Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War

Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War

Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War

Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War


Shedding light on an understudied form of opposition to the Vietnam War, Michael Foley tells the story of draft resistance, the cutting edge of the antiwar movement at the height of the war's escalation. Unlike so-called draft dodgers, who evaded the draft by leaving the country or by securing a draft deferment by fraudulent means, draft resisters openly defied draft laws by burning or turning in their draft cards. Like civil rights activists before them, draft resisters invited prosecution and imprisonment.

Focusing on Boston, one of the movement's most prominent centers, Foley reveals the crucial role of draft resisters in shifting antiwar sentiment from the margins of society to the center of American politics. Their actions inspired other draft-age men opposed to the war--especially college students--to reconsider their place of privilege in a draft system that offered them protections and sent disproportionate numbers of working-class and minority men to Vietnam. This recognition sparked the change of tactics from legal protest to mass civil disobedience, drawing the Johnson administration into a confrontation with activists who were largely suburban, liberal, young, and middle class--the core of Johnson's Democratic constituency.

Examining the day-to-day struggle of antiwar organizing carried out by ordinary Americans at the local level, Foley argues for a more complex view of citizenship and patriotism during a time of war.


My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country,
not to its institutions or its officeholders

Mark Twain, a Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, 1898

On September 11, 2001, as this book neared completion, terrorists attacked the city in which I live and work, thus amputating its skyline and killing thousands of the world’s citizens. in a matter of weeks, the United States mobilized for an unprecedented distant war against a nearly invisible foe, executed primarily from the skies above Afghanistan. in time, the rolling sea of American flags that buoyed New York in the aftermath of the attack grew weathered and tattered, and the city’s residents—like the rest of America— gradually allowed themselves to be distracted from international affairs by sporting events and the insipid situation comedies and reality-based shows that litter American television programming. But half a world away, thousands of Afghan civilians with no such luxury of distraction are caught in the crossfire of an expanding “war without end.” As I write, it seems clear that the war will soon spread to other countries in the Middle East and Asia.

Since the start of this “new kind of war,” I have been asked many times, particularly by students, about the possibility of a military draft, what form it would take, how it would work, and if one could resist it or beat it. At this writing, it no longer seems hasty to discuss a new draft. Although the United States military is well-equipped with a substantial all-volunteer force and particularly reliant on air power, on December 20, 2001, Congressmen Nick Smith (R-Michigan) and Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania) introduced the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 2001 (H.R. 3598) in the House of Representatives. As the new war expands on multiple fronts, and the president and vice president tell the American people to prepare for the long haul, we can no longer dismiss the possibility of a revived draft.

If Congress and administration policy makers do ultimately call for a new draft, one would hope that the Selective Service would apply the lessons of the Vietnam War-era draft and ensure that any new system of conscription be administered more fairly across all segments of society (as it stands, the all-volunteer force is nearly as disproportionately poor, working class, and . . .

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