One of the civic duties listed under the “Mandatory Duties of US Citizens” was that whenever necessary, for example, in times of war or other national emergencies, “Federal law requires virtually all male US citizens and male noncitizens who are ages 18 through 25 to register with the Selective Service.” In addition, those who refused to join without a valid reason would be fined $250,000 and serve up to five years in prison. In the Vietnam War, the US military drafted 2.2 million men out of the 27 million eligible to be sent. While this might be 66 years way too late, here’s how one could’ve avoided being drafted during the Vietnam War, both legal and illegal ways.
#1. Conscientious Objection
Conscientious objection is when someone refuses to perform military service because of religion or personal belief. People who claim this right are called conscientious objectors. Most of the time, Peace Churches like the Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Quakers could legally opt out of the service, although they could still serve as a civilian. However, avoiding service by lying about conscientious objection is illegal and punishable by law.
#2. Hitchhike To Canada
The federal estimated that around 40,000 men and women sought sanctuary in Canada to dodge being drafted. In 1977, then-president Jimmy Carter pardoned those who fled, although, despite that, many decided to settle in Canada and became Canadian citizens.
An American musician named Eric Nagler crossed from Vermont into Quebec when he was 26. His reason was that, as he said in an interview, “I refused to kill anybody. The war was hideously ugly.” He became famous as a regular in “The Elephant Show” with Sharon, Lois, and Bram.
Another story was then-22 years old Bill King spent the next ten months at two army bases before deciding to flee and hitchhike to Canada just the night before he was about to be sent off to Vietnam. “They’d use (villagers) as guinea pigs, and they would use the band as a way to lure them out,” he said, and that’s what convinced him to run away.
#3. Being Homosexual
During those times, the military barred gay men from service under medical fitness standards. Nursing Clio states, “men seeking homosexuality exemptions often provided letters from psychiatrists.” This is because homosexuality was categorized as a mental disorder under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-II.
In one instance, Bob McIvery, during his physical exam, reported that he was gay. However, the doctor did not believe him and still classified him as 1-A, which meant he was available for military service. He did not report for induction when told to do so, so he was arrested and charged with failing to report. McIvery and his lawyer argued that his induction was not valid because he shouldn’t have been classified as 1-A in the first place.
#4. Health Conditions
The military is firm in not enlisting those with specific medical conditions, even during desperate times. Some medical conditions that can exempt you from serving include abdominal and gastrointestinal problems such as pancreatitis or blood-related ones like anemia, dental, hearing, and diabetes. During the Vietnam War draft, those who wanted to avoid being sent to war but were in perfect condition would stay awake for days before their medical screening or make themselves appear unhealthy to hopefully not be accepted.
#5. Go To College
Under the policy that emerged in the Korean War, enrolled men were issued college deferments from the Selective Service. This provided a strong incentive for men to remain in school if they wanted to avoid being drafted. According to a study by David Card from the University of California Berkeley, the abrupt rise and fall of the enrollment rate of college-age men in the United States between 1965 and 1975 could be attributed to draft avoidance behavior, as noticed by contemporary observers.
Some notable examples of students who received deferments were Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Delaware and then a law student at Syracuse University. For that, the Selective Service classified him as 1-Y, which means he is available for service only in the event of a national emergency.