Draft Resistance in the Vietnam Era
by Jessie Kindig
Protest to conscription has been a feature of all American wars, since the Spanish-American War in 1898 and continuing through the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Yet during the Vietnam War, draft evasion and draft resistance reached a historic peak, nearly crippling the Selective Service System. Combined with the revolt inside the military and the larger civilian antiwar movement, draft resistance acted as another fetter on the government’s ability to wage a war in Vietnam, and brought the war home in a very personal way for a generation of young men. Draft resisters filed for conscientious objector status, didn’t report for induction when called, or attempted to claim disability. Soldiers went AWOL and fled to Canada through underground railroad networks of antiwar supporters.
As the 1960s went on, the campuses became crucibles of antiwar protest, as students came to protest an unjust war, campus bureaucracy, and a graduation that would bring them draft eligibility. Since the draft loomed over students’ futures and provided an avenue for direct resistance to war on an individual level, much student activism was concerned with the draft. Beginning in 1964, students began burning their draft cards as acts of defiance. By 1969, student body presidents of 253 universities wrote to the White House to say that they personally planned to refuse induction, joining the half million others who would do so during the course of the war. Selective Service Centers and campus military recruiters, like the ROTC, became targets for protest.
By the later years of the war in the early 1970s, draft resistance reached its peak. In 1972, there were more conscientious objectors than actual draftees, all major cities faced backlogs of induction-refusal legal cases, and the Selective Service later reported that 206,000 persons were reported delinquent during the entire war period. Yet draft resisters, combined with the larger...