This file unit contains photographs depicting a Draft Resistance Rally held at Town Hall in New York City. The rally was a demonstration of support for “The Boston Five,” William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, Marcus Raskin and Benjamin Spock, who were indicted in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts for aiding and abetting draft resistance.
Explore 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War through National Archives records which trace the policies and decisions made by the architects of the conflict and help untangle why the United States became involved in Vietnam, why it went on so long, and why it was so divisive for American society.
On January 10, 1967, Princeton’s Draft Information Office opened. It helped students understand what options they had to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War. The “Counterdraft” newsletter was one of the resources available there.
Some men who did not wish to fight in Vietnam for moral or religious reasons returned their draft cards to their local Selective Service Boards. Jack B. Leonard, who was studying at Loyola University’s Bellarmine School of Theology, was a conscientious objector who refused to participate in the draft based on his religious beliefs.
The Department of Justice was unsure whether to prosecute Americans who refused to participate in the draft. Leonard’s letter became part of a series of communications between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Selective Service on the subject of prosecuting conscientious objectors. Of the estimated 500,000 Americans who resisted the draft, around 200,000 were formally charged for violating draft laws and faced prison time. President Jimmy Carter pardoned all “draft dodgers” in 1977.
This exhibition presents both iconic and recently discovered National Archives records related to 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War. They trace the policies and decisions made by the architects of the conflict and help untangle why the United States became involved in Vietnam, why it went on so long, and why it was so divisive for American society.
My professor, who was in grad school in the late 70s, told us something really interesting in class today that I can’t find a source on:
He claims that when he was doing his undergrad during the Vietnam War, at one point the US government ended the thing where college students were exempt from the draft. He says that they broadcasted who they were going to draft over the radio, and students who weren’t in class listened in and drew up big charts for the students who were in class.
He said the announcer had two boxes or containers with numbers on slips of paper–one numbered 1 through 365, and the other with slips of paper with the actual days of the year on them. One number from each got pulled together, and your birth date determined what number you were assigned–like if February 3rd was pulled at the same time as 275, then people born on February 3rd would follow directions for people with that number.
I think he said that everyone who got a number below 100 could probably expect to be drafted.
This is so, so interesting and I’ve never heard it before. My professor is kind of an upbeat dude and even stays bouncy when he’s talking about events like the Battle of Antietam, and his somber, distant voice really struck me. I do totally believe his story, but I was wondering if anyone could help me find a source showing that the US government drafted some university students at some point during the Vietnam War.
This most certainly happened. The lottery was a very defining moment for a lot of young men at the time.
On August 23, 1966, boxer Muhammad Ali applied with the Selective Service for objector status on religious grounds. He was then convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing title, but this sparked Ali’s willingness to speak out against the Vietnam War and racism in the United States. “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong… No Vietcong ever called me n*****,” Ali famously stated, highlighting the racial effects on foreign policy. (Watch Ali, in his own words, explain why he refused to go to Vietnam here.)
Although President Harry Truman had ordered the military to be desegregated in 1948, not all branches of the military were desegregated until after the Korean war in 1953. So, the Vietnam War was the first American war in which African Americans were fully allowed to serve. From 1965 to 1969, black Americans (who constituted only 11% of the U.S. population) made up 12.6% of American soldiers in Vietnam. The draft greatly impacted African Americans, as many were ineligible for deferment due to the impacts of systematic oppression in the United States- namely, many were too poor or uneducated. Involvement in Vietnam sparked frustration due to the “outset, use, or alleged misuse” of black troops, which eventually culminated in the 1968 race riots. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. critiqued the racial injustice of the Vietnam War, calling it “a white man’s war, a black man’s fight.”
In 1966 President Johnson launched “Project 100,000,” a Great Society Program aimed at enhancing the lives of underprivileged youth through more lenient draft requirements. However, this program was a failure, and more than 140,000 black men were enlisted in that year.