December 4, 2017

1970. A Bad Deal for Vietnam War Draftees

The Unjust Treatment of Vietnam Draftees
"Selective Service Director Curtis Tarr spins the drum containing the sequence capsules, as the draft lottery got underway in the Commerce Department auditorium," February 2, 1972 (Getty)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 14, 1970

Just about every reluctant draftee who was ordered to Vietnam last year most certainly was convinced that fate, the Army, and his draft board had handed him a dirty deal.

If that reluctant veteran is alive today—and more than 13,000 draftees were killed in combat in Vietnam in 1969—he'll be surprised to know the odds the gods of war had stacked against him.

A survey just released by the Washington National Journal reveals that the Army's draftee GIs were killed in combat last year at nearly double the rate of the Army enlisted men—the volunteer GIs.

The Army statistics show that the overall casualty rates—killed and wounded—were almost 24 percent for draftees to about 14 percent for the enlisted men.

The Army explains that there is no high or low-level conspiracy to sacrifice the drafted soldier in favor of the enlisted man. It merely reflects the kind of jobs and duty assigned to each group of soldiers.

That starts when the volunteers, who enlist for three years, are allowed to choose the kind of positions the Army has available. Very few of these enlistees opt for the job of foot-slogging rifleman, where they are most likely to get their heads blown off. That's why only some 3 percent of the volunteers asked to serve in the infantry.

Assistant Army Secretary Walter Brehm told the National Journal that's why 70 percent of the infantry, armor, and artillery are manned by inducted GIs instead of enlisted men. The hardcore combat jobs are all that's left after the volunteers have applied for the safer assignments. That's why more than eight out of every ten infantry riflemen in Vietnam last year were draftees, and why only one out of ten was a first-term regular army man.

It's all part of what crusty old General Hershey called the "carrot and stick" approach when he headed up the Selective Service System, a system which in effect blackmails a youth with the threat of death to persuade him to volunteer.

We doubt if this is a proper way to man the military services of a democratic country. It would appear to be a self-defeating system, deeply resented by the young men placed in maximum danger because they refused the blandishments of some enlistment sergeant, or because they chose to accept a student's deferment to complete their education.

It would be interesting to know how many of the 13,000 young draftees and the 11,000 volunteers killed in Vietnam last year were college graduates, even though a diploma is no measure of brainpower. The loss to the nation was tragic.

As President Nixon winds down the American involvement in Southeast Asia, Defense Secretary Laird has expressed hope that Vietnam can be manned wholly by the volunteer enlistees.

However, the chances for this happening appear very remote. Assistant Secretary Brehm explained that out of two hundred million Americans, only about eight hundred young men are enlisting for combat. "If we went to an all-volunteer force in's quite conceivable that's all we might get."

Three Democratic Senators, Proxmire and Nelson of Wisconsin and Hughes of Iowa, have an amendment before the Senate which would prohibit the assignment of draftees to a war zone unless they consent.

It seems to me you can't run an army that way either. Any suggestions?