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Bill Clinton
Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. 1996. Lexile Measure: 1070L. From U.S. History In Context.
Born: August 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas, United States
Other Names: Clinton, William Jefferson; Clinton, William J.; Clinton, William; Blythe, William Jefferson, III
Nationality: American
Occupation: President (Government)
Full Text: 

Governor of Arkansas, 1979-1981, 1983-1992, president of the United States, 1993-2001. The turmoil of the Vietnam War era reemerged as an issue during Bill (William Jefferson) Clinton's presidential campaign and early administration. In the late 1960s, Clinton played a minor role organizing antiwar demonstrations as a Rhodes scholar in England and, after losing his college draft deferment, avoided military induction in unusual circumstances. Clinton received a draft induction notice while at Oxford in 1968, though after the reporting date had passed. He subsequently obtained a temporary deferment from Arkansas draft officials. In the fall of 1969 after briefly committing to join the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, he put himself up for the draft. By this time the government had cut back military induction. Clinton received a high lottery number, assuring he would not be called into service.

Clinton's Vietnam record became a liability to the candidate when, before the New Hampshire primary, the national media obtained a 1969 Clinton letter to Arkansas draft officials in which he expressed opposition to the war and thanked them for "saving" him from the draft the previous year. Clinton's public statements before his presidential bid had downplayed his antiwar activities. The media seized upon the apparent inconsistencies in Clinton's account as well as on evidence of his uncertain draft status, escalating the issue into a widely debated, national controversy. Clinton's opponents attempted to use his record to impugn the candidate's honesty and character, though as polling research confirmed, the issue did not prove a decisive factor for most voters in either the Democratic primaries or general election.

Clinton's Vietnam record continued to affect his presidency. He suffered from strained relations with the armed forces, exacerbated in part by some military officials' resentment of the president's activities in the 1960s. As part of an effort to expand foreign markets for American businesses, Clinton ended the nineteen-year trade embargo on Vietnam by executive order on 3 February 1994. Recognizing his political vulnerability, the president gathered bipartisan support in Congress for the policy and emphasized Vietnam's cooperation on the issue of U.S. soldiers still listed as missing-in-action (MIA). The enduring controversy erupted perhaps most dramatically on Memorial Day 1993 when, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, some protesters and veterans jeered the president as he honored U.S. soldiers who died in the war. Clinton's Memorial Day speech was the first official visit by a U.S. president to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was completed in 1982.


  • Allen, Charles F., and Jonathon Portis. The Comeback Kid: The Life and Career of Bill Clinton. 1992.
  • Applebome, Peter. "Clinton Draft Issue Doesn't Sway Most in Georgia." New York Times, 4 March 1992.
  • Kelly, Michael, and David Johnston. "Campaign Focus on Vietnam Reviving Debates on the 1960s." New York Times, 9 October 1992.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Bill Clinton." Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996. World History in Context, Accessed 21 Mar. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|BT2336100094