Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Feeling a draft, Chapter Three

In September 1974, Gerald Ford, perhaps in an attempt to regain some support after his approval rating crashed from 71% to 49% in the wake of his pardon of Richard Nixon, announced an "earned re-entry" program for Vietnam draft resisters. As part of this, resisters were supposed to present themselves to their local US Attorney. Instead, three days after it was announced, I wrote to the US Attorney avowing I would refuse to cooperate with the program. To my surprise, a little later I learned that I was the first person in my state to refuse.

This was the letter:
On October 13, 1971 I returned my draft and classification cards to my local draft board; I have refused to carry such cards since then. Upon receiving a new classification card in January of 1973, I returned that as well. At those times I stated in detail my moral and philosophical reasons for opposition to war and the draft, reasons which I will not repeat here beyond stating my conviction that war is morally intolerable and logically untenable, and that anything that aids in prosecuting war, such as the draft, is likewise unacceptable.

As I’m sure you’re aware, I’m still liable for prosecution for these acts. It’s my understanding that under the recently announced “earned re-entry” program, in order to avoid such prosecution I would be expected to present myself to you and indicate my willingness to do 24 months of “public service” work.

I’m writing to you to inform you that I will have no part of this punitive plan, this so-called “leniency.” “Leniency” it is not, “reconciliation” it is not: It is punishment, pure and simple. Punishment for the crime of following your conscience, punishment for the crime of resisting government criminality, punishment for the crime of refusing to kill at the order of the state.

Calling a requirement for two years of work at a low-paying job acceptable to the government “public service work” is merely a euphemism for doing time, and a flimsy one at that. Requiring an oath of allegiance from those who tried to right our national wrong in Indochina is an absurd distortion of reality: It is those who pursued the war, not those who resisted it, who should be required to take such an oath, for it was our leaders who lead us into the war, and who now continue to use American tax dollars to fund its continuation by others, who betrayed the ideals of justice on which this nation was supposedly founded.

The work and oath of allegiance requirements are in effect requirements for expressions of contrition by those who resisted the war. I can’t in good conscience express contrition for acts that I feel to have been, not merely not wrong, but actually quite right. And as long as the US continues to insist on being “#1,” with all the attendant ill consequences for millions of people all around the world, I could not possibly swear an oath of allegiance which could in effect pledge me to support values and actions in which I could not believe.

I turned in my draft card as a public expression of my refusal to kill other human beings. Now I’m being told to say “I’m sorry.” I’m not sorry. Even though I presume that my chances of being prosecuted are somewhat increased by this, I feel I have no other moral choice than to treat this “earned re-entry” plan the same way I treated the draft: I reject it, openly, freely, publicly - and entirely.

Peace be with you.
Except for a little media attention this gathered, as this came in the midst of some debate about amnesty for Vietnam-era resisters, that was the end of my relationship with the draft. Well, except for this addendum: In 1980, I was running for Congress as an independent and the question of the draft had come up again. When I was asked about it, I said
I am opposed to military conscription at any time, in any form, by anyone, for any purpose. I think that about covers it.
I was never prosecuted; I can't say why except to say that by the time I got the gumption to openly resist, in 1971, there were an awful lot of us.

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