their presence there was initially controversial, the Canadian government eventually chose to welcome them. Draft evasion was not a criminal offense under Canadian law.[18] The issue of deserters was more complex. Desertion from the U.S. military was not on the list of crimes for which a person could be extradited under the extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S.;[19] however, desertion was a crime in Canada, and the Canadian military strongly opposed condoning it. In the end, the Canadian 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.[20] 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.

Five young people sitting and talking intently

Mark Satin (left), director of the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme,[21] counseling American draft resisters, 1967.

In Canada, many American Vietnam War evaders received pre-emigration counseling and post-emigration assistance from locally based groups.[22] Typically these consisted of American emigrants and Canadian supporters. The largest were the Montreal Committee to Aid War Objectors, the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, and the Vancouver Committee to Aid American War Objectors.[23] Journalists often noted their effectiveness.[24][25][26] The Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, published jointly by the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme and the House of Anansi Press, sold nearly 100,000 copies,[27] and was read by over half of all American Vietnam War emigrants to Canada.[28] In addition to the counseling groups (and at least formally separate from them) was a Toronto-based political organization, the Union of American Exiles, better known as "Amex."[29][30] It sought to speak for American draft evaders and deserters in Canada. For example, it lobbied and campaigned for universal, unconditional amnesty, and hosted an international conference in 1974 opposing anything short of that.[31]

Those who 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. In September 1974, President Gerald R. Ford offered an amnesty program for draft dodgers that required them to work in alternative service occupations for periods of six to 24 months.[32] In 1977, one day after his inauguration, President Jimmy Carter fulfilled a campaign promise by offering pardons to anyone who had evaded the draft and requested one. It antagonized critics on both sides, with the right complaining that those pardoned paid no penalty and the left complaining that requesting a pardon required the admission of a crime.[33]

Some draft evaders returned to the U.S. from Canada after the 1977 pardon, but according to sociologist John Hagan, about half of them stayed on.[34] This young and mostly educated population expanded Canada's arts and academic scenes, and helped push Canadian politics further to the left. Americans who left for Canada and became prominent there include Jay Scott and Michael Hendricks. Other draft evaders from the Vietnam era remain in Europe and Asia.

See also


  1. "Draft Dodger". Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. 1968.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kranish, Michael; Hellman, Scott (2012). The Real Romney. New York: HarperCollins, pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-0-06-212327-5.
  4. I was active member of the church at that time and was eligible for the draft
  5. "Rudy and Romney: Artful dodgers". 
  6. "Mormon church obtained Vietnam draft deferrals for Romney, other missionaries". 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Francis, R D; Jones, Richard; Smith, Donald B (2009). Journeys: A History of Canada. Nelson Education. p. 428. ISBN 978-0-17-644244-6. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  8. Edward Hasbrouck. "Prosecutions of Draft Registration Resisters". 
  9. Chambers, John Whiteclay II (1987). To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-02-905820-6.
  10. "TAKE SLACKERS INTO ARMY. - Many at Camp Dix Welcome Induction Into Military Service. - Article -". 10 September 1918. 
  11. Capozzola, Christopher (2008). Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 43-53. ISBN 978-0-19-533549-1.
  12. Author unknown (24 August 1983). "Inside: The Veterans Administration". The Washington Post, p. ?.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Baskir, Lawrence M.; Strauss, William A. (1987). Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, the War, and the Vietnam Generation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-41275-7.
  15. "James Fallows on the draft". 
  16. 16.0 16.1
  17. Dionne, E. J. (17 January 2006). "Murtha and the Mudslingers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  18. During the two World Wars when conscription was enacted in Canada, military officials pursued those who evaded the draft illegally, forced them into the Army and then court martialed them if they refused to obey an officer.
  19. Satin, Mark, ed. (1968). Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2nd ed., pp. 83–84. [ISBN unspecified]. OCLC 467238. OCLC retrieved 14 August 2012.
  20. Keung, Nicholas (20 August 2010). "Iraq War Resisters Meet Cool Reception in Canada." Toronto Star. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  21. Burns, John (11 October 197). "Deaf to the Draft". The Globe and Mail (Toronto), pp. 1–2.
  22. Clausen, Oliver (21 May 1967). "Boys Without a Country". The New York Times Magazine, pp. 25 and 94–105.
  23. Williams, Roger N. (1971). The New Exiles: American War Resisters in Canada. New York: Liveright Publishers, pp. 56–62. ISBN 978-0-87140-533-3.
  24. Cowan, Edward (11 February 1968). "Expatriate Draft Evaders Prepare Manual on How to Immigrate to Canada". The New York Times, p. 7.
  25. Dunford, Gary (3 February 1968). "Toronto's Anti-Draft Office Jammed". Toronto Star, p. 25.
  26. Wakefield, Dan (March 1968). "Supernation at Peace and War". The Atlantic (Boston), pp. 42–45.
  27. Adams, James (20 October 2007). "'The Big Guys Keep Being Surprised by Us.'" The Globe and Mail (Toronto), p. R6.
  28. Hagan, John (2001). Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-0-674-00471-9.
  29. Hagan, John (2001), pp. 80–81.
  30. Williams, Roger N. (1971), pp. 79–83.
  31. Hagan John (2001), pp. 81 and 161–62. A phone call to AMEX resulted in a recorded message warning that the line was bugged by both U.S. and Canadian intelligence services, and it was best to conceal information that could reveal the caller's identity.
  32. "Flexible Amnesty Plan Is Reported Set by Ford". 14 September 1974. 
  33. Schulzinger, Robert D. (2006). A Time for Peace: The Legacy of the Vietnam War. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507190-0. Retrieved July 30, 2011. 
  34. Hagan, John (2001), pp. 3 and 241–42.

Further reading

  • Conway, Daniel. Masculinisation, Militarisation, and the End Conscription Campaign: War Resistance in Apartheid South Africa. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press. 2012.
  • 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.
  • Kindig, Jesse. Draft Resistance in the Vietnam Era, Pacific Northwest Antiwar and Radical History Project. 2008.
  • 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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