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Draft lottery (1969)

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

The 1969 draft lotteries were two lotteries conducted by the Selective Service System of the United States on December 1, 1969, to determine the order of conscription to military service in the Vietnam War in 1970. It was the first time a lottery system had been used to select men for military service in the US since 1942, and established the priority of call based on the birth dates of registrants born between January 1, 1944 to December 31, 1950.[1]


The lottery of 1969 was devised to increase the numbers of military personnel available for service in the Vietnam War, while addressing inequities in the previous draft system. US involvement in Vietnam began in 1946 with support for France during the French Indo-China war. The Geneva Accords of July 1954 brought an end to the conflict, with a new border drawn along the 17th parallel separating the Communist North and the French-controlled South. South Vietnam subsequently gained independence from France and Ngô Đình Diệm became prime minister.[2] U.S. interest in Vietnam increased through the early 1960s, with the U.S. sending military advisors to Vietnam in 1961[2] and supporting the 1963 Diem Coup and the resulting execution of Ngô Đình Diệm.[3] On August 2, 1964, two U.S. ships were attacked by two North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin; a similar event was reported to have occurred two days later but was never confirmed officially. Both occurrences were used to justify the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, granting President Lyndon B. Johnson the authority to allocate U.S. military resources to the conflict in Vietnam.[4] Johnson deployed 190,000 military personnel to Vietnam in 1965 and approximately 400,000 the following year.[5] These deployments increased the demand for US military personnel, and led ultimately to the first Vietnam draft.

Anti-war movements emerged in the U.S. throughout the 1960s, many amongst college students and civil rights groups.[6][7] By the end of the decade, the anti-war movement included many veterans who had served in Vietnam as well as middle-class parents with draft-age sons. College students were entitled to a deferment (2-S status) but were subject to the draft if they dropped out, stopped making "normal progress" in community college (i.e., started a fifth semester before transferring to a four-year college) or graduated.[8][9][10] By 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 fight in a war which they opposed. Martin Luther King Jr. also started to support the anti-war movement, believing the war to be immoral and expressing alarm at the number of African-American soldiers that were being killed.[10]

November 15 1969 was marked by the largest anti-war protest in the history of the United States, featuring many anti-war political speakers and popular singers of the time.[11] Many critics at the time saw President Richard Nixon as a liar: on taking office Nixon pledged to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam, but after ten months no withdrawals had taken place. Later, Nixon claimed to have been watching sports as the anti-war demonstration took place outside the White House.[12][13]

After much debate within the Nixon administration and Congress, the latter decided that a gradual transition to an all-volunteer force was affordable, feasible, and would enhance the nation's security. On November 26, 1969, Congress abolished a provision in the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 which prevented the president from modifying the selection procedure ("... the President in establishing the order of induction for registrants within the various age groups found qualified for induction shall not effect any change in the method of determining the relative order of induction for such registrants within such age groups as has been heretofore established ..."),[14] and Nixon issued an executive order prescribing a process of random selection.[15]


In principle, the function of the first draft was to select dates within a calendar year at random, with men whose birthdays matched those dates being drafted according to the sequence the dates were selected. The 366 days of the year (including February 29) were printed on slips of paper.[16] These pieces of paper were then each placed in opaque plastic capsules, which were then mixed in a shoebox and then placed into a deep glass jar.[16] Capsules were drawn from the jar one at a time and opened.[16]

The first date drawn was September 14; all registrants with that birthday were assigned lottery number 1.[17] The next numbers drawn corresponded to April 24, December 30, February 14, October 18, and so forth.[17] The last number drawn corresponded to June 8.[18] All men of draft age (born January 1, 1944, to December 31, 1950) who shared a birthday would be called to serve at once. The first 195 birthdays drawn were later called to serve in the order they were drawn; the last of these was September 24.[19]

On December 1, 1969, a second lottery, identical in process to the first, was held with the 26 letters of the alphabet.[20] The first letter drawn was "J", which was assigned number 1.[20] The second letter was "G", and so on, until all 26 letters were assigned numbers.[20] 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.[21] An eligible man 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.[22]

SSS Draft scatter plot 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).

The outcome of the draft process was the subject of controversy. As with any truly random process, the results of the draft were not evenly distributed and appeared to cluster together, and it happened that November and December births, or numbers 306 to 366, were assigned mainly to lower draft order numbers representing earlier calls to serve. This led to complaints that the lottery was not truly random as the legislation required. Only five days in December—December 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, and 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%.[23] An analysis of the procedure suggested that "The capsules were put in a box month by month, January through December, and subsequent mixing efforts were insufficient to overcome this sequencing".[21]

Aftermath and modification[edit]

The draft lottery had social and economic consequences because it generated further resistance to military service. Those who resisted were generally young, well-educated, healthy men. Reluctance to serve in Vietnam led many young men to try to join the National Guard, state-based military reserve forces, as they were aware that the National Guard would be less likely to send soldiers to the war in Vietnam.[24]p. 51 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 to enlist.[24]p. 51. Others chose to serve in military branches like the Navy or the Coast Guard as to avoid active combat.[24]p. 54 Still other men chose legal sanctions such as imprisonment,[24]p. 62 showing their disapproval by illegally burning their draft cards or draft letters,[24]p. 63 or simply not presenting themselves for military service. Others left the country, usually moving to Canada.[24]p. 71

The 1960s 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,[25] and all over the United States, people decried discrimination by the draft system "against low-education, low-income, underprivileged members of society".[26] The lottery procedure was improved the next year although public discontent continued to grow.[27]

For the draft lottery held on July 1, 1970 (which covered 1951 birthdates for use during 1971, and is 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.[28] 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. Twenty-five 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.[28]

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.[28]

On July 1, the drawing date, one drum was rotated for an hour and the other for a half-hour (its rotating mechanism failed).[28] 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.[28]

Draft lotteries were conducted again from 1971 to 1975 (for 1952 to 1956 births). The birth year of 1952 was the last draftees, with the assigned number 95 being the last number drafted, which represented those born on July 20, 1952. The draft numbers issued from 1972 to 1975 were not used to call any men into service as the last draft call was on December 7, and authority to induct expired July 1, 1973.[22] They were used, however, to call some men born from 1953 to 1956 for armed forces physical examinations. The highest number called for a physical was 215 (for tables 1970 through 1976).[22] Between 1965 and 1972 the draft provided 2,215,000 service members to the U.S. military.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Almanac: The 1969 draft lottery - CBS News". www.cbsnews.com. 2019-12-01. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  2. ^ a b "Britannica Academic". academic.eb.com. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  3. ^ "U.S. and Diem's Overthrow: Step by Step; Pentagon Papers -- The Diem Coup: U.S. Role in the Regime's Fall, Step by Step". The New York Times. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  4. ^ "Tonkin Gulf Resolution (1964)". National Archives. 2021-10-05. Retrieved 2023-04-14.
  5. ^ Anderson, David L., ed. (2011). The Columbia History of the Vietnam War. Columbia University Press. doi:10.7312/ande13480. ISBN 9780231134804. JSTOR 10.7312/ande13480.
  6. ^ The war that never ends : new perspectives on the Vietnam War. David L. Anderson, John Ernst. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. 2007. ISBN 978-0-8131-2473-5. OCLC 145733022.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ Ernst, John; Baldwin, Yvonne (2007). "The Not So Silent Minority: Louisville's Antiwar Movement, 1966-1975". The Journal of Southern History. 73 (1): 105–142. JSTOR 27649318 – via JSTOR.
  8. ^ "COLLEGE ENROLLMENT LINKED TO VIETNAM WAR". The New York Times. 1984-09-02.
  9. ^ "1-A or 2-S-- The Draft and the Student; The Draft and the Student (Cont.)" (PDF). The New York Times. 1967-03-19.
  10. ^ a b "Vietnam War Protests - Vietnam War - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
  11. ^ Network, The Learning (2011-11-15). "Nov. 15, 1969 | Anti-Vietnam War Demonstration Held". The Learning Network. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  12. ^ Berrett, Jesse (14 October 2017). "How Nixon Turned Football into a Political Weapon". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  13. ^ "Vietnam War Protests - Vietnam War - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
  14. ^ 91st U.S. Congress. "AN ACT To amend the Military Selective Service Act of 1967..." (PDF). United States Government Printing Office.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 91–124, 83 Stat. 220, enacted November 26, 1969)
  15. ^ 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. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
  16. ^ a b c "Stage Set for the Draft Lottery". Associated Press. Stevens Point Daily Journal (Stevens Point, Wisconsin). p. 3.
  17. ^ a b "Lottery Sets Up Order for 1970's Draft Calls: First Birth Date Drawn Is Sept. 14". United Press International. Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin). p. 1.
  18. ^ "From Sept. 14 to June 8: Here Is Draft Eligibility According to Birthdate". The Associated Press. The Buffalo News (Buffalo, New York). p. 45.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b c "Priority Within a Priority". Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin). December 2, 1969. p. 1.
  21. ^ a b Starr, Norton (1997). "Nonrandom Risk: The 1970 Draft Lottery". Journal of Statistics Education. 5.2 (1997). Archived from the original on January 1, 2005. — 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.
  22. ^ a b c "The Vietnam Lotteries". Selective Service System. June 18, 2009. Archived from the original on October 6, 2012.
  23. ^ Tijms, Henk (June 14, 2012). Understanding Probability. Cambridge University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9781107658561.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Baskir, Lawrence M. (1978). Chance and circumstance : the draft, the war, and the Vietnam generation. William Strauss (1st ed.). New York: Knopf. p. 51. ISBN 0-394-41275-3. OCLC 3414062.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  25. ^ Robert S. Erikson, Laura Stoker (February 2010). "Caught in the Draft: Vietnam Draft Lottery Status and Political Attitudes" (PDF). Columbia University.
  26. ^ Fisher, Anthony C. (1969). "The Cost of the Draft and the Cost of Ending the Draft". American Economic Review. 59 (3): 239–254. JSTOR 1808954.
  27. ^ Ifill, Gwen (13 February 1992). "THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: New Hampshire; Clinton Thanked Colonel in '69 For 'Saving Me From the Draft'". The New York Times.
  28. ^ a b c d e Rosenblatt, J. R.; Filliben, J. J. (1971). "Randomization and the Draft Lottery". Science. 171 (3968): 306–08. Bibcode:1971Sci...171..306R. doi:10.1126/science.171.3968.306. PMID 17736223. S2CID 33436441.
  29. ^ "Vietnam War - Vietnam War - HISTORY.com". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05.

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