The Path to Ending the Draft

    Scan 21

    President Nixon signs the amendment to the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 on November 26, 1969.

    On November 26, 1969, President Nixon signed an amendment to the Military Selective Service Act of 1967 that began the random selection or “draft lottery” for military conscription. Similar to past legislation regarding military drafts, the amendment was received with strong criticism from a public increasingly fatigued by the Vietnam War. However, Congress and the Nixon Administration together agreed that this temporary change in policy would allow for the government to end the draft at the earliest possible date in the future, which was a major agenda item for President Nixon.

    I would say that looking to the future, while this measure will remove a great number of the inequities and particularly remove the uncertainty to which I refer, we shall not be satisfied until we finally can have the system which I advocated during the campaign of a completely volunteer armed force. We cannot move to that now because of the requirements for armed services. That is, however, our ultimate goal.

    One of the most instrumental officials in Nixon’s White House tasked with draft overhaul was Peter Flanigan. Along with a wide range of other duties, such as the Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs and Executive Director of the Council on International Economic Policy, Flanigan helped execute an overhaul of the embattled Selective Service System. Flanigan seemed to have a personal obligation to improve the outdated draft system and worked tirelessly through his 5 years in the administration to end the military draft.

    A September 15, 1969 memo outlining President Nixon’s selective service plan.

    President Nixon and Flanigan realized their goal of ending the draft in 1973. It is difficult to imagine they would have been able to accomplish this feat had the Administration (and Congress) not taken the politically difficult stance in 1969 to initiate draft change, which paved the way for ending the draft altogether within 4 years.

    Upon Flanigan’s exit from the White House in July 1974, President Nixon had the highest remarks for one of his most trusted aides:

    While I have long known of your intention to return to private life, nevertheless, I am always reluctant to see so valued a friend and associate depart. You know of my profound admiration for your splendid achievements over the past five years, and I shall not dwell on them at length. Let me say, however, that of the many men and women who have served our Administration, few can match – and none exceed – the exceptional skills, energy and dedication you brought to your duties.

    Pat joins with me in extending to Brigid and you our heartfelt good wishes for every success and happiness in the years ahead.

      Rescue Mission: Son Tay


        President Nixon presents medals to members of a search and rescue mission to Son Tay, Vietnam, on November 25, 1970.

        In a public statement on December 12, 1969, President Nixon set forth his administration’s policy with regard to U.S. prisoners of war, an aspect of the war which had not taken a substantive role in the Paris peace negotiations:

        …first, in reaching a settlement of the war that an integral part of any settlement that is agreed to must be a settlement that is satisfactory on the prisoner issue and, second, clearly apart from reaching an overall settlement of the war, that this Government will do everything that it can to separate the prisoner issue from others and have it handled as it should be, as a separate issue on a humane basis.

        From then on, policy makers regarded retrieval of the prisoners of war with equal importance as a Vietnam peace settlement. Shortly after President Nixon’s statement, the Department of Defense, with the strong endorsement of Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, published a comprehensive review of the country’s prisoner of war situation–a review that analyzed current policy, future policy options, conclusions and provided recommendations.

        Attaching diplomatic leverage to the release of U.S. prisoners of war with the North Vietnamese proved difficult, if not impossible. Progress in the peace talks evaded the U.S. at all turns; convincing the North Vietnamese to release prisoners of war was no less of an uphill battle. Coupled with growing pressure and urgency at home to do something to help the suffering POWs, the administration had to turn to alternatives.

        In August of 1970, Secretary Laird authorized the formation and training of a task force assigned the duty of rescuing POWs. The operation, dubbed Ivory Coast, enlisted an expert combat cadre of 56 Army Special Forces soldiers, 92 airmen, and 28 aircraft with the mission to extract the prisoners of war thought to be located at Son Tay, North Vietnam. On the night of the raid, the task force failed to locate the American POWs, but suffered no casualties while inflicting heavy casualties on North Vietnamese guards. The operation was a major tactical success, albeit a loss for the intelligence community, which had failed to locate the new whereabouts of the POWs.

        44 years ago today, President Nixon recognized the men of the special operations task force who conducted the Son Tay extraction mission. Though the mission failed in its main objective, it was touted as a major morale booster among the POWs and the whole country. This was in fact true, as the North Vietnamese responded by aggregating all POWs into two main prison camps in Hanoi. The camps grew to the extent that the POWs lived in groups rather than in solitary confinement. Morale among the POWs improved immediately as a result, and the new consensus that their country was trying their best to free them from their imprisonment certainly provided for elevated spirits. First hand accounts from POWs indicate prison conditions generally improved as well, with mail delivery and food substantially of better quality. President Nixon summed up the significance of Operation Ivory Coast:

        What these men have done is a message, a message to the prisoners of war still in North Vietnam, to their wives and their loved ones, some of whom are here, that the prisoners of war have not been forgotten and that we will continue to do everything we can at the diplomatic table and in other ways to attempt to bring them back home.

          November, 1970: RN’s Post-election Strategy

            RN Haldeman

            President Nixon strategizes with his Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, in the Oval Office.

            Throughout his life, Richard Nixon displayed a tremendous mental fortitude in all that he endeavored. He carried on over this discipline as President of the United States, often spending hours jotting down ideas and strategies on yellow notepads, pondering the options before each and every decision was made. RN set a high bar of excellence and critical thinking for himself, and it served as inspiration for all on the White House staff to likewise put out their best work on a daily basis. Such excellence was displayed shortly after the mid-term elections of 1970.

            Following an unimpressive performance by the Republican Party during that election season, President Nixon drafted a comprehensive strategy memo for his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman. The 30-page memo advanced a compendium of analyses and recommendations on methods to improve his administration’s posture for the latter two years of his first term. The presidency had been hampered by an air of negativity brought on by decisions regarding Vietnam. Yet, the Nixon administration weathered the storm of demonstrations and negative media campaigns and decisively shifted popular support in their favor. Referencing the memos his staff had written him on the subject of post-election strategy, RN picked out what he thought most needed attention, namely the fine-tuning of his administration’s media savvy and public relations discipline.

            View RN’s memo below:

            President Nixon highlighted four areas that he believed required immediate attention:

            -Never have a speechwriter handle television production.

            -In the age of television, technical quality is probably more important than the content of what is said. On this basis, President Nixon wanted a full-time television man on the White House staff.

            -He wanted to better inform the press regarding presidential trips, particularly trips to his residences in California and Florida. He believed that staff needed to do a better job of getting the President’s schedule, in terms of work prospects, to the press so as to avoid needless bad press.

            -He wanted the White House staff to better reflect an upbeat attitude when discussing initiatives of the administration. He urged that staff members cannot be influenced by the downbeat attitude brought on by the Washington press corps and Washington chit-chat.

            President Nixon allotted the remainder of his memo (which happened to be the greater part of his memo) on analyses of his staff’s recommendations, and advised Haldeman on which recommendations to implement. Truly emblematic of the weight with which President Nixon regarded his staff’s opinions, it would appear he spent hours reading every memoranda word for word.

            The list of thinkers contributing to RN’s political goals for the years 1971 and 1972 were abound: John Ehrlichman, Donald Rumsfeld, Ron Zieglar, Pat Buchanan, Herb Klein, Bryce Harlow, Bill Safire, Harry Dent, Lyn Nofziger, Tom Houston, Chuck Colson, Murray Chotiner, Jim Keogh, Len Garment, and William Timmons—all men of great intellectual capacity and imaginative ideas when it came to devising methods to catapult President Nixon and the nation to success.

            Many of the memos covered the following topics: they shared similar sentiments on how Vice President Agnew should be used; all offered recommendations on Presidential travel and a better working relationship with Congress. They also emphasized the positives which had dodged the media’s attention: respect for the Office of the Presidency has been restored at home and abroad, a development none imagined possible in January of 1969. Consensus held that the White House staff would have to do a better job of selling what the administration had been able to accomplish up to that time and that the president should remain, for the most part, presidential and not political through 1971 and most of 1972–that would be his ultimate strength.

            President Nixon intended for this memorandum to repair a damaged ship that had just come out of the fog of its first battle. As captain of this ship, RN identified the time prime to consolidate his resources and reassure his men. In a time of uncertainty he established his line of thought on some key decisions and directed his staff to implement those decisions as he saw fit.

              Nixon Opens China to World

                Scan 258

                Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato meets with President Nixon at the Western White House in San Clemente on January 6, 1972.

                In 1971, Washington and Tokyo maintained a strong economic and security relationship, but as with any alliance, the relationship was tested by various matters of wider international concern such as textiles trade, a new Okinawa Treaty with the U.S. and the impending China representation vote at the United Nations. In addition, the Prime Minister of Japan Eisaku Sato was weathering a storm in the Japanese Diet (Parliament) with the opposition party and warring factions within his own Liberal Democratic Party. The July 15th surprise announcement by President Nixon to visit the People’s Republic of China the following February escalated the intense political siege in Japan, threatening to break the embattled Prime Minister. The opposition claimed that Sato lacked a China policy of his own and was blindly following the Chinese policy of the United States, which had in this case betrayed him. Over the coming months however, Sato successfully maneuvered his way through the Japanese political minefield with the aid of the Nixon Administration.

                In early January of 1972, PM Sato paid a visit to the United States and met with President Nixon at the Western White House in San Clemente. Aside from the Okinawa agreement, the two discussed China policy extensively. Before the meeting, Sato signaled to the U.S. that he was ready to play ball in the region and that he and President Nixon should seriously reevaluate Japan’s place in East Asia.

                The U.S. side clarified to the Japanese that Japan is and will be America’s strongest ally in the region, thus making their cooperation in the U.S.’s China initiative that much more important.

                In the past, Sato and his predecessors staved off domestic pressures on China policy by maintaining a flexible trade relationship with mainland china while tying Japan’s China policy (particularly in its political aspects) to that of the US while also paying careful attention to the sensitivities of the government in Taipei. Therefore at the January meeting, the President stressed that the United States would like to see Japan more engaged in the region through increased military assistance to South Korea and stronger economic ties with South East Asia. In return, Nixon assured Sato that the intentions for his China visit were strictly to work towards a limited improvement of relations with China as opposed to a formalization of relations then or in the near future, which Japan feared would have severe domestic and international consequences. The President also agreed to consult with the Japanese government in the future on any possible changes to China or Taiwan policy. Most importantly, the United States expressed its desire to uphold and strengthen its security assurances to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, which the U.S. had shown by signing the Okinawa Reversion Agreement with Japan the previous year allowing for a large American military presence on that island.

                With the help of the Nixon Administration, Japan (and Sato in particular) survived a sensitive internal debate over the direction of Japan’s China policy. After Nixon’s visit to China in February, which allowed for an opening process of that country to the rest of the world, Japan-China relations became stronger well into 1973 and 1974 under the guidance of the new Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. By the time Nixon left office in 1974, Japan and China had begun discussing a normalization of their diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level. Previously, the only offices the GOJ and PRC held in each other’s territory were small trade offices; the upgrade to ambassadorial level representation was a huge leap forward in Japan-PRC relations and likely a direct result of President Nixon’s own initiative to reopen China to the world.

                Scan 257

                President Nixon and Prime Minister Sato issue a joint statement following their pivotal on January 6, 1972.

                It is sometimes difficult to describe exactly how monumental Nixon’s 1972 China trip was. As one can see in the case of Japan, Nixon’s visit not only paved the way for improved relations between China and the United States, but improved relations among other nations as well. As a player on the world stage again, the outcomes of China’s opening were tremendous: vast increases in global trade significantly raising the global standard of living, decreased security tensions in East Asia, increased exchanges of defense strategies and intelligence gathering to help avoid nuclear war, and a new advantageous position for the U.S. in the Sino-Soviet-American triangle. None of this would have materialized and the world would be a much different place today had President Nixon not taken the opportunity, while accepting the risk, of working for a more open China.

                  President Nixon Pushes Through D.C. Metro

                    We need these freeways, and we need the Metro–badly. I have always believed, and today reaffirm my belief, that the Capital area must have the balanced, modern transportation system which they will comprise.

                    Richard Nixon

                    Metro Construction

                    The early days of DC Metro construction, circa 1969.

                    “Responsibility begins at home,” President Nixon declared in one of his first major statements upon assuming the presidency. He was referring to the nation’s capital, a city suffering from an ever apparent, nationwide pattern of urban decay and a lack of sustainable infrastructure. Part of that responsibility meant establishing transportation prestige, the artery of a metropolitan economy. The 3 million people of the District of Columbia and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, and the 18 million visitors from across the country and around the globe who at the time were visiting D.C., expected more from the capital of a nation that had sent men to the moon. On this day 43 years ago, President Nixon issued a resounding statement urging action on the part of all concerned parties to see through the construction of the proposed D.C. Metro network and highway systems.

                    RN and Rep Broyhill

                    On the same day of RN’s statement, Representative Joel T. Broyhill of Virginia met with the President at the White House to discuss Washington metropolitan area highways and the METRO.

                    Without the efforts of the Nixon Administration to jump-start construction on the METRO system, it would be difficult to tell how Washington would function today. Development of the METRO plan began in 1960 with advocacy for an improved transportation system in the capital dating back as early as the 1950’s. After a long development incubation period, lasting through two previous presidential administrations, President Nixon undertook a personal effort to expedite a much needed transportation improvement for the city.

                    President Nixon’s words of encouragement came at a crucial time during the development of the METRO system. The entire process had been gridlocked due to funding issues, red tape, and many other bureaucratic obstacles. The statement of November 18th 1971 was a sudden shot in the arm for those working on the project and a pledge to help fill a several million dollar gap with federal funds, including a $70.3 million grant from the Department of Transportation.

                    By the time Nixon left office in 1974, limited service had begun on the original sections of the completed track, and by 1976, under the tenure of mostly all the same Nixon Administration staff, the METRO had become fully operational. By the end of the 1970’s, what had been a commuter railway plan struggling to get off the ground became a popular and efficient transportation network providing convenient services for Washington DC and several counties in Maryland and Virginia. Today the Washington METRO is the second largest commuter train system in the country behind only the New York Subway system and it is hard to imagine that such an accomplishment would have been possible had the Nixon Administration not been in the driver’s seat at such a critical juncture in the capital’s transportation plans.

                    Below, view primary source documents that demonstrate the Nixon administration’s efforts in securing funding for Washington D.C.’s transportation projects:


                      The New Nixon Archives

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