6 Ways To Dodge The Draft (And 6 Celebs Who Tried Them)
There was a time when people were nervously joking about an impending draft, wondering how we'd avoid getting enlisted and killed in the war to come. This was January 2020, when we were all seriously worried about war breaking out between the US and Iran.
That feels like decades ago now. So, let's talk about a time that really was decades in the past, back when there really was a war and really was a draft. If you were an able-bodied man back then, you could either serve your country or you could try ...
Pretending To Be Gay
Yes, the US military would not let you join up if you were gay, even if you wanted to enlist, right up until the 1990s -- and even then, it would be another 20 years till they allowed openly gay servicepeople. That meant, historically, being gay worked as a defense against the draft. "Wear lace panties and worry no more," draft dodgers advised one another, indicating a confused understanding of sexuality from the men, the draft board, or both.
The army had a process in place during World War II to weed out liars. Claim to be gay, and the draft board might stick a tongue depressor down your throat, whacking your uvula. If you were truly gay, claimed current scientific literature, you'd lack a gag reflex, thanks to all that fellatio you'd been performing. Plenty of enlistees, once they'd had a little military rule shoved down their throats, admitted they were straight after all and sheepishly accepted their commission.
The trick was still around during the Vietnam War, when a recently graduated Chevy Chase discovered that he was eligible for the draft, since he'd neglected to join med school as planned. When his name came up, he says he told the draft board he was kind of gay, and so he got declared not acceptable for military service. No word on whether he was subjected to the tongue depressor (this test wasn't that common). We imagine that if he was, he would have purposely choked in a wildly exaggerated manner, for maximum comedic effect.
Various medical conditions could render you unfit for service in Vietnam, and drug addiction was apparently one of these. Draft dodgers would prick themselves with needles to make it look like they pumped the good stuff into their arms on the regular. It's kind of ironic that the military rejected anyone for being a drug addict, considering just how many soldiers who did go to Vietnam ended up addicted. In 1971, 15% of Americans on active duty in Vietnam were addicted to heroin. That number's crazy, but not as crazy as the military policy of not letting men come home till they were clean ... a policy that actually succeeded in getting most of them to kick the habit permanently.
Harold Ramis briefly imagined joining the war effort would be romantic, so he actually applied to train as an army officer. Then he had second thoughts and decided he didn't want to ship out after all. On his medical history form, he says he mentioned heavy drug use, and when asked just which drugs he meant, he answered, "marijuana, LSD, peyote, MDA, DMT, methamphetamine, dioxin, Ritalin" -- every drug he could think of. Plus, he took the precaution of actually doing a bunch of meth before the interview, for maximum authenticity.
Well, if that was all it took to dodge the draft, you might ask, why didn't every hippie try that exact same thing? "Everybody did do that," claimed Ramis -- everyone in his Greenwich Village circle of friends at least.
The quest to avoid fighting doesn't end once you've joined up. In World War I, men were keener than ever to get out of there once they actually learned what war was like. They soon discovered an easy ticket out:
On leave, men visiting brothels would deliberately seek women with syphilis and gonorrhea. To get out of one set of dirty trenches, they dove into another, and they used their newly acquired VD as an excuse to avoid returning to the front lines.
One reason this trick wasn't as popular as it might have been was that pre-penicillin, the treatment for these infections was extremely unpleasant. It involved some guy pumping water up through your urethra to clean out your pipes, and it's possible that the military made this process as painful as possible, as a deterrent.
For a while, when an STI knocked an enlisted man out of commission, the military would inform his family of exactly what had happened. Then in 1916, the military told a major's wife about his condition, and so he killed himself. After that, they changed their policy to just describing syphilis or gonorrhea as "an unknown illness," so we don't have many records of just who took this route.
But late-stage syphilis drives you mad, right? And we do have an example of someone who played insane to dodge the draft: Bruce Springsteen. He filled out his forms "all crazy" in hopes that this would save him. In the end, the army did judge him to be ineligible, but it had nothing to do with his act. It was because he'd suffered a concussion two years earlier from a motorcycle accident.
Getting Super Fat
Mostly, we're talking today about tricks people tried in the past, but some countries still force everyone to serve in the military even today. Take South Korea, where all men have to serve 20 months or so by the time they're 28. Unless those men are BTS, in which case parliament passes a special law exempting them.
But some South Koreans figure they can skip service if they just fail the physical, and the most fun way to fail a physical is to get fat. A dozen students got caught exchanging tips on what sort of high-calorie drinks pack on the pounds fastest, and they wound up in trouble with the law. Another guy gained 65 pounds in six months. He got to remain a civilian, but he was also found guilty of trying to beat the system, so no real win there.
Meat Loaf narrowly beat that Korean guy: He gained 68 pounds so he'd be in no shape to fight. "But when I went to the Army physical, they knew," he says. "They could tell, and they started giving me a hard time right away." They stamped him as eligible, and two years later, he got the letter saying his time had come.
But he just ignored that letter, and no one ever showed up to haul him away. Hey, that was easy! As for the weight he'd packed on, uh, that would remain a part of him for a long time. He'd max out at 340 pounds at one point, and would eventually need spinal fusion surgery.
When a country goes to war, it's generally not the fortunate sons who do the actual fighting. Though today, poorer Americans are not more likely to enlist in the military, they were in decades past, and during the draft, connections were a great way to get a deferment. The Civil War was even more direct about letting the rich avoid the conflict. The United States had a draft, but you could straight-up pay someone to fight in your place, or pay the government $300 (about $5,000 in today's money) to let you off the hook.
People got pretty mad about that. "It's a rich man's battle but a poor man's war!" they said (a confusing way to put it, but you get what they were going for). In New York, men up for the draft rioted. Don't sympathize too hard with them, though. They killed over a hundred people and injured 2,000. They burned down a Black orphanage, on purpose -- they were almost as angry about emancipated Black Americans coming to New York as they were about being drafted.
Would you believe that Abraham Lincoln himself paid $300 to avoid being drafted?
Well he did. But that doesn't really count, as he did so just as a symbolic gesture. He was really exempt from the draft because he was too old and also was President of the United States. Future president Glover Cleveland, however, had no such excuse, and yet he too went the bribery route.
And would you believe that the richest man of modern times John D. Rockefeller -- a man with a net worth of perhaps $400 billion in today's dollars -- paid the fee rather than serve in the war? Uh, yeah, we imagine you'd have no trouble whatever believing that.
Moving To Sweden
During the Vietnam War, plenty of draft dodgers famously hopped the border to Canada, a nation of utter lawlessness. But Canada was far from the only option for those fleeing the country. A thousand Americans moved to Sweden to avoid the war. Some stayed there afterward, setting up a little Swedish-American community. One guy, who the news caught up with decades later, ended up serving in the Swedish Army, because he was never so much against the broad concept of "service" as specifically against dying in the jungle.
While we have plenty of stories of people sneaking into Canada (Rick James headed north to dodge the draft), we don't have any about celebs moving to Sweden. But we do have a story about a celeb shitting his pants, and honestly, isn't that basically the same thing?
For a week before the draft board got a look at him, Ted Nugent shit his pants. He didn't change clothes -- he wore one pair of pants, and he shit and pissed right into them. This came on top of a whole month of skipping bathing, and then two weeks of (probably less noticeably) adopting a poor diet to further mess with any possible indicators of good health. The physical went exactly as he'd planned, and he got to sit out the war at home.
At least, that was the story Ted used to tell. Later, now a conservative icon, he walked it back, saying that whole tale was completely ridiculous. He'd actually got a student deferment. Sure, that sounds reasonable. Except, military records do say that he failed his physical, so we'll let you choose which story to believe.
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