Remembering Conscription in the United States

On July 1, 2011, without much fanfare in the rest of the world, Germany ended its military draft.  The German military draft began in 1956 (when Cold War concerns led to its re-establishment in West Germany) and lasted for 51 years.

For American males who turned 18 between 1946 and 1972 (several of whom currently serve on the Marquette law faculty) the German action is a reminder of the powerful role that the “peace-time” military draft once played in the United States.

Because it has now been almost 40 years since the American military draft was terminated, many of the details of the draft have passed out of the American consciousness and are only hazily remembered even by those who lived through the period of the draft.  (Does anyone ever watch the 1969 Arthur Penn film Alice’s Restaurant, which revolves around a satirical treatment of what the draft did to the lives of young American males in the Age of Aquarius?)

The following is a summary of the way in which the U.S. military draft operated in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and how it affected the lives of those planning to attend college or graduate school.  This surveys the operation of the draft from the time of the Military Selective Service Act of 1967—which significantly revamped involuntary military service in the United States—until the termination of the draft in 1972.  The discussion below is part personal memoir and part research project.

One of the central features of the Cold War draft was the student deferment.  As long as an eligible male was enrolled in an undergraduate college, his eligibility for the draft was deferred until his studies were complete or else he had left college.  Until 1967, students who were in graduate school were deferred as well, although one of the purposes of the 1967 Act was to reduce dramatically the number of graduate programs eligible for student deferments.

Consequently, males who entered college after 1967 knew that once they had finished college—unless they enrolled in Divinity School–they would have to deal with the prospect of mandatory military service.  Although many eligible men were in fact never drafted, the escalating use of ground troops in Vietnam in the late 1960’s made it seem likely that most physically fit males would have to either submit to induction into the military, or else volunteer for some branch of the service before being drafted, or establish that one was a qualified religious conscientious objector (which normally required proof of membership in a “peace church” like the Society of Friends, the Mennonites, or the Church of the Brethren”).  The only alternatives were going to prison or leaving the country.

As a symbol of this system, all 18-year old or older males were required to carry a “draft card” that both indicated one’s draft status and doubled as a general purpose ID card.

The Military Selective Service Act of 1967, passed at the highpoint of the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, had significantly altered the system of drafting civilians that had been in place since the years before World War II.  While it reduced the number and type of exemptions, it left the undergraduate college deferment in place, and it originally left the process of selecting draftees to local draft boards.  Previously, every local draft board was assigned a “quota” for soldiers that it had to supply to the U.S. military.  Although the quotas had to be met, except in cases of extraordinary special circumstances, the boards were normally given broad discretion when it came to choosing who would be drafted and who would not.

Although draft boards were frequently accused of favoritism in their choice of draftees, cultural icons Elvis Presley and Willie Mays were both drafted in the 1950’s, after they had become nationally well-known figures.

However, on November 26, 1969, President Richard Nixon, still in his first year in office, signed an amendment to the 1967 act which replaced the arguably arbitrary local selection system with a national draft lottery.

Under the lottery, a draft number was randomly assigned to each day of the year, and in the year they turned 19, young men were subject to call up to the military the following year.  Call ups began with those whose birthdays had assigned the lowest numbers.   (The assignment of numbers was done through the use of a lottery bin and the event was shown on national television.)

Student deferments for those attending college remained in place, but they only delayed, and only for up to four years, the year the holder became eligible to be drafted.

The first draft lottery was held on December 1, 1969, and applied only to all males eligible to be drafted under the previous system—which were those men born between January 1, 1944, and December 31, 1950. (Anyone born before 1944 had already reached age 26, which was the oldest age at which a man could be drafted under the previous system.)  The 1969 Amendment also provided that if an eligible male was not drafted the first year that he was available for the draft, he could not be drafted in a subsequent year.

This formed the primary basis of the argument that the new lottery was less disruptive to the lives of young men because it reduced the period of uncertainty as to whether or not one would be drafted from seven years (ages 19 to 26) to a single year (the year one turned 19).  While this was technically true, those who held student deferments had to worry about their draft status all the way thorough college and for the following year.

In 1970, it was generally assumed that the need for troops might require the federal government to go as high as #215 in the draft, but was unlikely to go any higher.  Consequently, anyone with a number above #215 could decline to apply for a deferment and take the very small risk of being drafted.  For those with #366, there was absolutely no risk at all, short of the outbreak of a major war with the Soviet Union.  Those with low numbers could be certain that they would be drafted when or if they lost their student deferment.

The second drawing, affecting those born in 1951, was held on July 1, 1970, after the conclusion of the freshman year of college of most of that group that had enrolled in college.  However, most of the students who began college in the fall of 1970, were, like myself, born in 1952.  We were eligible for student deferments, but had to wait until the following summer to know our real draft status.

By 1970, the future status of the draft was a matter of much debate and significant uncertainty.  Richard Nixon had called for a phase-out of the draft during the 1968 presidential campaign, and there were frequent rumors throughout his first term that the ever increasing troop withdrawals from Southeast Asia were a prerequisite to the draft’s abolition.  Consequently, one could always hope that the draft might be abolished while one’s student deferments were still in effect.

On the other hand, there were also persistent rumors that Congress might end student deferments—a frequently articulated “fairness” argument said that it should—so, on the assumption that the repeal would not be retroactive, almost everyone born in 1952 and in college in the fall of 1970 requested a student deferment, even though they would not be eligible to be drafted until 1972.

The draft lottery for those born in 1952 was not held until August 5, 1971, a month or so before the beginning of the 1971-72 academic year at most colleges.  I pulled a #81, which was almost surely in the “likely to be drafted range,” had I not had my deferment.

The Nixon Administration’s dramatic reduction in the number of ground troops in Southeast Asia in 1969 and 1970—which accompanied an expanded use of bombing of enemy territories—reduced the need for soldiers, and in 1970, the pool of those actually drafted reached only #195, short of the predicted #215.  The following year (1971), only those with numbers of 125 or lower were drafted.  In what would have been the draft year for most of us—1972—eligible males with numbers of 95 or lower were called up for physicals and most were drafted.  (I am sure that at #81 I would would have been called, because my one of my high school friends, whose number was #84, was drafted after dropping/flunking out of Virginia Tech the year before.)  However, because of my still-valid student deferment, I was not drafted in 1972.

But before anyone was drafted in 1973, further changes in the system occurred.  In September, 1971, when the draft was renewed for an additional two years after months of acrimonious debate in Congress, all future student deferments were eliminated (except for those for divinity students).  I believe that this applied only to new, first-time registrants, but that was not very clear at the time.  However, the issue ultimately proved moot.  No one with a number higher than #10 was called up for physicals in 1973, and on January 27, 1973, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced that the United States was abandoning the military draft for the indefinite future and would instead rely on an all volunteer force.

Looking back on it, this announcement produced a massive sigh of relief among college males, and almost immediately the abolition of the draft took the wind out of the sails of the anti-Vietnam War movement at Oberlin (where I was a student) and elsewhere.

Although draft lotteries were held in 1973, 1974, and 1975, the draft was never reinstated, and men in their early 20’s approach their futures with a degree of occupational freedom that few had anticipated at the beginning of the decade.

An aspect of the Vietnam era draft that was confusing then, and continuing to be now, is that there was a preliminary stage to the draft, that was known as “getting called up for a physical.”  To expedite the process, eligible males who were deemed likely to be drafted were ordered to report for a preliminary physical that was used to determine who was physically eligible for service and who was not.

Normally, someone called up for a physical who was certified as physically fit for the draft assumed that they would be drafted during the following few months.  Generally, this was the case, but it was not always true.  Many enlisted in the Air Force, or some less dangerous branch of the service, once they were called up for, and passed, an army physical.  Some, of course, failed the physical.  However, every year there were some who got called for a physical, passed it, but then saw the year pass without actually being drafted.

Because the number of men drafted fell below the predicted number every year from 1969 and 1973, there were always males with border-line numbers who got called up for physicals but who were never actually called up to active duty.  Also, and I don’t really understand why this happened, there were times when males with valid student deferments got called for physicals, even though they were not actually subject to the draft.  This may have been a function of local draft boards having difficulty figuring out the new system.  Nevertheless, the receipt of a letter in the mail ordering one to report for a military physical was a traumatic event, even for those who felt certain that they were not currently eligible to be drafted.

As the father of a son starting college this year, I am especially thankful that he doesn’t have to deal with the anxieties that were commonplace forty to fifty years ago when baby-boomer males were in college.

This Post Has 24 Comments

  1. Michael M. O'Hear

    Thanks for this tutorial on a system that many of us have only encountered superficially in history textbooks. As a college student during the first Gulf War, I can attest to many anxious conversations with classmates about the possibility of a new draft and whether it would work as it did in the era you are describing. (By coincidence, I was taking a history course then on the Vietnam War, in which we read James Fallows’ great essay on the class dimensions of the draft.)

    There may be another important legacy to the Vietnam-era draft: the federal sentencing guidelines. A few years ago, I had a conversation with a older lawyer who had worked on sentencing issues on Capitol Hill in the 1970’s, when the concept of federal sentencing guidelines first took root. By his recollection, it was the dramatic disparities in the sentencing of draft-dodgers that more than anything else convinced policy-makers of the need for uniform guidelines. To some judges, illegally avoiding the draft was tantamount to the very worst form of treason, while other judges were inclined to treat draft-related crimes quite leniently, perhaps because they appreciated the unfairness of the draft system or shared growing public reservations regarding the war itself.

    I should say that my own research on the legislative history of the guidelines has not uncovered any particular emphasis on these draft-related issues, but I suppose they may have had an “elephant in the room” quality for the people involved in the guidelines movement. Fallows’ essay certainly suggests reasons why elite policymakers in the 1970’s and early 1980’s may not have wanted to draw attention to draft crimes — many of them likely found legal ways to avoid the draft that were not as readily available to the children of working-class families.

  2. Jane Casper

    My husband was a senior at John Carroll University when the first lottery was held in December 1969. I did not know him at the time and was actually living and studying in Paris that academic year so I have no recollection of this event. But he and his friends, those at John Carroll and at other universities around the country, all remember exactly where they were the night the drawing took place: typically gathered together in front of a television in the student union waiting to learn their fate. Imagine seeing your birthdate pulled first. (The stories go that the men who had the first 100 birthdates pulled didn’t have to buy beer that night or for the remainder of the semester.) My husband’s number was in the 180’s and he eventually signed up with the Army Reserves. (A recruiter called him monthly for the next six months to “advise” him that he’d best sign up for the Reserves because they were getting closer and closer to calling his number.) His younger brother–two years younger–had number 365.

  3. Catherine Tully

    I remember well starting college in August, 1971 and walking through the dorm lounge, which had the only TVs, and the room filled with guys mesmerized watching the draft lottery numbers scrolling on the screen. Then in September the end of student deferments and lots of guys just dropping out sure they would be going to Vietnam. Some joined the reserves, some went to Canada, some went home and some waited to be called up. And unlike today’s wars the evening news every night on all three broadcast channels started with scenes of injury, death and destruction in Nam.

    1. Michael McLean

      That’s very sad to hear. It’s especially sad because 1) student deferments were only ended for freshmen — sophomores, juniors, and seniors were able to keep theirs until they graduated. 2) Most freshmen in 1971 were born in 1953, making them ineligible to be drafted until 1973 and ultimately sparing from the draft. 3) Even for the freshmen in 1971 who were born in 1952, and were therefore eligible to be drafted in 1972 — even for them, it didn’t end up being the worst thing in the world, because they were drafted in the summer of 1972 following their freshman year, and shortly after they were drafted, the United States stopped sending draftees to Vietnam. The worst case scenario was that they’d have to put their education on hold for two years, but they weren’t actually at risk of being sent to Vietnam.

      It’s just too bad they didn’t know that at the time.

  4. David Papke

    Thank you for your fine history of the draft. I was a first-year law student at the time of the first draft lottery and remember gathering with a couple hundred law students and their friends in the law school dining hall to watch the drawing of numbers. (The whole affair was televised live from Washington, D.C.) When my birthday received the “safe number” of 305, I felt my life had been spared. You are correct in thinking that your son is fortunate to be spared all the anxiety that these procedures generated.
    That having been said, I’m intrigued by the position of Diane Mazur, a former Air Force officer and now a professor at the University of Florida Law School. She maintains that the public is more likely to tend to the military and to eschew a hands-off approach when a draft continually rotates a representative cross-section of civilians through the miitary. The issue of the “civil-military gap” is central in military studies, and the thinking is that the gap widens with all-volunteer armed forces. It seems to me that we live in a time in which the military is portrayed not only as the protector of our values but also the walking embodiment of those values. A draft might limit that kind of thinking. See Diane Mazur, “Why Progressives Lost the War When They Lost the Draft,” 32 Hofstra Law Review 553 (2003).

  5. Scott Idleman

    Thank you, Gordon, for your informative post. For those interested, there is at least one video on YouTube, a CBS broadcast, of the draft lottery conducted in late 1969 (for 1970 induction):

    Consistent with the consequence of searching only for “draft lottery” on YouTube, which largely yielded NBA-related videos, I suspect that most Americans born after the late 1960s would generally if not exclusively associate the term “draft lottery” with professional sports. What significance there may be to that, other than a possible lack of historical sensibility, I do not know.

  6. Joseph Hylton

    I appreciate the wide range of comments on my posting.

    One aspect of the draft that I remember quite well was the way in which it induced individuals to volunteer for the military (as Jane Casper noted above)and thus, somewhat ironically, reduced the need for draftees.

    Prior to the escalation of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960’s, the military was generally favorably viewed in American society. (Who listening to music in 1965 can ever forget the pop hit, “Ballad of the Green Berets,” and the seemingly endless stream of celebratory World War II movies coming out of Hollywood?)

    Given that there was no lottery before 1969 and men remained eligible for the draft through age 26, many American males simply went ahead and volunteered for the military, to “get it over with,” particularly since the chances of actually ending up in combat were fairly low between 1953 and 1965.

    Furthermore, although the practice may not have been officially sanctioned, many local draft boards allowed men under their jurisdiction to “volunteer” to be drafted.
    As a consequence, many draftees were in reality volunteers.

    Once the escalation of Vietnam became a reality, the calculus changed. It was widely accepted that one’s chance of being sent to fight in Vietnam was much less if one volunteered, so many potential draftees volunteered for the military in order to avoid combat service. This was not without cost, since the service term for volunteers was three or four years (or even longer if one volunteered for the National Guard or the Reserves), while draftees served only two years.

    Once the draft lottery was implemented, men with low numbers had even greater incentives to enlist, and in doing so made it less likely that men with mid-range draft numbers would be ordered up for military service.

    My recollection is also that this role for draft–of guaranteeing a steady stream of volunteers–was widely recognized at the time. Also generally accepted was the practice of judges dismissing certain types of criminal charges against young men, if the defendants were willing to enlist in the military or at least volunteer to be drafted.

    Although I avoided the draft by holding one of the last student deferments, many of my childhood friends were drafted or else volunteered to get it over with. One of them, Charlie Bonds, a member of my Boy Scout Patrol, died in combat in Vietnam.

  7. Charles Clausen

    Gordon, thank you for your interesting memoir/research piece. Having been born in 1941, I had a rather different perspective on the conscription issues you describe so well.

    After graduating from Marquette’s undergraduate program in 1963, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served until 1967, when I enrolled at MULS. I served in Vietnam in 1965-1966. None of us Marines were conscripts in those days, though as the war grew ever more demanding of “fresh blood”, even the Marines had to rely on the draft , to the great chagrin of us relative old timers. Most professional Marines of that era are of the opinion that reliance on conscripts (as well as the general unpopularity of the war) had a devastating impact on the Marines’ legendary discipline and esprit de corps.

    After being discharged in the summer of 1967, I and about 120 others (almost all males, almost all white) matriculated at the law school. When the graduate school exemption expired in that year, my classmates who were not veterans felt the hot breath of their local draft boards breathing on their necks. It seemed like everybody was looking for a reserve unit to join. As one only recently discharged, I did not have to fear a draft board, but I was subject to being recalled to active duty by President Johnson at any time during my first two years at the law school. This vulnerability was a source of minor but chronic anxiety for me.

    Many of my classmates who were not successful in joining a reserve unit were drafted. Some turned to a local lawyer, Harry Peck, who had a thriving selective service practice challenging local draft boards. The combined effect of my classmates joining reserve units and leaving school for their initial period of training and active duty, and
    conscription taking many others out of school, caused the size of my entering class to decrease by about one third by the time of graduation. This phenomenon had a profound effect on my life. I had a class rank of #3 in my fourth semester, behind my good friends Pat Hetrick, who was #2 and Tom St. John, who was #1. Pat got drafted during the fourth semester and Tom in the summer after the fourth semester. In two abrupt and serendipitous moves caused by Pat’s draft board in Milwaukee and Tom’s draft board in Appleton, I moved to the top of the class and from there to many years on the MULS faculty.

    Although I ended up being strangely benefitted by the draft in those days, I certainly wouldn’t want to relive them. They were days of high anxiety and bitter political divisions in the country and at the law school. Liberal, antiwar students held the conservative generally Republican faculty in law regard, and most of the faculty were disdainful of the antiwar students. It was not a good time for the nation or for the law school. I suspect that much of the bitter political divisions that exist today is rooted in that terribly destructive Vietnam era.

  8. Diane Mazur

    Thanks for the mention, David.

    The comments on this post have been great. For men of a certain age, their relationship with the military is a formative experience, and that’s true whether they served in the military or not. The events shared in the comments seem as fresh as the day they happened.

    I received many similar comments in response to my recent book from Oxford University Press, “A More Perfect Military: How the Constitution Can Make Our Military Stronger.” Almost always, they were from the same generation of people, whether veteran or non-veteran, draftee or volunteer.

    In “A More Perfect Military,” I discuss the fundamental ways the military has changed over the 35+ years of the all-volunteer era. These changes have generally not been for the good, and our civil-military relations today are as unhealthy as they have ever been. (Admiration from afar, of course, is not the same thing as healthy civil-military relations or strong civilian control.)

    I argue that two things contributed to the decline. First, the Supreme Court changed its stance with respect to judicial oversight of the military in the 1970s. Second is the transition from a draft-assisted to an all-volunteer force. The AVF has helped to create a gap of culture and experience between civilian and military worlds, and this gap has led to not only weaker civilian control but also (as David noted) a problematic use of military policy to advance socially conservative policies in the civilian sector. Our progress as a nation in matters of equal protection suffered when we began to hold out the military as a moral exemplar excused from the usual constitutional standards.

    Thanks for the invitation to post to the Marquette blog.

  9. Eric Roberts

    I was told to report for a physical in 1969 at age 28 (I had been deferred for college)
    I had an address in England then so they then had me report to Germany. I never reported (as I had returned) and they never followed up. This seems to contradict the articles.

  10. Evan Quimby

    I have a question regarding dropping a student deferment during the draft lottery years. I seem to remember that, if one had a reasonably high number, he could drop his student deferment just a day or two before his year of eligibility was to end, be eligible just for a few days and then, when not called up in those few days, be done with worrying about being drafted. Is that correct?

  11. John W. Greiert

    I realize this commentary is old but I cannot help but express my thoughts after all theses years.
    I was an 18-year old sophomore in February, 1972 on a full scholarship at a small private liberal arts college in Minnesota when out of the clear blue a letter from the draft appeared in my mailbox. It stated that I had three days to report to the induction center in Milwaukee for my physical. This made no sense at all since I had a student deferment.
    Anyway, I reported to Milwaukee and was told to return home by my draft board in Madison until further notified. I told the officer that I had two draft
    boards and produced two draft cards to prove it. He disregarded that and just said “go home and wait”. Needless to say the next 6 months were very traumatic for me as I felt betrayed that my student deferment was not honored. I also lost an entire semester of college.
    I’ve wondered after almost 50years if anyone else has a similar story to tell.
    Thanks for all the great comments.

    John W. Greiert, DDS
    Marquette University School of Dentistry (class of 1982)

  12. Michael McLean

    One question I have is whether someone who was born in 1952, entered college in 1970, but did not claim a student deferment for his freshman year because he knew he wasn’t eligible to be drafted until 1972 — whether he was affected by the ending of student deferments in September of 1971.

    Basically, when student deferments were ended in September 1971, were they only ended for people who first entered college in 1971, or were they also ended for people who entered college in 1970 but did not claim a student deferment for their freshman year?

  13. Ed Smollen

    At one time was there a deferment given to school teachers. I am just asking this question because I cannot remember.

  14. craig muhonen

    I graduated in 1964, and went to work for Douglas Aircraft Co., at Vandenburg Air Force Base, Cal., with two secret clearances and a critical skills deferment. Then on Jan. 6th, 1965, I received a letter to report for my induction physical in Long Beach, Cal. All the male graduates in our class, and all across the country, maybe 100,000 or so, got these first “orders to report”, and dutifully reported, as all our fathers had in WWII.

    As we stood in line, stripped down to our skivvies, all of a sudden there were “assistants” who came up behind us with syringes in their hands, and Bam! 8 injections in about 20 seconds time, then another very big needle in the hip, and shuffled up to a guy who grabbed my balls and said, “cough”. Looking back, I felt like Arlo Guthrie in the movie “Alice’s Restaurant,” and after what seemed like a lifetime, we were, “inspected, injected, neglected, and Selected.”

    We were herded into an auditorium where we were told to “stand up when I point to you,” and stay standing, “the Marines have their pick of all you ladies.” I am a surfer from Torrance Beach Cal., and sitting there in my Penney’s Towncraft tee shirt, all tan and buff, I couldn’t slide down in my seat far enough.

    Long story short, all 220 of us South High School in Torrance graduates were “conscripted” into the Army for two years and sent to Vietnam. Most of us made it back by the Grace of God, maybe because we were “surfers”, and had stronger bodies and minds — ha. Lookin’ back again (I did get picked), Marine Boot Camp was way better than any other, by far, and, “the Bong Son Bombers” helped beat the chaos.

    Are there any others out there who felt like Alice and got caught up with these, “orders to report for induction psychical” letters in 1965? This was an illegal “draft”, with no numbers, to send boys to Vietnam, to cover for the “Air America” drug running operation. (Started in 1954 and strengthened by LBJ, on 23 Nov. 1963.) JFK and Ngo Dinh Diem were shot in the head, 21 days apart… hmmm…. My opinion.

  15. JD Austin

    Thank you for the history with regards to getting the “go take your physical” notice. My dad was a surfer in San Diego (born in 1947) when he got his notice. He immediately enlisted in the Air Force. His time in the AF was split between Travis AFB and Saigon working as a mechanic for 2 tours.

  16. Minx Klawinski

    I’m trying to find out when those selected in the Aug 5th 1971 were actually inducted into the service. Congress was still deciding draft issues and then in September these young men found out they were being called up. I just want to know what happened to these guys between Aug 5th 1971 and when they went to Vietnam.

  17. Joel Selmeier

    Thanks for your research. For something I’m writing I need to be clear – for those born in 1951, did the draft number they were given on July 1, 1970 remain their draft numbers during their college deferments or did they get new numbers when their deferments ended? If their deferment ended 2 years later, would they get the numbers drawn 2 years later or still have the number originally given to them?

    Thanks in advance.

  18. Bill Tracy

    I can add for 1953 birth year which was a wild ride.
    I was born in 1953 and had a 007 draft number. No 1953 folks were drafted, although we were processed for 1-A classification up to a certain draft number (95 according to my notes). I was in college but we were the first cohort without a student deferment and the Vietnam war was still very active, so we 1953er’s in college with low draft numbers were under quite some life pressure. I had to leave college for a few days to go back home to my county to get the pre-induction physical approx Sept 1972 and was 1-A, ready to be drafted out of college (in the end that did not happen). I happened to have good contacts (my neighbor was Col. in charge of the county draft) and he advised me not to panic and not join before actually drafted.. But I witnessed men my age being told they were drafted at the recruiting centers. So I did an informal study to see how many 1953 birth year people may have died in the war, due to misinfo, but I saw very few cases of 1953 deaths, and those seemed to have been mostly Age 18 volunteers (in one case the guy was like 15 and faked his birthday – youngest soldier killed was 1953 birth year).

  19. Bill Tracy

    Interesting, I did not recall the draft not recognizing college deferments. My brother was born in ’52, and after my return from Vietnam, I told him I’d take him to Canada before I’d allow them to send him there! Fortunately, he was never drafted.

  20. Scott J. Tepper

    Professor Hylton (RIP) left out an awful lot of what happened at the end of 1971 and the first 6 months of 1972. A series of lawsuits served to kill the draft. First there were the Section 20 cases challenging inductions within 90 days of the September 28, 1971 enactment of the 1971 Act (so called by title, not merely an extension of 1967 draft induction authority). Lawsuits were filed in 60 district courts. There were a few wins and then a lot of losses. But Justice Douglas issued a stay and by December 9, 1971, despite winning a number of cases, the Selective Service System called it quits for 1971, effectively giving wins to men who resisted being inducted after the 1971 Act was signed into law..

    In early 1972 the Selective Service System tried to create “extended priority groups” to draft the 1971 eligible men who were able to escape the draft because of the Section 20 litigation. The SSS couldn’t fashion appropriate regulations to get around the requirement that a man after the institution of the lottery be eligible during only one calendar year. So the SSS abandoned efforts to draft 1971 I-As. The System did try to order to alternate service I-0s through a cobbled up series of informal regulations. But cases in Washington D.C. (Gardiner v. Tarr) and San Francisco (Piercy & Levi v. Tarr) held those attempts illegal (the I-0s I-A counterparts weren’t being inducted) and, more importantly, the SSS had to abide by the prepublication and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.

    The System pretty much fell apart after that. Instead of the 130,000 men needed to continue to support the Vietnam War effort, or the 270,000 men permitted to be drafted under the 1971 law, only 50,000 were inducted, forcing the Government to withdraw from Vietnam.

    Nixon, of course, took credit for ending the draft and ending the Vietnam War (or starting to), but it was litigation that did in the Draft and ended the War.

    (How do I know all this? I conceived of and wrote — as a law clerk — the Section 20 complaints, and argued and won the 1972 cases in D.C. and San Francisco as a newly minted lawyer.)

  21. Mike Ford

    I have stumbled upon this nearly 13 years later and I’m thankful that it is still here. I am a 45 year old singer/songwriter and although I am young enough to not have had to deal with the draft, I am working on a song based on a conversation I had with my father about his experience. It was one of those “Kids these days…” conversations where he said that young men these days don’t have things to fear like they did in their day. I wasn’t ready for the answer when I asked what his generation had to fear. It was moving, it was sad, and I felt compelled to put my voice behind the experience and remind, if nothing else, my small circle who listen to my songs.

    My father was born in 1952 so he was part of the lottery in 1971. His birthday was ultimately assigned #308 so he was pretty relieved, but he had multiple friends with very low numbers, one as low as 12. The previous lotteries left them with an understanding of what to expect, but as I assume we can all understand, no way to prepare for what was going to happen – how could you truly prepare? And once the lottery was complete, what were they to do?

    Anyway, I won’t go on, it sounds like most comments here have first hand experience and would know these things better than I can tell it. But I appreciate being able to read through the write up and subsequent comments so that I can be informed going into this. I’m also thankful I had that conversation with my father and asked the questions that got him talking. I hope that everybody has the opportunity to understand more of their parents lives like that.

  22. Joe Green

    I was a sophomore at Marquette in 1967 and was kicked out after my roommate from Oklahoma turned me in for smoking marijuana and my room was searched and some not very good weed was found in Dads pipe tobacco pouch hidden in my bureau.

    I was summoned to the office of Dean Tinkle, Jesuits were there , the head of studetn affairs was there.

    The inquisition began “We know what you have been doing.”

    I confessed that I built a snowman in the Joan of Arc chapel,


    Then the Dean held up the deadly weed and said “Was it any good?”

    Soon I was on my way home back to Pennsylvania where I got a letter from LBJ before I was able to get a 2S deferment.

    Went for the physical but then got the 2S and so was safe for a bit.

    By this time 2 from my Catholic High School with a total enrollment of 800 were killed.

    But then the lottery. Was soon to graduate. So I signed up for three years to learn Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey and.., since I didn’t want to sign up for another year to join the ASA I was sent to Fort Huachuca to be a prisoner of war interrogator and then was sent to Fort Hood where I taught English as a second language to the brides of soldiers returning from foreign places.

    Then re-enlisted and went to Fort Huachuca where I edited Army Manuals such as “Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare” and then out and a civilian again.

    By the way I visited Marquette in 68 where the head of student affairs was somewhat embarrassed when I encounter him smoking weed at a party.

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