Rough Draft: Cold War Military Manpower Policy and the Origins of Vietnam-Era Draft Resistance (Cornell University Press, 2019) draws the curtain on the race and class inequities of the Selective Service during the Vietnam War. Amy J. Rutenberg argues that policy makers' idealized conceptions of Cold War middle-class masculinity directly affected whom they targeted for conscription and also for deferment. Federal officials believed that college educated men could protect the nation from the threat of communism more effectively as civilians than as soldiers. The availability of deferments for this group mushroomed between 1945 and 1965, making it less and less likely that middle-class white men would serve in the Cold War army. Meanwhile, officials used the War on Poverty to target poorer and racialized men for conscription in the hopes that military service would offer them skills they could use in civilian life.
As Rutenberg shows, manpower policies between World War II and the Vietnam War had unintended consequences. While some men resisted military service in Vietnam for reasons of political conscience, most did so because manpower polices made it possible. By shielding middle-class breadwinners in the name of national security, policymakers militarized certain civilian roles—a move that, ironically, separated military service from the obligations of masculine citizenship and, ultimately, helped kill the draft in the United States.
Amy J Rutenberg is Associate Professor of History and Co-Coordinator of the Social Studies Education Program at Iowa State University. Her work has appeared in Cold War History, The New York Times, and TheAtlantic.com.
Catriona Gold is a PhD candidate in Geography at University College London. Her current work concerns the politics of travel in Cold War US; she has previously published on US military intervention in the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic. She can be reached by email or on Twitter.