Americans Should Know these 20 Facts About the History of the Draft
Americans Should Know these 20 Facts About the History of the Draft

Americans Should Know these 20 Facts About the History of the Draft

Larry Holzwarth - March 12, 2019

Americans Should Know these 20 Facts About the History of the Draft
Burning draft cards was a common form of protest against the Vietnam War and the draft system during the 1960s. Wikimedia

19. The draft and the Vietnam War

During the war in Vietnam, especially during the buildup of American forces which began in 1965, the draft was the primary source of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel which served in theater during the long war. The draft was used to man the Army officially. But it was also used as a threat. Those with a low draft number and unable to obtain deferments often sought refuge from the threat of serving in the jungles and rice paddies by voluntarily enlisting in other branches of the services, where they were less likely to encounter combat, though the Navy and Air Force expanded their operations in Vietnam throughout the 1960s.

The draft and the war it supported grew increasingly unpopular as the decade unfolded and the manner in which the United States prosecuted the war, and falsely reported on its progress to its President and its people led to massive protests. Burning draft cards and fleeing along an underground railroad to Canada became the escape for many. Others escaped the draft by obtaining deferments, using their individual connections to receive medical exemptions. Colleges offered temporary respite from the draft. By the end of the 1960s the protests against the draft reached a crescendo, and as the Americans withdrew from Vietnam, plans for a new American military emerged.

Americans Should Know these 20 Facts About the History of the Draft
The virulent anti-draft movement led to the establishment of an all volunteer US military in the 1970s. Wikimedia

20. The all-volunteer military returned to America in the 1970s

Richard Nixon promised to end the draft during the presidential campaign of 1968, the most tempestuous year of the tempestuous 1960s. After winning the election he allowed himself to be convinced that ending the draft would be viewed as a sign of American weakness, and he took no action to keep his promise. In 1973,under the prodding of the Senate, the last national lottery for the draft to date was held. The US military gave itself over to being all-volunteer, a difficult task given the anti-military attitudes prevalent in the country after the humiliation of Vietnam. Since then a draft has not been held, but the Selective Service System remains in place in the United States.

Since July 1980 it has been the law in the United States that men, (both US citizens and immigrant non-citizens) once they reach the age of 18 must register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Those ineligible for military service for any reason are not exempt from the requirement. Since 1989 a Health Care Personnel Delivery System (HCPDS) has been in place, since health care professionals are the most likely to be drafted in any future conflict, where extensive training on complex systems is required of today’s military. The likelihood of a general draft remains remote, but the US government and military is prepared and retains the authority to exercise one if necessary.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Conscription in the United States: Historical Background”. Jack F. Leach. 1952

“The Confederation Period and the American Historian”. Richard B. Morris, William and Mary Quarterly. 1956

“United States Army 1783-1811”. James Kochan. 2001

“Year of Decision: 1846”. Bernard de Voto. 2000

“The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies”. Library of Congress. 1901

“They Went Into the Fight Cheering! Confederate Conscription in North Carolina”. Walter C. Hilderman III. 2006

“Conscription and Conflict in the Confederacy”. Albert Burton Moore. 2012

“The Constitution of the United States, Article 1 Section 8”.

“One Million Men: The Civil War Draft in the North”. Eugene C. Murdock. 1971

“World War 1: Conscription Laws”. Erin Allen, Library of Congress. September 13, 2016

“When America’s Most Prominent Socialist Was Jailed for Speaking Out Against World War One”. Erick Trickey, June 15, 2018

“Background of Selective Service”. Selective Service System. Online

“Executive Order 9279”. FDR Presidential Library. Online

“The Debate Behind US Intervention in World War II”. Susan Dunn, The Atlantic. July 8, 2013

“The Fifties”. David Halberstam. 1993

“Behind the Protests Against the Vietnam War in 1968”. Daniel S. Levy, TIME Magazine. January 19, 2018

“The Evolution of the All Voluntary Force”. Bernard Rostker, RAND Corporation. Online