Be an officer.

You see, when they draft you they can do whatever they want with you. In less than a month you could be on the battlefield, holding a gun, and trying to kill someone who you don't know. If, instead, you sign up as an officer, they are willing to go to a lot of effort to train you (and this training takes place on United States soil - probably a pretty safe place). Then, if the war isn't over by the time you are fully trained, you are less likely to be sent to the front lines as cannon fodder, because the military isn't too into killing people who they just spent a lot of money training. In the sixties this led to a lot of people joining ROTC after draft numbers were assigned. Once a person found out that they had a draft number of, say, 3 (very bad) they might try to join ROTC.

An interesting side effect of this was that the military's general political stance, not the "official military political stance" - there isn't one of those - but the political stance of the average military officer, moved significantly to the left in the period during and for a few decades following the Vietnam War (note this is all relative. They moved left from a very conservative average - it is possible that they almost got to a centrist stance). Many people had joined as a draft dodging effort and after their four years of ROTC paypack found that they either enjoyed the work or were quite good at it, and stayed in. Recently this generation of soldiers has been retiring and the military's politics have swung back to the right. Whether it is a good thing to have a military whose opinions represent only a part of the population they defend is an issue of debate.

Unfortunately this trick only works for people who are both in college and fit/smart enough to join ROTC, which means that poor and/or stupid people are much more likely to be sent to the front lines, because they don't have this trick available. Whether killing the poor and stupid disproportionately is a good thing or not is left as a debate between the social darwinists and liberals.

Note that this is but one way to dodge the draft. Others include the legal ones such as "plead pacifism and go to jail instead", "successfully become a conscientious objector" (usually only available for religious reasons), and the illegal "go to Canada". Whatever you do, if there is a draft, make sure you know all your options. I can imagine no worse fate than to be forced to die for a cause I don't believe in. On the other hand, part of the reason we created this "more perfect union" was to provide for the common defense. Whatever you decide, the goal here is to make it your decision. Good luck, let's hope this advice remains irrelevant.

NotFabio points out that one must be very very careful with this approach. When you become an officer you can be recalled into active duty at any time, and you must keep track of your papers, because the military is historically very bad at doing so when it would be disadvantageous to them. This is all about weighing the pros and cons of each approach: 2 to 4 years of indentured sucky servitude, or a potential lifetime to less sucky service.

From what I have been told by at least two people either currently in service or recently out of service (both, oddly, in Army Intelligence) quite possibly the best way to stay out or get out if you're already in is to say that you're homosexual. While I'm not totally certain of how likely this is to actually work it's an interesting concept nonetheless. Basically you have a condition that cannot be tested for or otherwise proven effectively and objectively. You could ask friends and relatives, but they're just as likely to lie on behalf of the person. You can't very well claim that they need to have been in a homosexual relationship as they could very well never have found the right person for them.

Among the benefits of this is that it's legal. You're just getting the government to say that they don't want you whether you're otherwise fit to serve or not. A discharge on these grounds is apparently a general discharge which reverts to an honorable discharge following six months without incident. Apparently being classed as a general discharge it also won't have any effect on any sort of permanent record.

I have to admit I'm not totally certain if it would or wouldn't work. I've spoken to people who have served and they all seem to agree that it would, but that's not exactly official. Still, when three or four Arab language specialists were suddenly discharged under these guidelines in the winter of 2002 (or so I was told) it seems like at least a few people are using it as a way out.

Update: I have since been told that this does not work in times of war. Try it during peacetime though to get out of the army. But for avoiding a draft? Not bloody likely.

Second update: with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the significant victory of being able to finally serve openly this is no longer any sort of option. It's being retained here for historic reasons since for quite a while this was a valid method that some people employed.

A possibly apocryphal tale that was related to me from a forgotten source.

Roughly twenty-five years ago, South African men were conscripted into the army shortly after leaving school. These men mostly went to fight the communists in Namibia. Since many men did not want to fight, some tried to find ways of being discharged from the army on medical grounds. And so we have one young soldier in particular, whose name is lost in the mists of time and constant retelling of a story.

From his first arrival at camp for basics, he asked for marshmallows. Not just marshmallows from the commissary, which of course did not have, he wanted his marshmallows. It drove the drill-sergeant up the wall, of course, since it was clear that he was seeking a discharge for mental health reasons. Throughout the following weeks that the men spent training to be soldiers, our recruit asked, constantly, if anyone had seen his marshmallows, or knew where they were. It might have been funny if it wasn't so repetetive.

At breakfast, he asked for marshmallows. Whenever he had the opportunity, he would ask the drill-sergeant if he knew where his marshmallows were. Throughout the day, and throughout his training, he asked everyone for his marshmallows.

And then, one night, just near the end of his training, he managed to get hold of a few friends on the outside, and had a small truck filled with marshmallows make a delivery at the base. Not just at the base, however. This delivery went directly outside the drill-sergeants tent.

And so, first thing in the morning, the drill-sergeant stepped outside, to find our recruit sitting in a huge mound of marshmallows, gleefully eating them in handfuls. A small truck can hold a surprisingly large number of marshmallows, and all of them (save the ones that had been eaten), were sitting around our recruit, just next to the drill-sergeants tent, in a big, fluffy, pink and white pile.

The recruit turned to the sergeant, and said "Look, sarge, I found my marshmallows!"

Our recruit was discharged and on his way home less than two hours later.

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