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A draft dodger is a term that refers to a person who avoids ("dodges") the conscription policies of the nation in which he or she is a citizen or resident by leaving the country, going into hiding, or other attempts at fraudulent means. Avoidances involving nonviolence or conscientious objectorships are sometimes referred to as draft evasion or draft resistance.
Although the term originated earlier, the term became popular during the Vietnam War to describe citizens of the United States who dodged the mandatory conscription policy, in order to avoid serving in the war, by going to Sweden, Canada and Mexico.
The United States has employed conscription (mandatory military service, also called "the draft") several times, usually during war but also during the nominal peace of the Cold War. The U.S. discontinued the draft in 1973, moving to an all-volunteer force.
Today, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency; young men aged 18–26 are required to register so that a draft can be more readily resumed. The U.S. armed forces are now designated as "all-volunteer", although, in 2004 as well as during the 1991 Gulf War, some personnel were kept in the military longer than they expected. However, this was consistent with their enlistment contracts because of a clause that permits retention based on the needs of the military. In 2003, legislation to reintroduce general conscription was defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives due to widespread disapproval among lawmakers and the American public. Similar legislation has been proposed for reintroduction recently but it has not yet been approved.
The motivations for draft dodgers and resisters are manifold. Some are individuals who merely wish to avoid the dangers of combat (and may otherwise support the war in question). Others have political or moral objections to warfare in general, or to the circumstances of a particular conflict in which their country is fighting; or may identify with a different country altogether.
Refusing to submit the draft is considered a criminal offence in most countries where conscription is in effect. In the United States, refusal is punishable by a maximum penalty of up to 5 years in Federal prison and/or a fine of US$250,000.
It is possible to draw a contrast between draft evasion and draft avoidance. Just as tax avoidance is defined as reducing or eliminating one's tax liability through legal means, draft avoidance is the elimination or mitigation of a potential conscript's military service obligation through some lawful procedure. The term draft dodging is sometimes used more loosely (and to some inappropriately) to describe draft avoidance. Some means of draft avoidance:
The term draft resister specifically refers to someone who explicitly refuses military service - simply attempting to flee the draft is draft evasion. (See also War resister)
Draft dodging should not be confused with desertion - a conscript cannot "desert" until he is inducted into the military and has thus submitted to the draft. Strictly defined, a deserter is someone who, after being inducted into the military, then absconds from the service without receiving a valid leave of absence or discharge, and with the intention of never returning to the service.
During the First World War, many Canadians who did not want to be conscripted left for the US. It is historically understood that the number of Canadians avoiding conscription via going to the US was in relative population terms less than the equivalent numbers of Americans coming to Canada during the Vietnam War. However, because Canada has always had a brain drain with respect to the US since 1830–sorting out those avoiding conscription from the ongoing stream of economic or social migrants is difficult.
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Canada introduced conscription in 1940 via the National Resources Mobilization Act. While the move was not inherently unpopular outside of French Canada, the true controversy lay in the fact that conscripts were not compelled to serve outside of Canada (i.e. in combat zones). This changed in 1943 when the 13th Canadian Brigade of the 6th Canadian Infantry Division was embarked for combat employment against the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. Several men deserted rather than embark; in the end, the brigade did not meet the enemy, which had fled. The fact that the Aleutians were technically North American soil had permitted the employment of the draftees, who were still not permitted to serve abroad by the conditions of their employment.
N.R.M.A. men were derisively known as "Zombies" by "G.S. Men" (those who had volunteered for General Service, or in other words, consented to serve in combat zones). Conscription had been a dividing force in Canadian politics in the First World War (precipitating a political crisis) and Prime Minister Mackenzie King vowed famously in the Second to introduce "conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription." In November 1944, following costly fighting in Italy, Normandy and the Scheldt, approximately 16,000 N.R.M.A. men were sent to Northwest Europe on the heels of a second crisis.
The number of men who actively sought to "dodge" the draft in Canada is not known, but given the delay in desively deploying them into combat, few histories have considered the number a significant one.
There was some opposition to the draft even before the major U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The large cohort of Baby Boomers who became eligible for military service during the Vietnam War also meant a steep increase in the number of exemptions and deferments, especially for college and graduate students. This was the source of considerable resentment among poor and working class young men including African-Americans - who could not afford college. Large groups of draftees publicly burned draft cards. Of all the service members who served in Vietnam, 10.6% were black, 88.4% were Caucasian (including Hispanics) and 1% other. At the time, Blacks represented 12.5% of the total U.S. population and 13.5% of the military age cohort, so they were significantly under represented in the war zone. Casualty data shows 86.8% of those killed in action were Caucasian, while 12.1% were Black. Although slightly higher than the proportion serving in combat, it was significantly below the Black military age cohort in the general population at the time. (Source: Combat Area Casualty File of 11/93 (CACF1193), and The Adjutant General's Center (TAGCEN) file of 1981. The overall effect was that a large proportion of the ground troops in Vietnam were from the working class, reinforcing the perception of a "Rich man's war, poor man's fight". As U.S. troop strength in Vietnam increased, more and more young men were drafted for service there and more and more of those still at home sought means of avoiding the draft. For those seeking a relatively safe alternative, service in the Coast Guard was an option (provided one could meet the more stringent enlistment standards). Since only a handful of National Guard and Reserve units were sent to Vietnam, enlistment in the Guard or the Reserves became a favored means of draft avoidance. Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, as divinity students were exempt from the draft. Doctors and draft board members found themselves being pressured by relatives or family friends to exempt potential draftees.
Other means included finding, exaggerating, or causing physical and psychological reasons for deferment, whether in the temporary "1-Y" classification, or the permanent "4-F" deferment.
Physical reasons such as high blood pressure could get a man exempted. Various methods to worsen physical reasons included, in at least one case, a man who went to the movies, at the Biograph Theater in Chicago, every night on the week before the draft to eat buttered popcorn. In addition, antiwar psychiatrists could often find dormant mental conditions to be serious enough to warrant exemptions. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie lampooned the paradox of seeking exemption from a war many people thought crazy, by acting or being crazy, in his song "Alice's Restaurant": "I said, 'I wanna kill! Kill! Eat dead burnt bodies!', and the Sergeant said, 'you're our boy'".
Many lawyers worked during the Vietnam war "pro bono" as draft counselors for the American Friends Service Committee and other antiwar groups to counsel men on their options. They were aware that laws, on the books since World War I, forbade Americans to counsel men on how to evade the draft, therefore the AFSC was careful to factually and neutrally present the young man with his choices.
"Draft Dodger Rag", a 1965 anti-war song by Phil Ochs, circumvented laws against counseling evasion by employing satire to provide a how-to list of available deferments: ruptured spleen, homosexuality, poor eyesight, flat feet, asthma, caregiver for invalid relative, college enrollment, war industry worker, spinal injuries, epilepsy, flower and bug allergies, multiple drug addictions, and lack of physical fitness.
"1001 Ways to Beat the Draft" was a text on draft "avoidance" (as opposed to "resistance" as described below) by musician Tuli Kupferberg, a member of The Fugs. Methods he espoused included arriving at the draft board in diapers or feigning homosexuality. Another text popular with men subject to the draft was a 1950s cartoon novella by Jules Feiffer, Munro, in which a four-year-old boy is drafted by mistake. Some men, taking an idea from the book, said they might ask the sergeant at the draft examination to "button me, Mister", but usually these schemes came to naught in an era where homophobia was normed, and only partly deconstructed by the antics of the counterculture.
Draft counselors, and the Selective Service System itself, emphasized that there was no such thing as an "exemption" from the draft, only a "deferment". Even the coveted status of 4-F (which by the late 1960s had lost its shameful connotation) was technically a deferment, implying that even 4-Fs might have to serve if America were invaded, as a home guard. The reasons for this were historical: during the first American draft of the Civil War, rich men or their parents could purchase an actual exemption for the then-large sum of three hundred dollars, and this caused the New York Draft Riots of that era, a major civil disturbance.
Evading the draft through loopholes or technicalities took planning, literacy and education; therefore, it was much easier for young men with middle or upper class backgrounds to finagle a deferment, even after deferments were ended for graduate students and limited for undergraduates in 1969. These men were more likely to have access to college educations, letters from psychiatrists, and pro bono advice from lawyers. Men without these resources were less able to avoid being drafted. To compensate for this inequality, the U.S. government changed to a lottery system which would treat all citizens equally in 1969.
The draft was unpopular both for its impact on those drafted and as a focal point for opposition to a controversial war. Therefore, beyond the evasive methods identified above, methods of more positive and assertive resistance existed.
Rather than submit to conscription, tens of thousands of young men migrated to Canada, which did not support war in Vietnam. Conscription ended in 1973. The end came after a series of lawsuits challenged the draft upon its re-enactment and renewed conscription in 1972 without regard to the 90-day waiting period required in the original Korean War era draft law (section 20 of the Act) that remained in the 1972 Act (which U.S. Attorneys defending conscription argued was as a result of a legislative drafting error). After a series of challenges to the draft under section 20 in 1971 and 1972, leading to an injunction against induction in the geographical area encompassed by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by Justice William O. Douglas (where, legend has it, Justice Douglas posted the injunction on a tree near a camp site while hiking in the Cascade Mountains). It became so difficult for the Selective Service System to unwind the mess the Section 20 cases caused (and to draft men according to the priorities required by law–the "order of call" named after the "order of call" defense), that the draft was quietly ended–just in time for the wind down of the Vietnam War.
During the Vietnam War, about 100,000 draft dodgers, in total, went abroad; others hid in the United States. An estimated 50,000 to 90,000 of these moved to Canada, where they were treated as immigrants. Though their presence was initially controversial within Canada, the government eventually chose to welcome them. Draft evasion was not a criminal offense under Canadian law (during the two World Wars when conscription was enacted in Canada, those who attempted to evade the draft illegally were pursued by military officials, forced into the Army and then court martialed if they refused to obey an officer). The issue of deserters was more complex, because desertion was a crime in Canada, and the Canadian military was strongly opposed to condoning it. In the end, the government maintained the right to prosecute these deserters, but in practice left them alone and instructed border guards not to ask questions relating to the issue. Eventually, tens of thousands of deserters were among those who found safe refuge in Canada, as well as in Sweden, France, and the United Kingdom.
Those that went abroad faced imprisonment or forced military service if they returned home. The U.S. continued to prosecute draft dodgers after the end of the Vietnam War. President Gerald R. Ford issued conditional amnesty for the draft dodgers and then in 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued unconditional amnesty in the form of a pardon to all remaining draft evaders, as part of a general climate of "cultural reconciliation" after the end of the controversial and unpopular war.
Some draft dodgers returned home to the United States after the 1977 amnesty, but according to an estimate by sociologist John Hagan, around 50,000 settled in Canada. This young and mostly educated population expanded Canada's arts and academic scenes, and helped push Canadian politics further to the left. Notable Canadians who were draft dodgers include Jay Scott and Michael Hendricks.
During the Vietnam War, an active movement of draft resistance also occurred, spearheaded by the Resistance organization, headed by David Harris. The insignia of the organization was the Greek letter omega, î, the symbol for ohms–the unit of electrical resistance. Members of the Resistance movement publicly burned their draft cards or refused to register for the draft. Other members deposited their cards into boxes on selected dates and then mailed them to the government. They were then drafted, refused to be inducted, and fought their cases in the federal courts. These draft resisters hoped that their public civil disobedience would help to bring the war and the draft to an end. Many young men went to federal prison as part of this movement.
Draft dodging was also common in Australia at the time, though locally it was known as Draft Resistance or active non-compliance, see conscription in Australia. There was a film made about a draft dodger in Australia during the later stages of the Vietnam War that is often shown as part of Australia's film heritage at Screen Sound Canberra. Because of Australia's lesser involvement in the Vietnam War, New Zealand did not emerge as a destination for Australian draft dodgers.
Long after the Vietnam War, military service, or its avoidance, remains an issue for politicians in the United States. Some U.S. politicians are labeled as draft dodgers by their opponents, though no prominent political figures in the U.S. were among those who went to Canada or otherwise broke any laws. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Joe Biden, Howard Dean, Dan Quayle, and Dick Cheney have all been accused of being draft dodgers on the grounds that they never saw combat in Vietnam, even though none of them received a conscription notice (Bill Clinton received one that arrived after the date he was to report, due to having been sent by surface mail to the United Kingdom. As he had already begun another term at university, regulations allowed him to complete the term before reporting, but he applied and was accepted for an ROTC program 11 days before the new induction reporting date ).
George W. Bush did serve two years on active duty and several more years of part-time duty during the Vietnam War, all stateside in the Texas Air National Guard as an F-102 pilot, in a unit assigned to the defense of the continental United States and hence unlikely to be deployed overseas. His service in the Guard (and the question of whether his father used undue influence to secure a Guard position for the younger Bush) was an issue in both the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections with his Democratic opponents claiming that he, "protected Texas airspace from invasion by the Vietnamese."
Although there is no longer a draft in the United States, the issues of desertion and conscientious objection remain for soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some military personnel, both active and reservist, have attempted to find asylum in Canada and Europe, though not in the numbers that did so during the Vietnam War. A recent ruling in Canada supports asylum claims based on "being forced to participate in military misconduct, even if it stops short of a war crime", however, a Canadian Court has now deported an Iraq era deserter for the first time (there are reported to be at least 50, perhaps 200, currently in Canada). A second deserter, female, and her family, have been ordered to leave or be deported. Two Iraq era serving soldiers have also applied for asylum in Germany (one application later withdrawn).
In 2004, the European Union passed a directive "requiring member countries to grant asylum to soldiers protesting unlawful wars". In the same story; "The U.S. Army says 71 soldiers deserted from its European bases last year, a mere sliver of the roughly 3,500 soldiers who deserted world-wide over the past year. It says it doesn't actively pursue most deserters, who make up less than 1% of the enlisted force in any given year."
Many deserters and draft evaders from the Vietnam era still remain in Canada and Europe, despite the general pardon granted to the evaders by President Carter.
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