A History Lesson With Booze ®

A Not-So-Random Lottery – With Serious Consequences

How the '69 draft lottery worked -- and didn't work

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Forty-five years ago, there was one lottery many Americans didn’t want to win.

It was held by the U.S. government, to determine the order in which men would be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.  It was supposed to be random and fair. Emphasis on supposed to be.

The lottery worked like this: Each date in a calendar year got typed on a piece of paper and put in a little capsule. Then all the capsules were mixed, and dumped in a big jar. If you were of draft age, and the first date pulled from the jar happened to be your birthday? You were part of the first group in line to be drafted, “Group Zero-Zero-One.”

On December 1st, 1969, millions watched on TV as Congressman Alexander Pirnie drew the first date.

It seemed random enough. But, eventually, statisticians noticed something weird: November and December birthdays were way more likely to be drawn early. Meaning guys born in those months were way more likely to get drafted.

Apparently, the capsules hadn’t been mixed up enough. So the November and December dates, which were put in last, ended up towards the top of the jar… and got picked early.

The government made later draft lotteries way more random.  For one thing, the capsules were spun in big rotating drums, so they would be thoroughly mixed.

Of course, some guys opted not to take any chances. By some accounts, tens of thousands left the country to avoid the draft. In 1971 and 1972, Canada took more immigrants from America than from any other nation.

Tricky Dick’s Dirty Rickey

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Mixed, non-randomly, by bartender Eddie Kim of Washington, DC’s The Partisan and Pop’s SeaBar. (A salty, savory drink inspired by a belief in the 1970s that drinking soy sauce before a military intake physical to heighten blood pressure could make a man seem unfit for duty.)

1.5oz Green Hat gin
.75oz brine from Gordy’s Pickle Jar sweet pickles
Juice of 1/2 lime, lime hull retained
Old Bay spice
Turbinado sugar
Anderson Valley gose (or other gose beer)

Mix the sugar and Old Bay in a shallow saucer. Moisten the rim of a collins glass and dip into sugar-spice mixture to rim. Assemble gin, pickle brine, lime juice, and lime hull in glass. Add ice. Top up with beer.