Nov. 14 – National Burn your Draft Card Day

GabeAmerican History(BR), Bell Ringers

Nov. 14, 1968, was “National Burn Your Draft Card Day”.

The United States had its last military draft from 1940 to 1973. Today, young men still need to register, but there is no active draft.

The Vietnam War was a time of great turmoil in the United States, and one of the key issues dividing the country was the draft, and resistance to it. For baby boomers, who were most directly affected, it was a defining issue, and the uncertainty, along with its growing unfairness, led to widespread protests.

In 1969, in part to respond to criticism of the process, a lottery was instituted, and the likelihood that you would have to serve depended entirely on which number you got. In the top third? You’re likely to be drafted. The bottom? You can expect to avoid it.

Reaction and response to the war and its protesters created great rifts among people. For some, protesting was part of what it meant to be American. To others, burning draft cards was considered unpatriotic, and unacceptable behavior. In 1965, Congress passed a law making it illegal to burn one’s draft card, and subsequently 46 men were indicted for doing so. The Supreme Court ruled against draft card burners, arguing that it was not a form of free speech and thus not protected.

In 1973, in keeping with his campaign promise from 1968, Richard Nixon ended the military draft. Registration (but not the draft) was reinstituted by President Carter in 1979. The Nobel Prize economist, Milton Friedman, once said that the greatest advance of freedom in his lifetime was the ending of the military draft in the United States.

  1. How do you distinguish between acts of free speech to protest policies (such as the draft), and unpatriotic acts?
  2. Do you believe free speech should include actions (like burning a draft card or a flag) or only words?
  3. Today, only men must register for the draft. Do you think this is fair? Or should women also have to register, given that they can serve in (almost) all jobs in the military today?

Image Citation:

7, Nov. 2018 Draft card from Vietnam War [Digital image].  Retrieved from <>.