37

I recently encountered a post by Kerry Callan where he provided a pictorial image from the September 1966 issue of Esquire magazine of conditions that will exempt you from the draft.

Image from Esquire magazine showing reasons for rejection from the draft (click to enlarge)

Most of them make perfect sense to me, except "silk underwear". I took a quick look through the text of AR 40-501 - Standards of Medical Fitness, but couldn't find anything. Is this just meant as a joke about how rich people sometimes got out of the draft with flimsy reasons or is there something else I'm missing?

3
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mark C. Wallace Mar 8 at 0:34
  • 10
    I find it mildly amusing that the character depicted here is a drug-addicted voyeuristic felon who is going to divinity school while married with two children (one from the marriage, and one from a previous relationship that they have sole custody over). I know the intention is to display the various disqualifying conditions, but the dissonance between having some of them crammed together makes it a bit amusing. – nick012000 Mar 8 at 14:50
  • 2
    How do you know that this is an entirely serious article and not to some degree satirical or at least ironic? – Mark Olson Mar 8 at 17:55
73

In order to understand this question, you can't apply todays morals standards to the 1960s military establishment. An article from another website discussing 11 ways people dodged the draft had this entry (emphasis mine):

  1. Be a homosexual. And if you're not a homosexual, pretend to be! In the 1960s and 1970s, it was perfectly fine to both ask and tell. If men out to dodge the draft were afraid they wouldn't be asked, they would wear women's underwear to the medical exams.

The artist in the magazine article you show just didn't define the underwear well, making them look a little too much like men's normal underwear. The practice is noted in the Wikipedia article on the History of cross-dressing:

Conversely, men would dress as women to avoid being drafted, the mythological precedent for this being Achilles hiding at the court of Lycomedes dressed as a girl to avoid participation in the Trojan War.

(An unsourced entry, but I liked the historical connection...)


If you are still unsure concerning the reference indicating that a method of avoiding the draft was dressing like a woman, a little more context might be in order. Here is a link to the same September 1, 1966 issue of Esquire from which the OPs artwork was taken. The magazine cover shows a young man applying lipstick with the headline reading:

How our red-blooded campus heroes are beating the draft.

7
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mark C. Wallace Mar 8 at 16:10
  • 1
    I'm confused about the connection between women's underwear and silk-underwear.. is that really how someone would've interpreted the picture back then? If so, are there any supporting references demonstrating this perspective? – Nat Mar 8 at 19:11
  • 4
    @Nat men back then'd never dream of wearing silk underwear. Cotton briefs or boxers were it, don't think you'd find much else for men. So anything silk was for women only, period. – jwenting Mar 8 at 19:16
  • 11
    you can't apply todays morals standards to... The answers to so many questions and criticisms should begin with these words. – dotancohen Mar 8 at 20:56
  • 3
    I was too young to appreciate MAS*H and have never watched it (though I've seen many glowing critiques). However I've read that Klinger wore womens' clothing in an attempt to be discharged. – zedmelon Mar 8 at 21:59
30

It's a not-so-veiled reference to gender non-conformity and paraphilia which was grounds for disqualification until very recently.

I took a quick look through the text of AR 40-501 - Standards of Medical Fitness, but couldn't find anything.

You're looking at the 2019 version. The poster is from 1966.

I can't find a contemporary version, but as late as 2008 AR 40-501 Standards of Medical Fitness considered gender non-conformity and paraphilia (sexual interests in objects, situations, or individuals that are atypical) to be a personality disorder worthy of discharge. 1966 would have also included homosexuality.

2–27. Learning, psychiatric and behavioral disorders

...

n. Current or history of psychosexual conditions (302), including, but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias, are disqualifying.

3–35. Personality, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders; disorders of impulse control not else where classified

a. A history of, or current manifestations of, personality disorders, disorders of impulse control not else where classified, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity disorder to include major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex or a current attempt to change sex, hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions render an individual administratively unfit.

b. These conditions render an individual administratively unfit rather than unfit because of physical illness or medical disability. These conditions will be dealt with through administrative channels, including AR 135–175, AR135–178, AR 635–200, or AR 600–8–24.

"Silk underwear" is likely a catch-all veiled slur for those behaviors; "wearing women's underwear". That poster is propaganda designed to shame people they consider to be draft dodgers, we can't expect 100% accuracy. When, in reality, the US military's own hang-ups opened the loophole.

This would be highlighted on film and TV by Corporal Klinger in M*A*S*H and his persistent attempts to get a discharge for being mentally unfit.

enter image description here

6
  • 11
    He didn’t even shave his legs, no wonder they didn’t buy it. – jmoreno Mar 7 at 13:27
  • 4
    I find it extremely serendipitous that your profile picture is a powerpuff girl with a beard. – TKoL Mar 8 at 17:49
  • 3
    @TKoL Enjoy. – Schwern Mar 8 at 19:29
  • 2
    Oh i am a transwoman your reference to Klinger is gorgeous! And i never even knew what it all was about. I recall MASH as a child, and as a teenager Klinger was completely confusing to me: he did all this cross dressing but seemed to show no wish to be a woman, and as someone with gender dysphoria this really did my head in. Actually the whole concept of cross dressing did my head in as someone who is transfemale. I just thought there must be some bizarre, shallow Benny Hill like humor behind it, but generally MASH was subtler than that, so i was never happy with that explanation! – Selene Routley Mar 9 at 14:13
  • 1
    Now, at 57 years old, it makes perfect sense. And what a fascinating piece of history! – Selene Routley Mar 9 at 14:14
12

To add an example to the answers:

And when it came my time to serve
I knew, "Better dead than red"
But when I got to my old draft board,
Buddy, This is what I said

"Sarge, I'm only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I've got eyes like a bat and my feet are flat
My asthma's getting worse"

From the Draft Dodger Rag, 1965, by Phil Ochs, on his album I Ain't Marching Anymore

And "purse" is a bag that was used in those days by women to carry personal items. I guess nowadays there are male versions of handbags too.

11
  • 3
    I originally thought to include reference to Alice's Restaurant, but Guthries' reference to this method of draft avoidance uses rather offensive terminology under todays standards. – justCal Mar 7 at 15:31
  • 2
    @justCal and why should that prevent you from including a relevant piece of history? – Roman Odaisky Mar 8 at 0:26
  • 11
    I'm just curious about the explanation of what a purse is -- is that included, like, for future posterity? (like someone reading this in 40 years?) -- or... are there legitimately people around today who you've talked to who didn't know what a purse was? (I'm genuinely curious.) – BrainSlugs83 Mar 8 at 7:17
  • 2
    @BrainSlugs83 - I am Russian so it's an instinct to explain foreign words. When I first heard that song, the meaning of the line was unclear to me, I had to ask a native speaker. – CopperKettle Mar 8 at 7:22
  • 2
    @BrainSlug83 and others: A purse (US) is a handbag (UK), but a purse (UK) is much smaller and mainly for coins. In both countries, a purse is primarily female - less so now of course but definitely in 1965. Except in boxing, I guess, where it means a cash prize. – Adam Chalcraft Mar 8 at 8:30
2

They used to call it Section 8.

It covers a lot of psychological, emotional, sexual, etc grounds for dismissal from the U.S. army.

In the 1960s - when many young men wanting to avoid the Vietnam draft had no hope of using college draft deferrals, religious vocation, fatherhood, etc but had read Catch 22 - this was a popular way of making your sergeant throw you out of the army.

Here's the piece of script from the Sinatra movie, Suddenly, where we all learned about it:

You know, Baron, you got the yard look. You look yard bird to me.

I'm tellin' you, sheriff. Turn it off.

Big shot with the yard birds, eh? Come on now, tell me. Where were you court-martialled? What was it for? Rape? No, not rape. Killing, that's what you like, killing. Maybe shooting down unarmed PW's.

Sit down and shut up.

Ah, but by golly you got away with it. So... I got it. Section eight. You went out on a section eight. Section eight. Psycho in charge of killing, eh? You know, I knew guys like you. Killing was sweet. Rather kill a man than love a girl. A real kick. A thrill with the guts.

Jimi Hendrix used it. Maybe Jim Morrison too. I often wondered how the members of The Eagles dodged the draft.

It was also a way of ridding the army of psychopaths (guys who loved killing so much it had a demoralising effect on their fellow soldiers), guys who just wouldn't take orders (Sinatra and Kerouac got thrown out on this ground) and maybe guys whose battle shock in the Pacific War made them obviously unusable for further fighting.

The U.S. army in recent years replaced this provision with something more specific and cognizant of modern sociology and psychiatry.

1
  • 3
    And of course the actual definition of "Catch 22" as given by that book was that a mentally fit person would want to be discharged from the army, and thus pretending to be mentally unfit (which in those days would include homosexuality) in order to be discharged proved that you actually were mentally fit, and thus would not be discharged. – Darrel Hoffman Mar 9 at 21:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.