Bill Clinton served as the 42nd president of the United States. But did he also serve in the military?
Bill Clinton did not serve in the military. He was accused of “draft-dodging” by political opponents. During the Vietnam war, Clinton received draft deferments due to his enrollment at the University of Oxford. He eventually registered for the draft, but secured a high lottery number, meaning he knew he was unlikely to ever be called up.
Let’s examine how the young Bill Clinton managed to avoid serving in the military during one the United States most notoriously violent wars.
Bill Clinton Dodges the Draft
Bill Clinton studied politics at University College, Oxford. Since he was studying abroad, Clinton received educational draft deferments in 1968 and 1969.
Clinton was opposed to the war in Vietnam. It’s known that while at Oxford, he was involved in Vietnam War protests.
Clinton planned to go to law school in the US after Oxford, and knew that this could mean he would be drafted to go to war. In a bid to avoid this, he tried to join the National Guard and Air Force, in roles that would avoid serving overseas, but was turned down.
He then arranged to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Arkansas.
As it turns out, he wrote a letter to the leading officer of the program renouncing his intent, mentioning his opposition to war and how he thought it dishonorable to use the ROTC to avoid military service.
He also mentioned that due to his opposition to the war, he would not serve “in uniform.” Instead he would enroll to the draft, and reluctantly serve if called, but only as a way to “to maintain [his] political viability within the system.”
When Clinton registered for the draft he received the high number of 311 in the lottery, which was drawn from dates of birth of eligible young men. The highest number ever called to serve was 195, meaning Clinton was never close to being called up.
Clinton Faces Scrutiny
The army officer in charge of Clinton’s ROTC application, Colonel Eugene Holmes, wrote a statement about the matter during Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, accusing him of purposely playing the system of the draft.
Holmes stated, “I believe that [Clinton] purposely deceived me, using the possibility of joining the ROTC as a ploy to work with the draft board to delay his induction and get a new draft classification.”
It also came out during the same campaign that Clinton’s uncle had tried to get him into the Navy Reserve, which would have meant he did not have to serve overseas. Clinton stated that he had been unaware of this attempt.
Although Clinton never broke the law by any of his actions involving the draft, he faced intense scrutiny from his political opponents and some Vietnam war veterans.
Even President George Bush alleged that a visit by Clinton to Moscow during the Vietnam war was “inappropriate.” Further rumours began to circulate that Clinton had acted as an “agent of influence” for the KGB, although these are believed to be unsupported.
The British prime minister in power at the time of Clinton’s campaign and subsequent election, John Major, did not escape the controversy. It came to light that the Home Office had checked immigration records to see if Clinton had ever applied for UK citizenship, in order to avoid the draft.
No such records were found, but upon the release of details of the investigation to the media, Major was compelled to apologise to Clinton. He stated he was, “disturbed by reports which have appeared about enquiries by our Home Office relating back to your time at Oxford.”
Major continued, “I am only sorry that it has been played up now in a mischievous way. I hope the mischief will be short-lived.”