My hypothesis — which I have not seen elsewhere — posits that those who stayed behind via one of the many deferments on offer to the middle classes changed the face of the country … for many decades to come. And, possibly, not for the better.
The numbers — Vietnam War statistics
There is an interesting section on conscription and what prompted the end to it in the Wikipedia article on the Vietnam War. Photo credits also go to Wikipedia. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
There were 8,744,000 servicemembers between 1964 and 1975, of which 3,403,000 were deployed to Southeast Asia. From a pool of approximately 27 million, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service (in the United States, Vietnam, West Germany, and elsewhere) during the Vietnam era. The draft has also been credited with “encouraging” many of the 8.7 million “volunteers” to join rather than risk being drafted ...
Of the nearly 16 million men not engaged in active military service, 96% were exempted (typically because of jobs including other military service), deferred (usually for educational reasons), or disqualified (usually for physical and mental deficiencies but also for criminal records including draft violations). Nearly 500,000 men were disqualified for criminal records, but less than 10,000 of them were convicted of draft violations. Finally, as many as 100,000 draft eligible men fled the country.
I touched on the last group briefly yesterday.
In 1968, one of the planks of Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign was a pledge to end the draft. The Republican saw the problem that middle class resistance had created with regard to the Vietnam War:
He had first become interested in the idea of an all-volunteer army during his time out of office, based upon a paper by Martin Anderson of Columbia University. Nixon also saw ending the draft as an effective way to undermine the anti-Vietnam war movement, since he believed affluent youths would stop protesting the war once their own probability of having to fight in it was gone. There was opposition to the all-volunteer notion from both the Department of Defense and Congress, so Nixon took no immediate action towards ending the draft early in his presidency.
Instead, the Gates Commission was formed, headed by Thomas S. Gates, Jr., a former Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration. Gates initially opposed the all-volunteer army idea, but changed his mind during the course of the 15-member commission’s work. The Gates Commission issued its report in February 1970, describing how adequate military strength could be maintained without having conscription. The existing draft law was expiring at the end of June 1971, but the Department of Defense and Nixon administration decided the draft needed to continue for at least some time. In February 1971, the administration requested of Congress a two-year extension of the draft, to June 1973.
With the end of active U.S. ground participation in Vietnam, December 1972 saw the last men conscripted, who were born in 1952 and who reported for duty in June 1973. On February 2, 1972, a drawing was held to determine draft priority numbers for men born in 1953, but in early 1973 it was announced that no further draft orders would be issued. In March 1973, 1974, and 1975, the Selective Service assigned draft priority numbers for all men born in 1954, 1955, and 1956, in case the draft was extended, but it never was. The last drafted soldier retired from active duty in 2011.
A Republican president ended conscription.
One wonders how many students learn that in history class these days.
Those who had no choice but to serve
Before that, a number of men who were working class and poor had no choice but to enlist.
One of them was the son of my paternal grandmother’s neighbours two doors down, Mr and Mrs W. They had but the one son; their other two children were daughters.
Mrs W was beside herself when the young man received his ‘Greetings’ letter. Her husband had seen active duty, so he told his son to man up and meet the task at hand.
My grandmother didn’t know quite what to say, especially as the nightly news broadcasts were faithful in giving an aggregate body count. We all knew the latest casualty figures.
The Ws didn’t have a person who could ‘fix it’ for their son, and, even if they did, Mr W would have been opposed on principle.
His parents couldn’t afford to send him to university or seminary; instead, he found a job.
And so it was that another terrified young man went to Southeast Asia.
About a year later, my mother and I walked past the W’s house. There was a small photo-sized flag on display, hanging from the top of their front porch. I couldn’t figure it out.
My mum explained that the government sent the families of American soldiers who died overseas a small flag to display when they were killed in action. This was to indicate that the household had a family member who died for his country; it was also a quiet means of letting neighbours and passersby know what happened. I do not know if this is still done, but I did see a few more in the years that followed; often, the flag was in the front window.
Afterward, the Ws became quite reclusive. Mr W’s health began to fail. My grandmother went to see them a couple of times and, although they were very polite, they gave her the impression they wanted to be left alone in their grief. After a few months they took the flag down and, sadly, that’s where their story ended as far as I knew it.
It made me think about my grandmother’s tenants, the Kennedy Husbands and their families (explained in yesterday’s post).
Recently, I began giving more thought to those who served in Southeast Asia. In the 1980s I met a few and was surrounded on occasion by others.
After I got a job away from home, one of the secretaries where I worked was dating a Vietnam veteran. The man was full of rage. Although he directed it against the Vietnamese — yes, all of them — in vulgar, jaw-dropping terms, I can’t help but wonder if he was really angry at the American middle classes but couldn’t bring himself to say so, otherwise he would have lost it completely — on them.
He seemed to be at boiling point whenever I saw him, and this was in the early 1980s. Did he feel irrevocably let down by his own country for their lack of support? He couldn’t avoid the draft, either: no university, no seminary, no marriage, no children.
Another man I know has been filled with class rage ever since he was drafted. That’s been over four decades now, but he was very aware that the sons of the middle class with whom he went to secondary school didn’t have to serve in Vietnam. Yet, he, as a son of the working class did. Fortunately, he got as far as a base in Europe and never had to see active duty in Southeast Asia.
Then I worked for a highly successful executive who mentioned the Vietnam War once. He said he was so angry — at comfy middle class anti-war protestors — that he was only going to discuss it that one time. He initiated the subject because something in the news or another conversation jogged his memory. He’d just finished university and was called up. Fortunately, he’d just finished basic training in the US when the war came to an end. He didn’t have a Mr Fix-it, either.
In case you are wondering, these men all vote Democrat. The Democrats escalated the Vietnam War. These men are not Tea Partiers or Republicans or particularly ‘conservative’ as Democratic Underground might define the term.
Two men who didn’t serve
What makes the rage of these veterans all the more understandable is the way those who stayed behind made names for themselves in business, industry, politics, media and entertainment.
The Smoking Gun has two stories on men — supposed ‘conservatives’ — who did not serve in Vietnam.
Donald Trump, like my cousin (see yesterday’s post), claims he just ‘got lucky’ with his high draft number. Yet, the site claims otherwise:
Selective Service records show that the purported presidential aspirant actually received a series of student deferments while in college and then topped those off with a medical deferment after graduation that helped spare him from fighting for his country, The Smoking Gun has learned.
… Trump–who spent his high school years enrolled at the New York Military Academy–said, “I actually got lucky because I had a very high draft number. I’ll never forget, that was an amazing period of time in my life” …
Trump obtained his first two Class 2-S student deferments in June 1964 and December 1965, when he was student at Fordham University in the Bronx. He was briefly reclassified as 1-A–or “available for military service”–in late-November 1966, but that classification was switched back to 2-S three weeks later.
Another 2-S deferment is dated January 16, 1968, just months before his graduation from UPenn (to which he transferred following his sophomore year at Fordham).
Following his UPenn graduation, Trump–no longer qualified for a 2-S deferment–was again briefly classified as available for service on July 9. However, three months later, on October 15, his classification was switched to 1-Y, which was given to men deemed qualified for military service “only in time of national emergency.”
The 1-Y classification came a month after Trump underwent an “Armed Forces Physical Examination,” according to Selective Service records, which note the results of the exam as “DISQ.” While the military records do not further detail why Trump was granted the 1-Y deferment, a 1992 biography of the businessman by journalist Wayne Barrett reported that Trump received a medical deferment following the September 17, 1968 exam.
Trump’s 1-Y classification stayed in effect until February 1, 1972 when it was changed to a 4-F classification (which covered registrants not qualified for military service). The change in classification was likely prompted by the military’s December 1971 decision to abolish the 1-Y classification.
Another is libertarian, pro-America, gun enthusiast Ted Nugent. I’ve written about him before but to profile a first-person testimony as to his modern-day squeaky clean image.
Yet, Americans of a certain age will remember a rock ‘n’ roll group called the Amboy Dukes. Ted Nugent was the mainstay of the band during its existence between 1967 and 1975.
Their most memorable hit was April 1968’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind’. Enjoy the YouTube and note the clothes (Nugent’s on the right with the guitar; Steve Farmer is singing). This was what Ted Nugent was up to when lads like the aforementioned young W boy were coming home in body bags:
Nugent (lead guitar, vocals) co-wrote the song with band member Steve Farmer, who also shared guitar and vocals. You can read the full lyrics here; what follows is an excerpt:
Leave your cares behind come with us and find
The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind
Come along if you care
Come along if you dare
Take a ride to the land inside of your mind
Beyond the seas of thought beyond the realm of what
Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not …
Like Donald Trump, Nugent, The Smoking Gun says, received more than one deferment:
Theodore Anthony Nugent first received a high school 1-S deferment in February 1967, when he was 18. After briefly being reclassified as available for service, Nugent got a 2-S college deferment when he enrolled in Oakland Community College in Michigan.
In August 1969, Nugent took his draft physical and was rejected for service. He was classified as 1-Y, indicating that he was qualified for service only in time of a national emergency. The 1-Y classification was usually issued to candidates saddled with significant medical or mental issues.
In interviews, Nugent has provided varying accounts of how he avoided a seat on a troop transport to Southeast Asia. In a 1977 High Times interview, he claimed to have stopped bathing a month before his draft physical, adding that he showed up for the exam with pants “crusted” with urine and feces …
But while Nugent would subsequently disavow his defecation claim, he did cop to snorting a line of crystal meth before the physical because, “I wanted to see the look on the Sergeant’s face.”
Five weeks after the exam, Nugent received his 1-Y deferment on October 7, 1969. Nugent’s 1-Y deferment remained in effect until 1972, when the classification was abolished. He was then reclassified as 4-F …
It would be fascinating to read more of these deferment exposés of people who rode to fame and fortune whilst others were losing their lives or coming back with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Who ruled the roost while they were away? Those with deferments.
Who continue to rule the roost today? Those with deferments.
Film and the Vietnam War
Many films made during the Vietnam era carry an anti-war statement and some made afterward attempted to redress the balance.
The Deer Hunter is a film I’ve seen many times and still enjoy it. It perfectly captures snapshots of the lives of the type of people who served in Vietnam and the families and friends they left behind. Every character is portrayed as realistically as possible. The war scenes are equally unforgettable.
Platoon, which came out in 1986, seems to be very popular amongst Vietnam veterans. I hesitate to return to the aforementioned rage angle, but, when it premiered, I reluctantly went with a friend to see the premiere in the city where I then lived, which, by the way, votes heavily Democratic.
That was one of the scariest nights out ever. There were very few people there who were not veterans of that war or married to one. My friend and I happened to be two lifelong civilians in the audience.
The vets were angry. So were their wives. Almost all of them shouted the ‘g’ word throughout the film. Every time a Vietnamese appeared on the screen, their shouts were deafening.
Again, as with my colleague’s boyfriend, I wondered if they were angry at the Vietnamese or really angry at the American people who scorned them when they were drafted and dumped them upon their return.
I do believe they were, in reality, angrier at Americans, but it would have broken their hearts and probably destroyed them to admit it.
Yes, the Vietnam War was pretty pointless and/or incorrectly engineered. However, that is no reason to denigrate or ignore the men who served their country through no choice of their own.
Furthermore, it’s also no reason to raise those who opted out onto a pedestal.
America on life support
Therefore, I contend that the Vietnam War was the occasion for draft dodgers (or whatever you want to call them) to lay the foundations for the America of the future.
With regard to politics, news media, entertainment and culture, what we are seeing now really is a by-product of those who never cared to serve their country, even as conscientious objectors.
While the true heroes were overseas worrying about whether they’d see another day, these guys rewrote the script for the once-Great Republic whilst getting high and living it large.
This self-centredness, which many, including Nixon’s ‘silent majority’, thought would disappear has instead morphed into the pleasure-seeking, leftward leaning, selfish society we know today.
And that is the sad, unvarnished truth of the matter to which no one, especially Americans, will ever admit.