Introduction: The Vietnam War and the Draft
The growing communist influences of the Viet Cong in Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s drew the interests of the American government as part of a desire to combat the spread of communism in fear of the “Domino theory” where if one country was allowed to go communist, then other surrounding countries would soon also fall. After increasing military presence in Vietnam, in March 1965, President Johnson decided to send U.S. combat forces into Vietnam. By late 1967, U.S. casualties in Vietnam had reached 15,058 killed and 109,527 wounded (Click here for more info on the body count). There was a growing disillusionment with the war as it progressed and media personality, Walter Cronkite, in February of 1968 stated “To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, if unsatisfactory conclusion.” During this time approximately 35,000 men were being drafted a month. Furthermore, as the war progressed, the draft laws and exemptions changed. In February of 1968, exemptions for graduate students and men in critical occupations were removed. There was also knowledge of the growing likelihood of an increase in amount of the draft and the shift to younger men (18-20 year-olds) instead of taking the oldest first. Look here to see a Harvard Crimson article in response to the changes. In December of 1969 the first draft lottery was held, changing the draft to one based on birthdate and name. Click here to see if you would have been drafted to Vietnam.
Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada
In January of 1968, the Toronto based publishing company, House of Anansi, published the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada, written by Mark Satin in collaboration with experts throughout Canada and the US. He had established his credentials as a civil rights activist in Mississippi and in 1967, Satin himself at age 20 had immigrated to Canada to avoid the draft. In Canada, Satin established the Toronto Anti-Draft Program which funded the printing of the Manual. Just over 100 pages long, the Manual went through six different editions and sold a total of 65,000 copies, both in the US and in Canada, and approximately 30,000 bootleg copies were printed by anti-war groups. This led to Satin to dub it an “underground bestseller”.
In total, it is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 men immigrated to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Sociologist, John Hagan, estimated that nearly a third of draft dodgers read the Manual before arriving in Canada and another quarter after arriving. Inside the Manual was valuable information pertaining not only on the many ways to immigrate to Canada and tips to get “landed immigrant status”, but also information about Canada’s history, politics, and social climate necessary to acclimate to the new country. Click here for a full list of its Table of Contents and Introduction. The manual offered both pros and cons to the decision to immigrate and did not shy away from harsh realities. Satin wrote “It cannot be over stressed that draft resisters will probably never be able to return to the U.S. without facing up to five years in jail.”
Some of the most important contents of the Manual were the legal details which explained that draft evasion was not covered under the US/Canada extradition treaty and that Canada did not legally have to turn away draft evaders seeking immigrant status. One of the reasons that Canada was willing to accept draft resisters was because these people were often middle-class, young, and educated so they would contribute to Canadian society. Additionally, it allowed for Canada to demonstrate their independence from the United States and their opposition to the war.
Inside the United States, the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada received a mixed reception. Popular among anti-draft and some anti-war groups, it was highly criticized by pro-American outlets and targeted by the American government. A New York Times article from February, 1968 called the Manual, a “major bid to encourage Americans to evade military conscription” and the FBI implored the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to look into the publishing company, Anansi, but nothing illegal was found. Even some anti-war groups were opposed to the Manual as they believed the correct opposition response to the draft was pacifist protest and jail time. However, in their criticism, these opponents of the Manual provided publicity for where to obtain information to dodge the draft.
The Other Side: Those Who Didn’t Immigrate
While the Manual is geared towards those considering immigration to Canada as a means of avoiding the draft, that by no means was the only way to resist conscription, and not everyone avoided their draft call. In total, between 1964 and 1973, the draft raised 2,215,000 men for military service. Furthermore, more than two thirds of those who served in the Vietnam War were volunteers showing that many men either chose to serve or to serve when their draft card was called. Additionally, 15.4 million men were granted deferments for education, family, or health reasons. However, deferments were much easier for the wealthy and privileged to get as they could afford education and the doctors to grant them health exemptions as well as having better access to the information which would allow them to go about the process of applying for a deferment. Others chose jail time and fines as a way to resist the draft. For some, immigration to Canada was beyond their means, without a way to get their or without sufficient education, skills, and connections to grant them sufficient points to get past border security.
Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag” lists in the chorus many different things that could be said to get a deferment and the video in the background shows protests and police confrontations.
50 years later, the publisher, House of Anansi, in a celebration of their founding, has re-released the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada. In this commemorative edition, a new introduction has been included focusing on the modern influx of immigrants into Canada from countries such as Syria as the United States tightens its immigration laws. As Canada receives a new batch of immigrants, very different from the Vietnam War draft dodgers, the Canadian spirit of assistance, welcome, and acceptance, developed during that time and portrayed in the Manual, is again relevant.
Additionally, a long period has passed without an active draft and as the outcome of the war is now known, the perception of Vietnam draft dodgers has become less harsh and people are now more sympathetic to their reasons for avoiding the call of duty. With that, we can come to admire those who followed their beliefs and refused to participate in an arguably unjust war, allowing for a greater appreciation of the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada.
- “Vietnam War.” com, A+E Networks, 2009.
- “Conscription.” History.com, A+E Networks, 2017.
- “CBS Evening News Special Report.” CBS, Feb. 27, 1968.
- “New Draft Policy to Cut Graduate School Enrollment.” In CQ Almanac 1968, 24th ed., 15-783-15-786. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1969.
- Jones, Boisfeuillet. “The 1967 Draft Act: Where You Stand” The Harvard Crimson. 28 Sept. 1968.
- Varano, Mike and Miller, Josh. “Would your draft number have been called?” USA Today.
- McNeill, John. “Review: Mark Satin’s Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada is just as timely as ever.” The Globe and Mail, 25 Aug. 2017.
- Satin, Mark. “Mark Satin’s Draft Dodger Bible.” Radical Middle Newsletter.
- Churchill, David. “An Ambiguous Welcome: Vietnam Draft Resistance, the Canadian State, and Cold War Containment.” Histoire Sociale Social History, 37, no. 73, 2004.
- Valentine, Tom. “Vietnam War Draft.” The Vietnam War, 25 Jul. 2013.