Vietnam Era resistance to the US military

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During the Vietnam Era some 15 million American citizens took steps to avoid front-line combat in Vietnam. Almost half did so by carefully choosing their pathway in the US military (Surrey, 44). A widely used strategy to avoid service in Vietnam was to enlist in the Armed Forces Reserves rather than the active-duty Army or Marines. By 1970 as many as 90% of the men who entered the Armed Forces Reserves did so to avoid being drafted (Surrey, 46). As a result all US military reserve units were oversubscribed during the latter years of the Vietnam Era. For example, in 1968 the US Coast Guard Reserves maintained a three-year waiting list of men seeking to join. Those who did volunteer to enter the regular Army often did so to avoid being drafted. They knew that, while two-thirds of the high school graduates who enlisted in the US Army were sent to Vietnam (Surrey, 46), most of the regular Army personnel were stationed in relatively safe base areas rather than the front lines of the war. In 1969 88% of the infantry riflemen in Vietnam, the “grunts” who served on the front-lines of the ground war and who were exposed to the most danger, were draftees (Surrey, 48). Only 10% of the infantry riflemen were first-term volunteers and only 2% were career Army soldiers (Surrey, 48). Compared to being drafted, voluntarily joining the US military was a relatively sure way of avoiding front-line combat duty in Vietnam.

Other men tried to avoid military service altogether. Some 250,000 men never even registered for the draft (Gottlieb, 211) and 472,000 of the men who registered applied to their local draft boards to be classified as Conscientious Objector to War (Tollefson, 6). 570,000 of the men who registered for the draft later failed to comply with Selective Service System requirements (Simons, 171). Of the men who failed to obey their local draft boards 360,000 were investigated by the FBI but never charged with a crime, 209,000 others were actually charged with draft offenses and some 8,750 were convicted. About 4,000 men served time in jail for draft offenses (Surrey, 51).

Other men entered the military but quickly realized their mistake. Of the nearly nine million Americans who served in the military between 1964 and 1973 (Simons, 169), over 550,000 men deserted (Simons, 171) and 100,000 were discharged from the military for being Absent without Leave (AWOL) or for deserting (Simons, 171).

In all over one million men resisted the US military and its draft during the Vietnam era as the American middle class became both anti-militarist and anti-patriotic (Ollendorf, 90). Of these men some 60,000 to 100,000 went to Canada (Surrey, 5). Many deserters and draft dodgers returned to the United States within a few weeks or months but some 40,000 chose to remain in exile. Approximately 30,000 immigrated to Canada and 10,000 went to Sweden, Mexico or elsewhere (Simons, 171).

For more information see references.

Use this link to return to the narrative, Immigration to Canada (1968-1972)

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