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File:Draftcard 4625.png


 And when it came my time to serve

I knew "Better Dead than Red"

But when I got to my ol' draft board, buddy

This is what I said:



Sarge, I'm only 18

I got a ruptured spleen

And I always carry a purse

I got eyes like a bat

And my feet are flat

And my asthma's getting worse!
Phil Ochs, Draft Dodger Rag.

It's about this: A character (Always Male) doesn't want to be conscripted by the armed forces. He may have different reasons, and find different ways to do it, which may or may not work. The type of hero that usually gets put in this kind of situation is often an average worker, or even outright poor, as a person from the higher classes of society usually have relatively easy methods to exempt themselves from serving.


  • He's an Actual Pacifist, based on religious, political, or other personal beliefs.
  • He is willing to fight, but not for this specific country or cause.
  • He simply doesn't want to "waste time" before starting his chosen career.
  • He simply is not willing to risk his life or be within the authoritarian structures of the army.

Possible ways to dodge:

  1. Claim you're too sick. Maybe all you need for this option is a note by your doctor; but you may also go through some pain, which can go as far as self-mutilation.
  2. Act / openly claim you're gay. This may have other repercussions, though. (This mainly applied to the US. If conscription were to return there, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would presumably close off this escape route.)
  3. Pretend to be crazy.
  4. Commit a lesser crime.
  5. Move away (For Americans, this often meant Canada; for West Germany, there was the option of West Berlin, since men living there were exempted from the draft for complicated legal reasons).
  6. Earlier forms of military conscriptions, e. g. that in France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and that in the US during the American Civil War, offered a legal way to avoid the draft that no longer exists: hire a substitute to serve in your place. Of course only the more affluent could take advantage of that option, especially when a war wore on and the casualty rates rose, causing the fees men asked to serve as substitutes to rise considerably.
  7. Declare yourself a "conscientious objector" and convince a military tribunal that you're objecting for ideological reasons (easier for members of certain religions, such as Quakers). There is a very chequered history of countries (a) allowing you the right to do this (although it's in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and (b) actually abiding by it if they do. Some objectors agree to serve as The Medic, as stretcher bearers, or in other non-combatant roles.

This is a trope that may become a Dead Horse Trope in the next few decades, as more and more western states abolish conscription. There is still draft registration in the United States, but it is so politically unacceptable that the laws regarding registration are not enforced[1] [2]. Whether American conscription is ever revived is debatable. The US has proven it can fight protracted wars without conscription, but the full impact of this has yet to be seen and a future war with higher casualties may force the draft to be revived.

Examples of Draft Dodging include:

Sickness option:

  • In Tigerland two soldiers about to depart to Vietnam contemplate jumping from a roof to injure themselves and avoid deployment. At the end of the film a soldier deliberately injures another soldiers' eye so that he will be discharged.
  • German novel Felix Krull subverts this: The character knows that the doctors are very generous in declaring even sick people fit for the army; so he instead fakes being a sick but enthusiastic guy, who plays down his obvious-but-fake maladies. It works.
  • Mentioned in Maus. The grandfather of the artist had 16 of his teeth pulled so he wouldn't have to join the army; the artist's father (the protagonist) would willingly ruin his health with a salted herring-only diet and no sleep and coffee during the least three days before the test. (It was the grandfather who insisted that he'd do this. But the artist's father found doing it was so terrible, he preferred to be drafted the second time around.)
  • Several Urban Legends, such as the story of one guy who pretended to be deaf. It seems that the doctors are buying it, but when he leaves, one of them asks him to close the door on his way out; when he answers, they know he isn't really deaf.
  • Dave Barry mentions a guy who wore the same underwear for several days, not even removing them to go to the bathroom(!), so that the doctors reject him solely to avoid them getting near him. He also says that to him, this guy was quite a bit more honorable than Henry Kissinger.
  • In Across the Universe, one character swallows some cotton before he goes in for his physical exam when he is drafted, with the idea that it'll come up as a fuzzy spot on his X-ray. They don't even do an X-ray.

  Crowning Moment of Funny: "I'm a cross-dressing homosexual pacifist with a spot on my lung."

  • Another story (Urban Legend?) from West Germany: A man substituted his diabetic girlfriend's urine sample for his own in order to convince the draft board that he had diabetes, but his plan failed because the urine sample also tested positive for pregnancy.
  • The Darwin Awards Web site includes a story of a farmhand who was killed while trying to dodge the draft in WWII. He tried to get a horse to kick him and injure him enough to disqualify him. He succeeded too well and received a lethal injury.
    • Another tale involves a Pole who attempted to get a lion to bite him. It bit off his arm.
  • In M*A*S*H, the main characters try to help a local boy avoid the draft. They make him smoke pot to slow his heartbeat and fake a heart condition.
  • Parodied in Arrested Development when Buster tries to avoid re-enlistment:

 Buster: ...hole in my heart. I've never opened my eyes underwater. My genital area is shaped like a lobster tail, but without its shell. Uh, oh, I guess I have the panic attacks under control. Oh, and I'm legally blind at night.

Narrator: But Buster had miscalculated the Army's current need for personnel.

Army doctor: Okay, then, let's get you fitted for a uniform!

  • Another Dads Army example. Private Walker (the platoon's CMOT Dibbler) was called up for service but dodged it because of an 'allergy to corned beef'. Unlike Pike's rare blood type, it was strongly implied that this was another of Walker's scams.
  • An episode of Foyle's War featured a man with a heart condition who ran a racket where he would turn up at the medical exam of someone who had been called up, claiming to be that person, and fail due to his heart condition, thereby allowing them to avoid conscription.
  • In the book The Good Soldier Švejk, set right before and during World War I, there are a variety of men trying to avoid conscription by appearing ill, resorting to injecting gasoline into their legs and other outlandish methods (all played for comedy). The army has a special "hospital" for malingerers, where they put them on a strict diet, and, among other things, wrap them in wet sheets - even the ones who really have tuberculosis.
    • Subverted by the protagonist, who volunteers, despite suffering from rheumatism so bad that he can't even walk, and he's wheeled to the recruitment office by his charwoman.
  • Averted by Will Eisner's father in his autobiographical graphic novel To the Heart of the Storm. He opts not to have his eye put out (by a doctor!) to avoid service in World War I, instead he emigrates to America.
  • In real life, young Korean celebrities will often bribe doctors to give them disqualifying diagnoses, with the idea that serving two years conscription would be inconvenient and damage their careers.
  • In the Tim Dorsey novel Orange Crush, the Lt Governor of Florida was revealed to have never registered for the draft. To avoid the political fallout of him being seen as a draft dodger (Even though there was no war in which the government was actually drafting people to fight in at the time), his handlers arrange for him to join the National Guard, intending to file paperwork claiming that he had an injury that prevented him from serving in the field. Unfortunately, said paperwork had not been filed by the time his unit was called up and sent to Kosovo.

Gay option:

  • In the Israeli movie Lemon Popsicle, two guys do this
  • The German novel Der Untertan has a one-shot character, an actor, doing this. (This novel is set in Imperial Germany.)
  • Another urban legends claims that some men would avoid being drafted by sitting on a bottle. This would make them look an active passive gay during the medical test.
  • According to legend Lenny Bruce wore a dress to his draft bureau in order to avoid service. Klinger on MASH is a direct reference to Bruce, except that in Klinger's case he kept on doing it even in Korea.
  • In the movie Stone Wall, the Drag Queen is frightened to go to the draft board and say he's gay, so his Straight Gay boyfriend goes in his place. drag.
  • In The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Fat Freddy gets his notice, and when his poor physical shape and massive drug use don't get him rejected, he sheepishly claims to be gay...and they tell him he can be in their Homosexual Battalion. He freaks and bolts out the fire escape.
  • According to one report from the late 1990s, some young men in Thailand got breast implants before reporting to the induction center.
  • This article tells the story of a trained actor who was able to convincingly play gay. He took an opportunity offered to him as a time-saver to be interviewed with several men who enlisted instead of the next round of conscripts, setting himself up as someone who wanted to be in the military instead of as someone who would try to dodge. He denied being gay in a manner that convinced the interviewer he was lying to enlist.
  • Reportedly, it's what Iggy Pop did to escape service.

Madness option:

  • A rather funny aversion from Richard Feynman's autobiography: he was denied entry on the grounds of being a loony, simply because he would occasionally hold one-sided conversations with his deceased wife. Also, he answered honestly the question of whether he thought people were staring at him. There are a bunch of people waiting in the room to take their test, but it's a mostly empty room with nothing to look at except the people who are currently being tested, so Feynman drew the logical conclusion.
    • His guess was dead-on too, at least before other people started looking. And he reported each new person too. The psychiatrist, not even looking up from his clipboard to verify the number, thought he was a narcissist.
    • Another version goes that everything was going smoothly until the shrink asked him what he thought was the value of a human life, to which Feynman responded "64". When asked why he picked 64 and not, say, 72, he replied "'Cause then you would have asked me "Why 72?"." The upshot of all this is that Feynman later wrote a letter to the draft board protesting his failed psych-eval, on the grounds that he was insane enough not to want to take advantage of it. See below.
  • Catch-22. Well, attempted, as the clause Catch-22 makes it so that trying to be declared insane to avoid combat is a lose-lose situation - if you are insane, filing the forms to declare yourself insane proves your sanity. You'll be flying combat missions, deal with it.
  • Another MASH example: some of the Klinger family. Note that Max kept this up even after it failed (he did decline the gay option when it was offered, though; see the above section).
  • Older Than Feudalism example: In The Iliad, Odysseus tries to get out of fighting the Trojan War by hooking a donkey and an ox to a plow and sowing a field with salt. King Agamemnon's messenger, Palamedes calls the bluff by placing Odysseus' infant son in front of the plow; Odysseus proves that he's sane by swerving out of the way.
    • Odysseus took his revenge and Palamedes died early in the siege, according to one version because Odysseus planted evidence that "proved" Palamedes' collusion with the Trojans, leading to his death by stoning, according to others by Odysseus and his good friend Diomedes killing him.
  • Advocated by Abbie Hoffman in Steal This Book:

  When you get your invite to join the army, there are lots of ways you can prepare yourself mentally. Begin by staggering up to a cop and telling him you don't know who you are or where you live. He'll arrange for you to be chauffeured to the nearest mental hospital. There you repeat your performance, dropping the clue that you have used LSD in the past, but you aren't sure if you're on it now or not. In due time, they'll put you up for the night. When morning comes, you bounce out of bed, remember who you are, swear you'll never drop acid again and thank everyone who took care of you. Within a few hours, you'll be discharged. Don't be uptight about thinking how they'll lock you up forever cause you really are nuts. The hospitals measure victories by how quickly they can throw you out the door. They are all overcrowded anyway. In most areas, a one-night stand in a mental hospital is enough to convince the shrink at the induction center that you're capable of eating the flesh of a colonel. Just before you go, see a sympathetic psychiatrist and explain your sad mental shape. He'll get verification that you did time in a hospital and include it in his letter, that you'll take along to the induction center.


Escape option:

  • Played realistically/averted in Tim O'Brien's partly fictional novel The Things They Carried. O'Brien attempts to escape to Canada, waiting in a rented room at a lodge for days to cross the border by canoe. He realizes he doesn't have the courage to do it (how much of the story is actually true is up for debate).
  • In the movie Girl, Interrupted, Susanna's friend flees to Canada to avoid being sent to Vietnam. He invites her to come with him, but she declines.
  • Michael, a one-shot character appearing the Stargate SG-1 episode "1969," gives the time-displaced SG-1 a lift to New York on his way to an unnamed concert (likely Woodstock). During the trip, he and his girlfriend Jenny talk about how he received his draft notice and is considering going to Canada to avoid the war.

 Michael: Hey, we're cool. After the concert, me and Jenny, we're even thinking about crossing the border up to Canada.

Teal'c: For what reason?

Michael: You know, man... the war.

Teal'c: The war with Canada?

Michael: ... No.

  • American Dreams had Helen use her travel agent job to help at least one boy escape to Canada and it was implied she helped others. Had the show continued she would have been arrested for her trouble. The show also had dealt previously with Nathan, member of the Nation of Islam, choosing to serve jail time rather than violate his pacifist beliefs.
  • An All in The Family Christmas special had one of Mike's friends, a draft dodger living in Canada, coming down to the Bunkers' place after Mike invites him over for Christmas dinner. One of Archie's friends, who lost his son in Vietnam, also comes over. Awkward.
  • Older Than Feudalism example: Achilles' immortal mother knew that he would either die in inglorious old age or not return from fighting before Troy, so she unsuccessfully tried to get him out of serving in the Trojan War by hiding among the daughters of king Lykomedes of Skyros dressed as a woman. The deceit was exposed by Odysseus and Achilles was so ashamed of having participated in this deceit that he joined the army against Troy even though he was no former suitor of Helen and therefore not oath-bound. In other words: If she had done nothing, he wouldn't have had to fight and no need to restore his honor? Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, er, side character.
    • Other versions have the prophecy say Achilles' life would be glorious and short or lengthy and dull (not specifying Troy), at which his mother decided to hide him as a woman, knowing the oathmakers wanted to have Achilles' skill with them at Troy. Odysseus, attempting to root out Achilles, presented a variety of items to the daughters, and Achilles picks up a sword, giving Odysseus proof to be suspicious and reveals who Achilles is. Achilles is presented as being eager to fight, and only hides at the behest of his mother.
  • Superman foe Bloodsport's origin involves draft dodging. Robert Dubois fled to Canada to avoid the draft. His brother Michael took his place instead and ended up a quadruple amputee.
  • The Led Zeppelin song "Night Flight" is about someone doing this.
  • In The Good Soldier Švejk, the protagonist misses a train to the army base and tries to go there on foot, getting completely lost on the way. He meets several draft dodgers during his "anabasis", and can't convince them that he isn't one.
  • In Reamde, Richard Forthrast's backstory involves him fleeing to Canada to avoid the draft. The result of this is that he becomes a drug smuggler for a time. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Neelix's backstory in Star Trek: Voyager included this. He was a conscientious objector to the war between the Talaxians and the Haakonians, and went into hiding to avoid the Talaxian draft. Then the Haakonians used a WMD on Talax's inhabited moon Rinax, an event that was basically Hiroshima Recycled in Space. Talax surrendered the next day.

Mixed / other / unspecified:

  • Several of these are mentioned / discussed in the Hair musical.
  • The dialogue of "Alices Restaurant" claims that singing this song to the draft board, alone or in groups, will convince the board that you're crazy, gay, and/or part of an organized protest against conscription.
    • Although these days, when Arlo Guthrie sings it live, that bit's been changed to say that singing this song to the draft board, alone or in groups, will prompt the board to make a sarcastic comment about your old-fashioned taste in music.
    • There's a double subversion earlier in the song. When Arlo is called up, he fakes being a murderous lunatic during his psychiatric assessment. It fails - they give him a medal instead. However, he's later rejected when they discover he has a criminal record... for littering.
  • There was a WWII-era Daffy Duck cartoon, "Draftee Daffy", where Daffy was trying to evade "that dope from the draft board".
  • There's a variation in the WWII Britcom Dads Army. Frank Pike doesn't want to evade military service, but his medical test reveals a rare blood group. He's excused from active service on the grounds that they'd have nothing to transfuse him with in the event of injury. So he stays in the Home Guard instead.
  • The beginning of Robert Heinlein's novel Glory Road has an extensive description of various means used to dodge the draft in the United States during the Vietnam War. The protagonist finally chooses to be voluntarily drafted because he has no other viable options.
  • In A Prayer for Owen Meany, the main character avoids the draft during the Vietnam War by cutting off his index finger. He later leaves for Canada.
  • Sergeant York is a movie about... well, Sergeant York and how he was a pacifist due to his understanding of the Bible, and so attempted to resist being drafted. But he gets drafted anyway. As a country boy from the Appalachian Mountains, he was extremely effective at killing Germans and became a famous American hero, and the most decorated American soldier of WWI.
    • To elaborate, he sought conscientious objection, but his church was so remote that the draft board couldn't find proof it existed and rejected it.
  • In the beginning of The Great Gatsby, the narrator Nick Carraway is talking about how he was born into money and mentions that his grandfather was wealthy enough to hire a substitute to serve in the Civil War.
  • Across the Universe has Max comically opting for "all of the above", as is shown in this conversation:

  Army Sergeant: Is there any reason you shouldn't be in this man's Army?

Max: I'm a cross-dressing homosexual pacifist with a spot on my lung.

Army Sergeant: As long as you don't have flat feet.

  • Inverted in the Captain America movie. Steve Rogers was rejected by the draft board nearly eight times. They finally let him join the army if he agreed to be part of an experiment... and we all know how that turned out.
  • Prowl of Transformers Animated is revealed to have tried this in his backstory.
  • According to John "Drumbo" French, longtime drummer with Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, when guitarist Jeff Cotton received an appointment with the draft board his fellow band-members helped him prepare for it by keeping him awake and feeding him amphetamines for several days beforehand.
  • In The Brothers K by David James Duncan, one brother, a gentle pacifist, is drafted during the Vietnam War. The family attempts to have the local church vouch for him, but the preacher has a grudge against him. He is sent to Vietnam and the stress takes a heavy toll on his sanity.
  • In Superman and Batman Generations, both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne's sons are offered deferments but refuse, Joel Kent because he feels like he has to prove himself and Bruce Jr. because he doesn't think it's fair to use his father's wealth and status that way. When the Joker kills Dick Grayson (Batman II), BJ takes the deferment because the world needs a Batman.
  1. The "Selective Service" system requires all eligible males between the ages of 18-25 to register for the draft. Failure to do so is punishable, but few, if any, are ever punished. Resident aliens, on the other hand, must register or face deportation, and this is enforced
  2. There's also the argument that the US military prefers an all-volunteer army, as the quality of troops tends to be much higher when the troops want to be there