People look back on Vietnam with many negative opinions on America’s strategies. I think one of the most significant issues was with the draft. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers & Vietnam by Christian G. Appy describes the youthful frustrations and fears that were felt towards the draft process.
Based on facts, statistics, and war stories, Appy believes that Vietnam was fought primarily by the working-class of America. He found that “men from neighborhoods with median family incomes under $5,000 (about $15,000 in 1990 dollars) were four times more likely to die in Vietnam than men from places with median family incomes above $15,000 ($45,000 in 1990 dollars)” (Appy 12). The upper class seemed to have advantages over the lower classes because of their status, money, and connections with certain people. In the 1964 NORC survey, “only 20 percent of U.S. soldiers came from white-collar families” (Appy 23). White-collar jobs are mainly held by those in the middle class while blue-collar jobs are for people in the working-class. Twenty percent is a small number considering the amount of people who were sent to fight.
Whenever possible, men would find ways to get out of the draft. One of the most successful ways to do so was through medical disqualifications. Men would be able to get out of fighting from “skin rashes, flat feet, asthma, trick knees” and many more. (Appy 33). Braces were also a way to earn a medical disqualification. Men would find “dentists [who would] willingly perform orthodontic work…for a $1000-2000 fee” (Appy 34). When men resisted the draft, prison sentences were given (Appy 36). Some men accepted prison over Vietnam. Getting medical disqualifications and accepting prison sentences were sometimes not an option for the working-class. The working-class was filled with families who did not have enough money to pay doctors thousands of dollars to escape Vietnam. Oftentimes, middle-class families had connections with doctors that the working-class did not have. As for jail, those prison sentences stay on personal records for life. Working-class men had a much harder time finding jobs; therefore, having a prison sentence on their records was not an option. The desperateness that men had towards escaping the draft was amazing. It was a messy war that most Americans did not want to get involved with.
As students with bright futures went off to college, they were excited to be earning an education as well as escaping the draft. Some students did not have this reassurance and were still fearful of being sent to war. This would put their big dreams of earning a college degree on hold. According to Appy, “deferments were only offered to full-time students, thus excluding those trying to earn a degree by working their way through school a few courses at a time. These students were subject to the draft” (35). This restriction mainly effected the working-class students.
If men could not escape the draft, they were faced with a choice of enlisting or being drafted. Each man had their own story and reason for either enlisting or accepting their fate of the draft. For example, Raymond Wilson decided to enlist. He knew that college was not an option for him because his parents were struggling to find decent jobs to get enough money to live off of. He “knew damn well [he was] going to get drafted. And [he was] young and naive so [he] figure[d] that by enlisting [he] might get an easy out” (Appy 46). It is sad that Wilson could not afford college, but it is even more heartbreaking that his only other option was to risk his life in Vietnam. This fate was given to most working-class men. Appy found that “for some men, the military was their first experience of secure housing, steady wages, and the opportunity to eat as much as they wanted” (49). The struggling working-class of America were sent over to Vietnam to help the civilians. In all reality, they should have been focusing on their own problems.
Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers & Vietnam allowed me to better understand the draft and why the youth of America was so frustrated. Many working-class students had to put their college dreams on hold to fight a war that they did not understand and did not support.
Appy, Christian G. Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Print.