In January of 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted an unconditional pardon to hundreds of thousands of men who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.
In total 100,000 draft aged Americans went abroad in the late 1960's and early 70's to avoid serving in the Vietnam War. Ninety percent went to Canada. Others hide out in the US and Europe. In addition to those who were "draft-dodgers," a relatively small number of about 1,000 were deserters. Others were labeled "Conscientious Objectors."
A total of 209,517 men were formally accused of violating draft laws, while government officials estimate another 360,000 were never formally accused. If they returned home they would have faced prison sentences or forced military service.
President Carter's decision generated a great amount of controversy. He was heavily criticized by veterans' groups and others for allowing "unpatriotic lawbreakers" to get off scot-free. The pardon and companion relief plan came under fire from amnesty groups for not addressing deserters, soldiers who were dishonorably discharged or civilian anti-war demonstrators who had been prosecuted for their resistance.
Although today, when reaching the age of 18 all males must register with the Selective Service, many people born after 1975 are not familiar with the draft and what it meant to young men and their lives. From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and war, only men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces which could not be filled through voluntary service. All men between the ages of 18 and 26 had to sign up with the Selective Service, also known as, the"United States Draft Board".
A lottery drawing, the first since 1942, was held on December 1, 1969 at the Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This event determined the order of call for the induction year of 1970. All registrants born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950 were in the drawing. This lottery differed from the 1942 lottery as the oldest were not called up first. It was determined by the order that the dates were pulled.
With radio, film and TV coverage, the capsules were drawn from a jar. The first capsule drawn was the date of September 14, so all men born on that date in any year between 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number 1. The drawing continued until all days of the year had been batched to lottery numbers. If you were number 1 you were going. Number 365 would probably never see service. The lowest numbers were drafted first.
If the draft were held today, it would be dramatically different from the one held during the Vietnam War. A series of reforms during the latter part of the Vietnam conflict changed the way the draft operated to make it more fair. If a draft were held today there would be fewer reasons to excuse a man from service.
Before Congress made the changes to the draft in 1971, a man could qualify for a student deferment if he could show he was a full time student making satisfactory progress toward a degree. Under the current draft law, a college student can have his induction postponed only until the end of the current semester. A senior can be postponed until the end of the academic year. Today a man would spend only one year in the first priority for draft, either the calendar year he turned 20 or the year his deferment ended. Each year after that he would be placed in a succeedingly lower priority group, and his liability for the draft would lessen accordingly.
Women are still not required to register with the Selective Service, but this could change with the new policy of allowing women to serve in combat arms specialties.