Draft evasion is an intentional decision not to comply with the military conscription policies of one's nation. Such practices that do not involve law breaking or which are based on conscientious objection are sometimes referred to as "draft avoidance." Refusing to submit to the draft is considered a criminal offense in most countries where conscription is in effect.
Those who practice draft evasion are sometimes pejoratively referred to as "draft dodgers," a term which was made popular during the Vietnam War.
Draft evasion is distinct from desertion in that only an active member of a military service can become a deserter by absenting himself or herself from the army without receiving a valid leave of absence or discharge and without any intention of returning to the army.
Avoidance, evasion, resistance and desertion compared
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 Vietnam era version of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (1968) simply defined draft dodger as "one who avoids military service" regardless how it was done. Some means of draft avoidance:
- Being a conscientious objector, whether one's anti-war sentiment is religious or otherwise. Peace churches, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, Christian anarchists, Rastafari and Quakers, oppose any kind of military service for their members, even in non-combatant fields, but are not opposed to alternative non-uniformed civilian service.
- Seeking excusal from military service due to health reasons - this would be considered evasion if the purported health issue was feigned or overstated. Donald Trump who later became the Forty-Fifth President of the United States graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, but he received a diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels. The diagnosis resulted in a medical deferment, exempting him from military service. Due to this deferment he was accused draft dodging by political opponents.
- Claiming to be homosexual, when the military in question excludes homosexuals—this would be considered evasion if the claim was false, but if the potential conscript is in fact a homosexual, it would be the rules of the military body that prevent him/her from enlisting, even if he/she wished to do so.
- Seeking and receiving a student deferment. This would be considered evasion if false or misleading academic credentials were used.
- Being employed in or applying for a job in an "essential" civilian occupation and seeking deferment on those grounds. Farmers are usually exempt as are individuals employed in defense related industries. Often this required a letter from the potential draftee's employer to be accepted. After receiving deferment as a student, 2008 U.S. Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani received further deferment after his occupation as a law clerk was deemed "essential" by the Selective Service.
- Non-pacifist churches have at times deferred missionaries as "divinity students". During the Vietnam War The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) became embroiled in controversy for deferring large numbers of its young members. The LDS church eventually agreed to cap the number of missionary deferments it sought for members in any one state; however, this generally did not stop LDS missionaries who lived outside the United States. This cap was church wide in the United States and was not limited to Utah. Only two missionaries a year were allowed from each ward. This cap did not stop foreign missionaries (like 2008 presidential candidate and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who was living in France) from receiving deferments with relative ease.
- Simply declining to enlist, if the potential conscript appears likely to avoid the draft through sheer "luck of the draw". During the Vietnam War, not all eligible young men were drafted; many who had a high lottery number registered for the draft but took no further action, knowing that they were unlikely to ever be drafted. Declining to enlist is not evasion.
- Paying a stand-in to take one's place if drafted. In most countries this is no longer legally sanctioned, but it was a lawful and very common practice in the American Civil War. Grover Cleveland, who later became the Twenty-Second and Twenty-Fourth President of the United States, paid a substitute during the Civil War, an act for which he was criticized when he ran for President.
- In some countries it is often possible to evade military service by bribing corrupt draft officers, or by finding a doctor who will certify one as medically unfit.
- Deliberately making oneself medically unfit for duty. This could include consuming large quantities of drugs and alcohol for some time before the medical examination in order to appear addicted, or in more extreme cases, amputating a body part that is critical for service such as trigger fingers or even an entire limb. This could also include self-starvation, as in abstinence practised by some Jewish conscripts in the Russian Empire. In a 1977 High Times article, American singer and songwriter Ted Nugent stated that he took crystal meth, urinated and defecated in his pants before his physical in order to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. Nugent reaffirmed this in a 1990 interview with Detroit Free Press, stating that "a week before his physical, he stopped using the bathroom altogether, virtually living inside his pants caked with excrement and urine".
- Moving out of the country (which, depending on the laws in question, may or may not exempt a citizen from the draft). During the Vietnam War between 20,000 and 30,000 draft eligible American men emigrated to Canada to avoid military service.
The term draft resister specifically refers to someone who explicitly refuses military service—simply attempting to flee the draft is draft evasion. The distinction between "evasion" and "resistance" is strongly contested by James C. Scott, who argues that covert action is itself a form of resistance: "For many of the least privileged minorities and marginalized poor, open political action will hardly capture the bulk of political action.... The luxury of relatively safe, open political opposition is rare... So long as we confine our conception of the political to activity that is openly declared we are driven to conclude that subordinate groups essentially lack a political life.... To do so is to miss the immense terrain that lies between quiescence and [open] revolt and that, for better or worse, is the political environment of subject classes.... Each of the forms of disguised resistance... is the silent partner of a loud form of public resistance."
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Draft dodging was also common in Australia during the Vietnam War, 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.
Canada employed a military draft during World Wars I and II, and some Canadians chose to evade it.
- World War I
During the First World War, Canadians who did not want to be conscripted left for the US.
- World War II
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 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 evade the draft in Canada is not known. Because of the delay in deploying them overseas, historians do not consider their number significant.
During World War II, there was no legal way to avoid the draft, and failure to obey was treated as insubordination, punished by execution or jail. Draft evaders were forced to escape to the forests and live there as outlaws, in what was called facetiously serving in the käpykaarti (Pine Cone Guard). 1,500 men failed to show up at the draft at the start of the Continuation War, and 32,186 cases of desertion were handled by the courts. There were numerous reasons: fear or war-weariness, objection to the war as an offensive war, ideological objections or outright support for Communism. However, Communists that considered dangerous were subject to "protective custody", in practice detention in a prison for the course of the war. The käpykaarti was a diverse group including draft evaders, deserters, Communists and Soviet desants. They lived in small groups, sometimes even in military-style dugouts constructed from logs, and often maintained a rotation to guard the camp. They received support from sympatizers who could buy from the black market, or failing that, stole provisions to feed themselves. The Finnish Communist Party was able to operate among the draft evaders. 63 death sentences were handed out to deserters, however many of them were killed in military or police raids on their camps. At the conclusion of the war, the Allied Control Commission immediately demanded an amnesty for draft evaders, and they were not further punished.
Currently, failing to appear for draft as ordered immediately results in an arrest warrant. Individuals who fail to register either to armed or civilian service are jailed for six months. Every man is expected to serve; there is no lottery and no exemptions for study, family, sexual orientation or occupational reasons. 80% of each age cohort serve in the armed forces. Nonetheless, medical exemptions are common; the exempted person will remain in the unorganized reserve and may be called for e.g. work duty in case of war. Draft evasion through claiming e.g. mental health issues remains possible, although only military doctors can issue exemptions. Also, there is an exemption for Jehovah's Witnesses, who are required to participate in the congregation from ages 19 to 29 in order to be eligible.
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Although New Zealand did have a system of compulsory conscription commonly known as national service, it sent only "full time all volunteer professional soldiers" to Vietnam. Nevertheless, many New Zealand men refused to register for national service and lost their right to vote and were denied or removed from government employment. The government never acted on its threats of lengthy jail time for refusal. National Service, including its registration process, was abolished in December 1972.
The United States has employed conscription (mandatory military service, also called "the draft") several times, usually during war but also during the Cold War. It discontinued the draft in 1973, moving to an all-volunteer force. However, males aged 18–26 are required to register with the Selective Service System, which remains as a contemporary plan in the event that a draft is needed. Knowing and willful refusal to present oneself for and submit to registration as ordered is punishable by a maximum penalty of up to five years in Federal prison and/or a fine of US$250,000, although there have been no prosecutions of draft registration resisters since January 1986. Failing to register though, makes the male ineligible for certain benefits, such as FAFSA aid, federal/state jobs, and in certain states, even driver's licenses (since certain states will automatically register a male with the Selective Service System).
World War I
The Selective Service Act of 1917 was carefully drawn to remedy the defects in the Civil War system by allowing exemptions for dependency, essential occupations, and religious scruples and by prohibiting all forms of bounties, substitutions, or purchase of exemptions. In 1917 and 1918 some 24 million men were registered and nearly 3 million inducted into the military services, with little of the overt resistance that characterized the Civil War.
In the United States during World War I, the word "slacker" was commonly used to describe someone who was not participating in the war effort, especially someone who avoided military service, an equivalent of the later term "draft dodger." Attempts to track down such evaders were called "slacker raids."
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. VA statistics show that U.S. troops in Vietnam represented a much broader cross section of America than is commonly believed and only 25% of troops deployed to the combat zone were draftees (compared to 66% during World War II). A total of 8.615 million men served during the Vietnam era and of them 2.15 million actually served in the Combat Zone. Three-quarters of those deployed were from working families and poor youths were twice as likely to serve there than their more affluent cohorts although the vast majority of them were volunteers. Some draft eligible men publicly burned their draft cards, which was illegal, but the Justice Department brought charges against only 50, of whom 40 were convicted.
As U.S. troop strength in Vietnam increased, more young men sought to avoid the draft. Enlisting in the Coast Guard, though it had more stringent standards for enlistment, was one alternative. 15,000 National Guardsmen were activated and sent to Vietnam. Vocations to the ministry and the rabbinate soared, because 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. Antiwar psychiatrists could often find dormant mental conditions to be serious enough to warrant exemptions. 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.
"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. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie lampooned the paradox of seeking a deferment by acting 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'!" "1001 Ways to Beat the Draft" was a text on draft evasion by the late 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."
The better educated and economically advantaged were in a better position to obtain deferments through loopholes or technicalities. They had greater access to expert advice, counseling, psychiatric professionals and attorneys.
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 draft evasion. Therefore, the AFSC was careful to present the potential inductee with his choices in neutral and factual terms.
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, Ω, 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.
In 1969, in response to criticism of the draft's inequities, the U.S. government adopted a lottery system to determine who was called to serve. At the same time it implemented new standards that greatly restricted the availability of deferments. They were ended for graduate students and limited for undergraduates.
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). A series of challenges to the draft under section 20 in 1971 and 1972 lead by Justice William O. Douglas to issue an injunction against induction that covered the states in the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 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.
Emigration during the Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, 30,000 of the 210,000 Americans accused of dodging the draft left the country. Those deserters and draft evaders combined went to Canada. Though their presence there was initially controversial, the Canadian government eventually chose to welcome them. Draft evasion was not a criminal offense under Canadian law. The issue of deserters was more complex. Desertion from the U.S. military was not on the list of crimes for which a person could be extradited under the extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S.; however, desertion was a crime in Canada, and the Canadian military strongly opposed condoning it. In the end, the Canadian 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.
In Canada, many American Vietnam War evaders received pre-emigration counseling and post-emigration assistance from locally based groups. Typically these consisted of American emigrants and Canadian supporters. The largest were the Montreal Committee to Aid War Objectors, the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme, and the Vancouver Committee to Aid American War Objectors. Journalists often noted their effectiveness. The Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, published jointly by the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme and the House of Anansi Press, sold nearly 100,000 copies, and was read by over half of all American Vietnam War emigrants to Canada. In addition to the counseling groups (and at least formally separate from them) was a Toronto-based political organization, the Union of American Exiles, better known as "Amex." It sought to speak for American draft evaders and deserters in Canada. For example, it lobbied and campaigned for universal, unconditional amnesty, and hosted an international conference in 1974 opposing anything short of that.
Those who 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. In September 1974, President Gerald R. Ford offered an amnesty program for draft dodgers that required them to work in alternative service occupations for periods of six to 24 months. In 1977, one day after his inauguration, President Jimmy Carter fulfilled a campaign promise by offering pardons to anyone who had evaded the draft and requested one. It antagonized critics on both sides, with the right complaining that those pardoned paid no penalty and the left complaining that requesting a pardon required the admission of a crime.
Some draft evaders returned to the U.S. from Canada after the 1977 pardon, but according to sociologist John Hagan, about half of them stayed on. This young and mostly educated population expanded Canada's arts and academic scenes, and helped push Canadian politics further to the left. Americans who left for Canada and became prominent there include Jay Scott, William Gibson, and Michael Hendricks. Other draft evaders from the Vietnam era remain in Europe and Asia.
- Canada and the Vietnam War
- Conscientious objector
- Recruitment to the British Army during the First World War#Conscription, 1916–18
- Refusal to serve in the Israeli military
- Yesh Gvul
- War resister
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