Draft lottery (1969)

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Representative Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) drawing the first number.

On December 1, 1969, the Selective Service System of the United States conducted two lotteries to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War for men born from 1944 to 1950. These lotteries occurred during a period of conscription from just before World War II to 1973. It was the first time a lottery system had been used to select men for military service since 1942.

The lottery numbers assigned in December 1969 were used during calendar year 1970 both to call for induction and to call for physical examination, a preliminary call covering more men.


The days of the year (including February 29) were written on slips of paper. These pieces of paper were then placed in separate plastic capsules that were mixed in a shoebox and then dumped into a deep glass jar. Capsules were drawn from the jar one at a time.

The first number drawn was 258 (September 14), so all registrants with that birthday were assigned lottery number 1. The second number drawn corresponded to April 24, and so forth. All men of draft age (born 1944 to 1950) who shared a birth date would be called to serve at once. The first 195 birthdates drawn were later called to serve in the order they were drawn; the last of these was September 24.[1]

Also on December 1, 1969, a second lottery was held with the 26 letters of the alphabet. Among men with the same birthdate, the order of induction was determined by the ranks of the first letters of their last, first, and middle names.[2] Anyone with initials "JJJ" would have been first within the shared birthdate, followed by "JGJ", "JDJ", and "JXJ"; anyone with initials "VVV" would have been last.[3]

SSS Draft scatterplot of the days of the year (horizontal) and their lottery numbers (vertical). December birthdays (far right) were assigned many low numbers (bottom), representing early induction, and few high numbers (top).

People soon noticed that the lottery numbers were not distributed uniformly over the year. In particular, November and December births, or dates 306 to 366, were assigned mainly to lower draft numbers representing earlier calls to serve (see figure). This led to complaints that the lottery was not random as the legislation required. Analysis of the procedure suggested that mixing 366 capsules in the shoe box did not mix them sufficiently before dumping them into the jar. ("The capsules were put in a box month by month, January through December, and subsequent mixing efforts were insufficient to overcome this sequencing.")[2] Only five days in December—Dec. 2, 12, 15, 17 and 19—were higher than the last call number of 195; had the days been evenly distributed, 14 days in December would have been expected to remain uncalled. From January to December, the rank of the average draft pick numbers were 5 4 1 3 2 6 8 9 10 7 11 12. A Monte Carlo simulation found that the probability of a random order of months being this close to the 1–12 sequence expected for unsorted slips was 0.09%.[4]

Draft lotteries were conducted again in 1970 (for those born in 1951) and from 1971 to 1975 (for 1952 to 1956 births). The draft numbers issued in 1972 were never used the next year to call for induction into service, because the last call was December 7 and authority to induct expired on June 30, 1973.

The 1972 to 1975 lottery numbers were used to call some men born 1953 to 1956 for physical exams. The highest number called for a physical was 215 (for tables 1970 through 1976).[3]

Origins and consequences[edit]

The reason for the 1969 draft was to add personnel to a war to stop the spread of communism in Vietnam. After World War II, Japan left Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai in command. Ho Chi Minh, another Vietnamese leader, saw this as an opportunity to strike and took over Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh then set up the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Emperor Bo, in the South, set up the Vietnam State with Saigon as the capital. Ho Chi Minh was basing his political structure off of the communist states such as Russia while Emperor Bao Dai in the south wanted a Vietnam that was modeled after the west, like the United States.[5]

The North and the South began armed conflict against one another until the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 ended with the Viet Minh forces as the victor. Afterwards at the Geneva conference Vietnam was split along the 17th latitude. There was supposed to be a reunification election in 1956 but another leader took over the South. Ngo Dinh Diem took over leadership from Emperor Bao Dai who took a very hard stance against communism.[5]

In other parts of the world, the Cold War was intensifying between Soviet Russia and the United States. The U.S. was becoming more rigid in its policies with the communist allies of Russia. President Dwight D. Eisenhower started supporting the South Vietnamese who were also against the communist north.[5]

The U.S. began training and equipping Diem's forces with weapons. Conflicts between communist sympathizers began occurring in the South. At the time, the U.S. had only committed around 800 personnel to train and outfit the South Vietnamese. In 1961, the John F. Kennedy administration started working under the “Domino Theory,” which stated that if South Vietnam was to fall to the North, then other places in southeast Asia were to become vulnerable to the communists as well. This caused President Kennedy to begin sending additional American soldiers to Vietnam. By 1962, there were around 9,000 personnel in Vietnam.[5]

In 1963, a coup was organized by South Vietnamese generals which resulted in the death of Diem. President Lyndon B. Johnson increased U.S. personnel in Vietnam due to the political instability in the country. In August 1964, two U.S. warships were attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Johnson issued an attack order against North Vietnam, and Congress passed a motion which gave him more authority over military decisions. In 1965, President Johnson had sent 82,000 troops to Vietnam, and his officials wanted another 175,000. Due to the heavy demand for military personnel, the United States required more than what the regular military could provide, causing the acceleration of the draft. Between 1965 and 1972 the draft provided 2,215,000 service members to the U.S. military.[5]

Previously in the United States, during the War of 1812, President Madison established a commission to recommend the best ways to raise military manpower; to keep the draft or to institute a volunteer army.[6]

After much debate within the Nixon administration and Congress, it was decided that an all-volunteer force was affordable, feasible, and would enhance the nation’s security.[7] President Richard Nixon issued an executive order prescribing regulations for random selection by the United States Selective Service on November 26, 1969.[8]

In the 1960s anti-war movements started to occur in the U.S., mainly among those on college campuses and in more leftist circles, especially those who embraced the “hippie” lifestyle.[9] College students were entitled to a deferment (2-S status) but were subject to the draft if they dropped out or graduated.[10]

In 1967, the number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam was around 500,000. The war was costing the U.S. $25 billion a year, and many of the young men drafted were being sent to a war they wanted no part of. Martin Luther King Jr. also started to support the anti-war movement on the grounds of it being immoral and the amount of African Americans that were being killed.[9]

November 15, 1969 marked the largest anti war movement in the history of the United States. This protest featured many anti-war political speakers and popular singers of the time. Many people at the time saw Richard Nixon as a liar; when he took office, he claimed that he would begin troop withdrawals from Vietnam immediately. After ten months of being in office, the president had yet to start withdrawals, and United States citizens felt lied to. Later, president Nixon claimed to have been watching sports as the anti-war demonstration took place outside the White House.[9]

The 1970s were a time of turmoil in the United States, beginning with the civil rights movement which set the standards for practices by the anti-war movement. The 1969 draft lottery only encouraged resentment of the Vietnam War and the draft. It strengthened the anti-war movement,[verification needed] and all over the United States, people decried discrimination by the draft system "against low-education, low-income, underprivileged members of society".[11]

The draft lottery had social and economic consequences because it generated resistance to military service and the resisters, draft evaders or "draft dodgers", were generally young, well-educated, healthy men. The fear of military service in Vietnam influenced many young men born in the late 1940s to join the National Guard. These young men were aware that the National Guard would be unlikely to send its soldiers to Vietnam. Many men were unable to join the National Guard, even though they had passed their physicals, because many state National Guards had long waiting lists just to enlist. Still others chose legal sanctions such as imprisonment, either showing their disapproval by burning their draft cards or draft letters, or simply not presenting themselves for the military service test. Others left the country, commonly moving to Canada. The number of American citizens who moved to Canada during the Vietnam war because of the draft is estimated to be around 125,000; it is believed that about half returned to the United States after the Nixon era (when the war was also over)(1975).[citation needed]


Lottery procedure was improved the next year although public discontent continued to grow [12] until "authority to induct expired on June 30, 1973".[3]

In 1970, covering 1951 birthdates for use during 1971 (sometimes called the 1971 draft), scientists at the National Bureau of Standards prepared 78 random permutations of the numbers 1 to 366 using random numbers selected from published tables.[13] From the 78 permutations, 25 were selected at random and transcribed to calendars using 1 = January 1, 2 = January 2, ... 365 = December 31. Those calendars were sealed in envelopes. 25 more permutations were selected and sealed in 25 more envelopes without transcription to calendars. The two sets of 25 envelopes were furnished to the Selective Service System.[13]

On June 2, an official picked two envelopes, thus one calendar and one raw permutation. The 365 birthdates (for 1951) were written down, placed in capsules, and put in a drum in the order dictated by the selected calendar. Similarly, the numbers from 1 to 365 were written down and placed into capsules in the order dictated by the raw permutation.[13]

On July 1, the drawing date, one drum was rotated for an hour and the other for a half-hour (its rotating mechanism failed).[13] Pairs of capsules were then drawn, one from each drum, one with a 1951 birthdate and one with a number 1 to 366. The first date and number drawn were September 16 and 139, so all men born September 16, 1951, were assigned draft number 139. The 11th draws were the date July 9 and the number 1, so men born July 9 were assigned draft number 1 and drafted first.[13]

Present Day Use[edit]

The military draft method used back in the 1950s and 1960s involved using dates and numbers mixed randomly and then drawn to decide who would go to war. In the present-day, not much has changed on how the draft would be conducted if it was ever needed. The Selective Service Committee who presides over the draft procedures still have a large tumbler that holds all the number and dates that will be drawn to select candidates and the only thing that seems to have changed between the method of the past and the present one is that instead of using pieces of paper in blue capsules the SSC now uses ping pong balls with the dates and numbers on them.[14]


  1. ^ Selective Service System. "1970 Draft Lottery Results drawn December 1, 1969 sorted by date". Archived from the original on 15 September 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.  See also sorted by numeric order.
  2. ^ a b Norton Starr (1997). "Nonrandom Risk: The 1970 Draft Lottery". Journal of Statistics Education 5.2 (1997). — The online edition includes instructions for getting the data online and a lesson plan for statistics class using the 1970 and 1971 draft lottery data.
  3. ^ a b c "The Vietnam Lotteries". Selective Service System. June 18, 2009. Archived from the original on October 6, 2012. 
  4. ^ Henk Tijms. "Understanding Probability". Cambridge University Press. p. 101. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Vietnam War - Vietnam War - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05. 
  6. ^ Chambers, John W. (1999). The Oxford Companion to American Military History. Oxford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 0-19-507198-0. 
  7. ^ 91st U.S. Congress. "AN ACT To amend the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 ..." (pdf). United States Government Printing Office.  (Pub.L. 91–124, 83 Stat. 220, enacted November 26, 1969)
  8. ^ Peters, Gerhard; Woolley, John T. "Richard Nixon: "Executive Order 11497 - Amending the Selective Service Regulations to Prescribe Random Selection," November 26, 1969". The American Presidency Project. University of California - Santa Barbara. 
  9. ^ a b c "Vietnam War Protests - Vietnam War - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05. 
  10. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1984/09/02/us/college-enrollment-linked-to-vietnam-war.html, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/03/19/107186611.pdf
  11. ^ Fisher, Anthony C. (1969). "The Cost of the Draft and the Cost of Ending the Draft". American Economic Review. 59 (3). 
  12. ^ Ifill, Gwen (13 February 1992). "THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: New Hampshire; Clinton Thanked Colonel in '69 For 'Saving Me From the Draft'" – via NYTimes.com. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Rosenblatt, J. R.; Filliben, J. J. (1971). "Randomization and the Draft Lottery". Science. 171: 306–08. doi:10.1126/science.171.3968.306. 
  14. ^ "How the U.S. Draft Works". HowStuffWorks. 2001-10-18. Retrieved 2017-12-05. 

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