Murphy's Law: October 7, 1999

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How the Draft was Really Dodged; Dodging the draft during the Vietnam War was seen by many as a patriotic act, a protest against an unjust war. But since most protest dried up when the draft was eliminated, one can assume that many were avoiding the draft to save themselves from the dangers of combat.

In reality, avoiding the draft just to avoid combat was the act of someone who was stupid, or, more often, simply didn't want to be bothered with military service at all. During the Vietnam War, nearly nine million Americans served in the armed forces. About a third served in Vietnam and fewer than 300,000 were in the bush getting shot at regularly. These soldiers took more than 80 percent of the casualties during the war.

In other words, you had about a three percent chance of seeing a lot of Vietnam combat once you were in the armed forces, but if you wanted to avoid combat, there were ample opportunities to do so without dodging the draft. First, consider some basic facts. The men most likely to find themselves fighting in the bush were draftees who didn't finish high school. While many men could not remedy their educational status, they could avoid the draft. The most direct way was by volunteering for service, which meant you now had less than a 20 percent chance of going toVietnam at all.

Nearly all draftees went into the army; the other services had plenty of volunteers. Since draftees were in only for two years, the army, quite reasonably, put them into jobs that required little training. This included infantry. Thus if you volunteered for three or four years, your chances of going into the infantry were quite low.

Education also made a big difference, especially for draftees. A college graduate draftee had only a 42 percent chance of going to Vietnam, high school grads a 64 percent chance and high school dropouts a 70 percent chance. College grads were seen as easier to train for a more complex job, even if they were only in for two years. A common saying in the post World War II army, and still generally true, is that if you can type, you will never have to carry a rifle (fight in the infantry).

Few liked to talk about these tricks to avoid military service. The draft was a law enacted by the people's representatives. But most young men coming of age between 1945 and 1975 (when the draft ended) had not voted for it and wanted nothing to do with two or more years in uniform. Many did not want to admit this reluctance too publicly, but judging from the number who wheeled and dealed to avoid the infantry or any service at all, many of the lads knew what they were doing.

Today, many of them will admit what they were doing back then, unless they are politicians.

 


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