1 December 1969: US Government Institutes Draft Lottery

Contrary to the new Nixon Doctrine, in which the Nixon administration outlined their theory of “Vietnamisation“, the US Government instituted the draft lottery on 1 December 1969. The draft lottery was conducted by the Selective Service System of the United States. It was comprised of two lotteries to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War for men born from 1 January 1944 to 31 December 1950. It was the first time a lottery system had been used to select men for military service since World War II in 1942.

The military draft brought the war to the American home front. During the Second Indochina War, between 1964 and 1973, the US military drafted 2.2 million American men out of an eligible pool of 27 million. Although only 25 per cent of the military force in the combat zones were draftees, the system of conscription caused many young American men to volunteer for the armed forces in order to have more of a choice of which division in the military they would serve.

Antiwar activists viewed the draft as immoral and the only means for the government to continue the war with fresh soldiers. Ironically, as the draft continued to fuel the war effort, it also intensified the antiwar cause. Although the Selective Service deferment system meant that men of lower socioeconomic standing were most likely to be sent to the front lines, no one was completely safe from the draft. Almost every American was either eligible to go to war or knew someone who was.

In her book Winners and Losers, Gloria Emerson highlighted the fact that conscripted armed forces personnel usually shared a heavier burden in the Second Indochina War than “lifers”, or men who had joined the forces by choice as a career. After interviewing hundreds of American veterans from Vietnam, she found that draftees were often given the most dangerous operations and a disproportionate amount of responsibility to active service members.  While many soldiers did support the war, at least initially, to others the draft seemed like a death sentence: being sent to a war and fight for a cause that they did not believe in. Some sought refuge in college or parental deferments; others intentionally failed aptitude tests or otherwise evaded; thousands fled to Canada; the politically connected sought refuge in the National Guard; and a growing number engaged in direct resistance.

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