One of the biggest problems about having lots of wars, or very long standing ones, is getting troops. You can start off with the biggest standing army going, but sooner or later you are going to need to replace them as they get shot, bombed and if you pick somewhere especially charming for your war dysentry or some other rather icky disease. There are a range of ways that you can deal with this problem. You can compel everyone of a certain age to join the armed forces as they do in the ever battle ridden Israel, you can go all seventeenth century British Navy and start kidnapping and bribing, or you can appeal to the deep seated macho in fragile male egos as General kitchener’s posters did.
The United States had a big recruitment problem for the Vietnam war. The 1960s were full of hippies, protesting students and civil rights protests. The conflict in Vietnam was unpopular and the volunteers that Nixon hoped to harness were not as forthcoming as they might have hoped. The ill fated political war, which America involved itself in as part of its ongoing battle against communism, had been at various levels ongoing since just after the second world war. The terrain and environment was not friendly to American troops; the Vietcong were more capable in the environment, and had a reputation of brutality and risk taking. The US government needed an injection of troops if it was going to have any chance against the reds…
1 December1969 the draft lottery system was drawn . They assigned each day of the year a number 1 January=1 etc), and drew out the first draw day. It was day 257; September 14th, which in 1970 was the first draw. Every man who was a US citizen born from 1944 to 1950 born on September 14th was allocated number 1, 15th allocated 2 and so forth, most hoping that for once they wouldn’t win that raffle. There was a further draft in the December of 1970 which used an alphabetical system of allocation.
The communists won, and the United States lost over 58,000 men in the conflict. They population of young men in the period was further diminished by those that emigrated to escape the draft, most commonly to Canada, and it is estimated well over 100,000 did so.
The draft system, which had existed in some form since the beginning of the Vietnam conflict, however, been estimated to have had some beneficial side effects. Prior to the lottery system one of the means of getting out of the draft was to have been in college, which was one of the reasons for the introduction of the lottery, having been criticised for largely taking men from lower social classes who were financially unlikely to access post school education. In avoidance of the draft it has been postulated that a significant number of middle class, and some scholarship level lower class men, went to college who would not have done so had the draft not existed. And of those that were drafted into the armed forces there was the GI Bill, which had been set up toward the end of the second world war to provide veterans with a free college education, which was accessed by around three quarters of those that made it through the conflict alive.