By: John Fogarty
Source: Creedence Clearwater Revival. "Fortunate Son." Willy and the Poorboys. Jondora Music, 1969.
About the Author: John Fogarty founded Creedence Clearwater Revival, the leading American rock band from 1969 to 1971. The album Willy and the Poor Boys with the song, "Fortunate Son," came out in November 1969 and quickly became platinum-selling.
John Fogarty of the 1960s rock group, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), expressed something rare in American rock music. Unlike his peers, Fogarty showed a keen awareness of class differences. "Fortunate Son" (1969) was the only popular antiwar song of the 1960s to observe that the sons of the working class were more likely to be drafted than the sons of the privileged.
The United States had drafted men to serve in World War II and then resumed conscription in 1948 during the earliest years of the Cold War. Draft resistance was rare until the late 1960s when public opinion began to turn against American involvement in the Vietnam War. While public perception and subsequent public memory held that most Vietnam soldiers were drafted, in reality about half of soldiers were drafted. However, many draft-age males found it more prudent to enlist before their numbers came up because they thought they would be drafted anyway and they wanted to pick their branch of service. Many men chose to join the Air Force or Navy, as opposed to the Army or Marine Corps, to lessen their chances of going to Vietnam.
The image of a poor boy forced to fight while a rich man dodges the draft, popularized in Fogarty's song, is not quite accurate. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study in 1992 found that while thirty percent of those killed in action came from the lowest third of the income range, twenty-six percent of combat deaths came from families earning in the highest third. Of all combat deaths in Vietnam, seventy-three percent of those killed were volunteers. The perception that blacks fought in disproportionate numbers is also not accurate. African American males made up 13.1 percent of the draft-age males and 12.6 percent of the military, showing that they served in numbers representative of their percentage of the population. Black servicemen also tended to volunteer for combat units at rates higher than whites.
Much of the anger about the draft came because of the number of deferments that allowed "fortunate sons" to avoid or delay service. Unlike the era of World War II, college students during Vietnam could obtain deferments because their education was deemed to be in the national interest by the federal government. Initially, college students were eligible for II-S deferments until they fulfilled their degree requirements or reached their twenty-fourth birthday, whichever came first. However, in early 1966, the Selective Service System initiated the Selective Service College Qualification Test. Any student ranking in the lower levels of his class became eligible for the draft.
Some folks are born made to wave the flag,
Ooh, they're red, white and blue.
And when the band plays hail to the chief,
Ooh, they point the cannon at you, lord.
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no senator's son, son.
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no.
Some folks are born silver spoon in hand,
Lord, don't they help themselves, oh.
But when the taxman comes to the door,
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes.
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no millionaire's son, no.
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no.
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war, lord,
And when you ask them, how much should we give?
Ooh, they only answer more! more! more! yeah,
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no military son, son.
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, one.
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no no no.
It ain't me; it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate son, no no no,
CCR disbanded in October 1972 after its seventh album, Mardi Gras sold poorly. In subsequent years, Fogarty became bitterly estranged from the other band members. He released several solo albums and won a Grammy in 1997. CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
In December 1969, President Richard Nixon announced a draft lottery system that eliminated many of the inequities of the older system. However, as the war continued and antiwar sentiment became more widespread, more young men began to resist the draft. The most popular way of beating the draft involved failing the preinduction physical. Once a young man became eligible for the draft, he was required to have an examination to determine his physical, mental, and moral fitness for military service. While some men pretended to be gay to get rejected for service, other men aggravated old sports injuries or artificially raised their blood pressure. A man who failed the examination would be classified as IV-F, permanently exempting him from all military service or I-Y, making him available only in time of declared war or national emergency.
By 1973, ground combat troop withdrawals allowed the president to end the draft as of July 1973 and create an all-volunteer army. The last American troops left Vietnam in 1975. The military has since remained an all-volunteer service.
Krepinevich, Andrew F., Jr. The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
Olson, James S. and Randy Roberts. Where the Domino Fell:America and Vietnam, 1945–1995. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.