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 while avoiding the negative repercussions in the process.
- He simply is not willing to risk his life for his country
- He does not want to fight
- He objects for ideological reasons
Possible ways to dodge:
- 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.
- Act like/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" will presumably close off this escape route, so this is likely to evolve into a Dead Horse Trope within the next few years outside of period pieces.)
- Pretend to be crazy.
- Commit a lesser crime.
- 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).note
- Earlier forms of military conscriptions, e. g. that in France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and that in the US during the 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.
- 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 enforcednote note
. 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.
- 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.)
- 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 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.
- 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. Other options suggested are pretending to be a sociopath so he'll flunk a psych screening, claiming to be a pedophile, and eating lots of beets the night before the test so it looks like he's peeing blood.
- 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.
- In the Laurel and Hardy movie Great Guns, the eponymous duo were servants to a rich family. When a man from said family was drafted, the family (not the draftee himself) tried this.
- In a Finnish military farce movie Vääpeli Körmy (Sergeant Major Körmy) a young man tries to avoid draft by pretending to have so bad eyes he can't even see the eye test. When the doctor says he will be released from service and asks him to bring him a form from the third pile by the wall the man makes the mistake by walking to the papers and bringing in the right one.
Live Action Television
- There's the Joke about the fox, the Bunny and the Bear who want to avoid conscription. The Fox thinks he is going into Military intelligence pretends to be stupid. The Bunny thinks he is going to be a spy cuts of his ears. The Bear thinks he is going to become a fighter pulls his teeth and claws and is rejected because he is too fat (or has flat feet).
- 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 Dad's Army example. Private Walker (the platoon's Honest John's Dealership) 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.
- 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 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 19th century, some people in Egypt put out one of their eyes in order to escape the army. It was followed by an order to form a regiment out of one-eyed men.
- Italian history offers two examples of this:
- After the unification and the introduction of conscription into the former Kingdom of Two Sicilies (who did not have conscription), part of the dodgers willingly injured themselves to be disqualified. This had a mixed rate of success, as it would take crippling injuries to be disqualified;
- During World War I, already conscripted and reactivated soldiers would sometimes shoot themselves in a hand or foot during battle to be sent home, or at least in the rear echelons. This always failed and resulted in punishment, as Austro-Hungarian weapons used larger bullets than Italian ones, allowing the medics to easily recognize if the wound had actually been produced by enemy fire.
- 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.
- 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.
- Definitely Urban Legend - they would have to have specifically tested for a pregnancy hormone to detect it.
- In the second Destroy All Humans!, one of the side missions has you get a draft dodging hippy to the base so he could serve.
- Bluto tried this in a classic Popeye short.
- 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.
- One issue of MAD had a comic satirizing army life. At one point, the protagonist tries to get out of enlisting by pretending to be gay. It doesn't work, because the psychiatrist is gay.
Live Action TV
- The German novel Der Untertan has a one-shot character, an actor, doing this. (This novel is set in Imperial Germany.)
- 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.
- A Swedish urban legend says that draft dodgers who claimed to be homosexual, were sent to a gay-only boot camp on the isle of Gotland. The idea of an island full of armed gays, who would presume that all rookies were gay as well, would deter teens from feigning homosexuality. Apparently, the gay unit was a fiction made up by the military. During periods of Swedish history, homosexuality has been considered a disease or a crime, but it was never considered a valid reason to avoid the draft.
- 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 one report from the late 1990s, some young men in Thailand got breast implants before reporting to the induction center.
- That is not exactly the gay but rather transgender option. Thailand has more transsexuals per capita than any other country in the world.
- Transsexualism is not a cause for exemption of draft neither in Finland nor Israel. They are simply reassigned to all-female unit.
- 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.
- 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.
- Subverted in Arlo Guthrie's famous Alice's Restaurant Massacre song. He goes to the draft office and starts jumping up and down shouting "Kill! KILL!" and stating that he wants to eat burnt bodies. They give him a medal.
- There is the story of the Saxon who came to draft smiling and giggling asking when he is going to get his gun. When asked about anything he just said he didn't care and just wanted to be handed his gun already. The examiners became incredibly creeped out when he started whispering "Bang. Hehe." and he became angry about all the examinations and shouted "I just came here to finally get my damned gun. GIVE ME MY GUN ALREADY!" In the end they told him his gun would come in the mail and shooed him home. Security was tightened and laughs between friends were shared respectively.
- Sweden, being one of the last countries in the world to practice universal conscription even in peacetime, has a rich Oral Tradition of stories of this type, particularly since psychiatric disability is one of the easiest "outs" to fake. Some are purely humorous (My buddy rolled himself up in the rug and said he was a hot dog!), others have a moral ending (My cousin claimed he was narcoleptic, so they took his driver's license.) The abolition of conscription means that this tradition is slowly dying. It was dying beforehand, too — the end of the Cold War didn't mean the end of formal universal conscription, but it did result in a massive drop of how many actually were drafted, with a corresponding increasing ease in not being drafted.
- In Finland universal draft for men is still going strong and until relatively recently was very difficult to dodge. Back when it was extremely hard to get out there was more sympathy for dodgers than today, and from those days there comes this amusing little anecdote / urban legend: When a man came to the army, he kept pretending to ride an invisible scooter everywhere, making motor sounds with his mouth and holding his arms extended in front of him. No matter how many disciplinary measures were taken on him, and even after a couple of beatings from his fellow privates he just kept going relentlessly. Finally his superiors had enough of his antics and had a psychiatrist declare him unfit for military service. At the gates of the garrison he suddenly stopped, mimed taking a key from his imaginary scooter and handed it to one of the MPs saying: "I hereby relinquish the army vehicle to your care, sir", and walked away normally, whistling happily as he went.
- Another version of the story has the man break in laughter when someone ask him to give a ride with the bike, thus proving that he is not insane.
- The first Bloodsport, Michael DuBois, fled to Canada when drafted into the Vietnam War. His brother Mikey enlisted, pretending to be him, but lost all four limbs in combat. When Michael learned of this, he went nuts, becoming Bloodsport and being obsessed with the war.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- 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 Good Soldier vejk, 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.
- 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.
- It didn't turn out so awkward after all. The friend understood why Mike's friend went to Canada, told Archie that he didn't like the war, and would've like to have Christmas dinner with the guy. Archie was the one who felt and looked foolish.
- 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.
- Community mentions that Pierce moved to Canada to sit out the Vietnam War.
- The Led Zeppelin song "Night Flight" is about someone doing this.
- The Flying Burrito Brothers' "My Uncle" is a jolly country song about "headin' for the nearest foreign border/Vancouver might be just my kind of town" to escape the Vietnam draft.
- 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.
- Stand-up comic John Wing, when talking about his family, referred to an uncle "stationed in Canada" during the Vietnam War. "Chicken Wing," they called him.
- In The Sound of Music, Captain von Trapp and his family escape from Nazi-occupied Austria so that he may avoid serving in the German navy.
- In Italy escape from the draft partially fueled a civil war, as draft dodgers in the former Kingdom of Two Sicilies who didn't injury themselves would join the 'brigands' (many of which were actually fighting a guerrilla against the forced unification) that infested the area at the time.
Mixed / other / unspecified:
- In Superman & 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.
- 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 the church he followed was so remote that the draft board couldn't prove it even existed for the purposes of a Conscientious Objector exemption. 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.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- The beginning of Robert A. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lt Keith of The Caine Mutiny voluntarily signs up for Naval OCS and becomes a Navy officer to avoid being drafted and becoming an Army grunt.
- There's a variation in the WWII Brit Com Dad's 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.
- Brazilian soap opera O Rei do Gado (The King of Cattle) featured several Brazilians getting married as soon as possible because the Brazilian military was drafting bachelors to serve during World War II.
- Several variations of service members trying to get out of the military happens in JAG, along with a few cases of individuals who really want to join the Navy or Marines but don't qualify (usually because they're too young).
- An episode of Mad Men had Don try to find a way to get his mistress's son out of the Vietnam War draft. The kid used to be exempt because he was in college but lost his exemption due to a stupid anti-war stunt. Unfortunately Don does not have the right connections to accomplish this and it looks like the kid will have to flee to Canada. In the end, one of Don's partners calls in a favour to get the kid into the Air National Guard.
- In Weeds, Andy's Army Reserve unit is called up for duty in Iraq. He gets a deferment by enrolling in rabbinical school, as theology students qualify for the chaplain corps.
- Several are mentioned in "Draft Dodger Rag" which provides the page quote: aside from homosexuality and sicknesses, the narrator also mentions his "poor old invalid aunt", that he's "addicted to a thousand drugs" and that he's working at a defense plant.
- 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.
- Frank Zappa's mini-Rock Opera "Billy The Mountain" is about a secret government agent tracking down a mountain (yes, a literal mountain) who's refusing to report to the draft office. It ends badly for him, since
A mountain is something you don't wanna fuck with
- Several of these are mentioned / discussed in the Hair musical.
- There was a WWII-era Daffy Duck cartoon, "Draftee Daffy", where Daffy was trying to evade "that dope from the draft board". Daffy's approach is simply to run and hide from anyone trying to draft him until the drafts stop.
- Prowl of Transformers Animated is revealed to have tried this in his backstory.
- The Simpsons: Abe once claimed to have disguised himself as a woman to avoid military service. While in drag, he joined an all-women's baseball team and the masquerade ended when his wig fell during a game. Then again, given how inconsistent the tales about his past usually are, one must wonder if it really happened.
- Especially as in at least one episode it was shown he was a Squad Leader of a group of soldiers in World War 2 and a bonafide War Hero.
- 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.
- Denmark lets young males (and females, if they get the call), postpone the call. At least if they have something excusable such as college/education.
- Many places and times have had the 'war-important industries exemption', where workers in specific industries were defined as having a valid exemption. Obviously, getting a job like that in response to a draft would be impractical, but it was sometimes necessary to find people and organizations to vouch for you being an experienced worker in a relevant industry, especially if the industry had less intensive periods.