The Vietnam-era draft moved to center stage on “Mad Men” in “Favors” as Mitchell Rosen, the son of Don’s ex-mistress, is in danger of being inducted into the military and sent to Southeast Asia in 1968. Don tries to help, assisting Mitchell in a way that ends with mixed results.
Universal conscription prevailed during the World War II-era as the draft provided no exemptions for men attending college or graduate school. In order to avoid a national debate over Vietnam, the Johnson Administration allowed for deferments for those in higher education during the 1960s. As a result, most members of the American upper middle class did not serve and a smaller share of the population bore the burden of the conflict than in the Second World War. According to the historian Christian Appy, 20 percent of the American soldiers who served in Vietnam were poor, 55 percent were working class, and 20 percent were middle class (though a larger share of the country participated in Vietnam than has served in the all-volunteer military of the post-9/11 wars).
Once out of school, young people with means often found ways to avoid the war. Some used creative tactics to fail their physical, such as losing a tremendous amount of weight in advance. Others found a friendly doctor to give them a medical exemption. Finally, 30,000 people left the country altogether and journeyed to safe haven in Canada.
Mitchell Rosen is contemplating that path and Megan, herself a Canadian, considers helping him. “He can’t be on the run the rest of his life,” responds Don, no doubt thinking of his perpetual post-Korean War fear of being exposed as a fraud and deserter. Instead, Don tries to find a way for Mitchell to gain another exemption. Though a student, Mitchell sent back his draft card in protest and has been classified as 1A, or available for service.
Don tries to see if his new clients at General Motors will help, but like many Americans, they express disgust toward those who try to avoid the draft. Even Arnold Rosen, a Korean War vet himself, seems conflicted, saying that he and Don were lucky to live in this country and that “Service is part of that bargain…sacrifice…We knew that.” In an interesting twist, Ted Chaough comes to the rescue and contacts a pilot friend of his in the Air National Guard, which will likely become Mitchell’s salvation, just as it did for the young George W. Bush in 1968. While members of the guard and reserves have served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, Lyndon Johnson refused to call them up throughout the Vietnam War, fearing it would provoke a wider debate over the conflict. As a result, many young people with connections, like Bush and Dan Quayle, found their way into the National Guard.
History aside, this season of “Mad Men” has picked up momentum in the last few episodes and seems to be a late bloomer. It will be interesting to see how Don survives his current escapades.