Vic’s Letter About the Military Draft


    Monday was fair and cold. There was intermittent light snow on Tuesday. It covered the ground lightly, but when Mike brought the mail, she said that the road was clear and dry. It didn’t seem like anything more significant was in store for a while.

    Greg worked in the office most of both days, and got the quarterly narrative report pretty much finished. He’d have to add a little bit for the last part of December, but he doubted there would be much extra to document. When he took breaks with Vic, it was obvious she was working on something specific, but she didn’t immediately tell him what it was. They went for a few short walks, and actually saw one cottontail rabbit and a deer. Both the waking and sleeping parts of Monday night were just right.

   Tuesday evening, after dinner, Vic presented Greg with a sheaf of papers. “This is what I’ve been working on. We said we needed something better than sign waving to fight against the draft. I got to thinking about a letter to the editor, but address it to editors all over the country – and maybe to Congress, too. Tell me what you think.”

   Greg took the papers, and immediately started to read.


     I’m a young woman in love with a young man whose life is on hold because he could be drafted to serve in the Viet Nam war at any time. If not selected before then, his future will be in limbo, and in the Government’s hands, until 1929. The years when most men and women expect to be moving into their adult life – with marriage, the beginning of new families, the launching of new careers – are out of his control. If called, he may never have that “normal life,” at all, because the toll in deaths, life-changing injuries, and incurable mental breakdowns, is rising daily. This isn’t hypothetical: a recent newspaper story reported 240 servicemen killed and 470 wounded in just one week! Since 1961, 1,335 Americans are dead in Viet Nam, and another  6,131 have been wounded and, according to the President, we haven’t even started to deploy the troops he intends to send. The “wounds” talked about are not bumps and bruises; often, they include losses of limbs, paralysis, and serious internal injuries – not the kinds of hurts you get over, and allow you to return to your previous life. Not included are many serious cases of “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” the psychological effects of exposure to the mayhem of war from which many never recover, and which make it impossible to return to previous work or family life.

   These are ruined men with ruined lives, and the carnage is just beginning. President Johnson reported recently that, to make current war plans work, another 650,000 to 900,000 Americans would have to be poured into Viet Nam to reinforce the  Americans already there or due to arrive soon. The draft is increasing to 35,000 inductions a month, the biggest monthly quota since late in the Korean War! Most of these new inductees will be obtained through conscription.

   Slavery was abolished in the United States after the Civil War, yet we have conscription – the draft. Unless deemed unfit for military duty, a man who is drafted has no legal recourse but to serve. He can be held as long as the Government chooses, and forced to do whatever the Government demands. There can be no clearer definition of slavery.

   The draft would be slavery even if Congress had constitutionally declared war, or if a true military emergency threatened the United States. Some might think that one of those circumstances warranted young men giving up their basic civil rights. In the case of Viet Nam, neither exists. Few people understand, and no one in authority seems able to explain, why we are even involved there. It makes the crime of slavery even more heinous.

   The Draft is Un-American, under any circumstance, and should be abolished in favor of a fully volunteer military. Neither the current or past President, nor current or past Congresses controlled by either Party, have shown any interest in doing that, so we will probably have conscription trumping Constitutional rights for years to come. Given that circumstance, we could still make the draft much more effective administratively and militarily, and much more compassionate and humanitarian. Here are some proposals.

   1. No draft should be authorized without a declaration of war from Congress, or the identification of a specific need for emergency action approved by Congress. In past military situations, the President has bypassed Congress, declaring them too slow to act in emergency situations. In reality, selecting inductees is followed by up to a year of training before they are sent into battle. Clearly, the draft itself is not an emergency action.

  2. Our librarian tells me that there are currently over two and a half million United States servicemen. They are stationed all over the world, apparently none of them currently in emergency situations. All are dedicated to military life, and should be willing to fight for their country. Some may not be combat-ready, but they certainly could be made that way much quicker than any new recruits. No draft should be authorized until Congress is convinced that all existing servicemen who can reasonably be deployed to a war zone have been.

  3. Many men are willing to fight without being conscripted. Their reasons may be patriotic, military career-oriented, or just seeking relatively short-term work for pay. Before a draft is contemplated, full advantage should be taken of this willing labor pool. They want to fight, which makes them easier to get combat ready, and they don’t require a different level of preparedness than do draftees. Their numbers could be greatly increased by offering them double or triple the usual pay and benefits for two-year enlistments. Congress almost never questions the size of the military budget, and these incentive packages would hardly make a difference in the funds already allotted. Again, Congress should not permit conscription until a significant effort has been made to increase voluntary enlistments.

  4. If Congress can be convinced that there will be a serious shortage of manpower without a draft, it should be started with men in the 35-45 age bracket. Currently, these men are not covered by conscription, but there are good reasons they should be, both militarily and from a social standpoint. First, their bodies are mature, and not harmed by rigorous training the way a child’s body (e.g., a 19 year old) could be. Men this age might be out of shape, but can easily be re-toned. That many professional athletes playing rigorous sports like football are in their middle and upper 30s shows that the age group is physically able to perform war duties.

   Psychologically, this age group has experienced deaths of loved ones, and the traumas of daily living, and are much better prepared to deal with the horrors of war than are children. This age group should suffer less from “combat fatigue” than younger recruits.

   Finally, men of this age have had a chance to live an adult life. They have married, raised children, and successfully started on a career. Many will have children reaching emancipation age, when the presence of both parents is not as important as earlier in their development. Losing a husband or father, or seeing their future life options curtailed by serious physical or mental injury, is difficult, but they are nearing the age when death or disability is more expected. They have had their chance to live as adults! Nineteen-year-olds have not!

  5. Men in the 25-34 age bracket should only be drafted when it was clear that major effort had been made to induct older males. The slavery of conscription is highly disruptive of personal life at that time, but at least their bodies and minds are better prepared than those of younger males.

  6. Males under 25 should be removed from consideration for any draft. Although some look pretty well developed when wearing bathing trunks at the pool, the body structure of most are still not fully formed, and not up to the stresses that rigorous military training would put on them. The Army considers them “men,” but the rest of  society has always treated those under 21 as children, without the maturity needed to make adult decisions. They aren’t allowed to buy alcoholic beverages or tobacco products, many states still don’t permit marriage without signed parental consent, and only two states allow anyone under 21 to vote. How can these same “children” be expected to make adult decisions in combat?

   Many males under 21 have never experienced the death of a close relative or friend, nor have they ever personally witnessed the carnage of a major traffic accident. Many have never even suffered a broken bone. How then are they expected to survive the horrors of war -  including having men they know die around them, or themselves having to kill other human beings – without later living with “battle fatigue” and “shell shock?”

   Finally, there is the inhumanity of our boys living two decades impatient to embark on adult lives, only to be denied that transition, perhaps forever. At 18 and 19, many boys haven’t yet had a serious girlfriend, have never “gone steady,” or never taken a girl to a prom. They’ve waited for that time when they were free to make their own decisions about school, work, marriage, kids. Being under the cloud of the draft for perhaps another six to eight years – and of the after-effects of the draft perhaps forever - is the ultimate unfair blow.

   Every parent, every lawmaker, every citizen should be aware of how this group of kids is perceived by the military and Selective Service. Consider this from a recent news article: When President Johnson added newly-married men without children to the draft pool, there was considerable public backlash. To try to ease the dissension, Selective Service released a statement that, while those married men could now be called, they probably wouldn’t be, because “150,000 to 190,000 youths a month are coming to their 19th birthday, and this year about 2 million will reach the age of 18.” In other words, American families are producing plenty of young “cannon fodder” for the immediate future!

   You won’t see me out marching, carrying signs protesting war. What good does such marching do? Who would I convince? Philosophically, almost everybody is against war, even if some wars seem inevitable.

   You won’t find me protesting the Viet Nam war, either, even though it seems a tragic, pointless use of our people’s lives. Who would I convince? The President and Congress have made it clear that we will be in it for a long time to come.

   You may see me fighting to abolish the slavery of conscription, or at least fighting to make the draft more humane. It’s a fight that won’t be won in time to help me and my love, but winning would remove a terrible blemish from the operation of our democracy.

   With the draft almost a certainty for us in the next few years, we’ve been reluctant to plan our future in any detail. We’ve changed our minds on that. We refuse to let the Government decide our lives for us, so we’re getting married soon. Maybe we’ll have one day together, or a week, or a month, or a year. It only matters that we are going to be in charge of our own lives and love.


   Greg spent a long time reading, and seemed to go back several times to re-read something. Vic was getting anxious.

   “So, what do you think?” she finally asked.

   Greg set the papers aside, and smiled at her. “It’s brilliant, Vic.”


   “I said it’s brilliant – first class, excellent.”

   “You’re teasing me.”

   “Not a bit! You’ve taken all our talks, your conversations with professors, newspaper articles, and some thoughts of your own that are entirely new to me, and worked them into a very compelling presentation – one that some people with authority to do something might actually take seriously.”

   She collapsed onto the couch next to him. “Really, Greg?”

   “Really. It is superb.”

   She started to cry. “I thought it was pretty good,” she sobbed. “But…” She cried some more, while Greg held her.

To Writing-it-Down Homepage

Leave a comment:

© Sanford Wilbur 2023