|1968: I DODGE THE DRAFT
When I boarded the bus in Hannibal, bound for St. Louis, I had no particular plan, but I knew I would do whatever I could to not be a participant in the meaningless killing and dying in southeast Asia.
My feelings were not based in religion; I had long since concluded that religion, especially Christianity was not reasonable to believe, and that it had had done a great deal of harm throughout history. Of course, that didn't mean I had rejected my belief that it is wrong for one human being to harm another except in self-defense, but it did make it more complicated to make a case for concientious objection. The government's attitude at the time was rather hostile toward CO's. Given the growing opposition to the war, the supply of new troops could slow to a trickle.
It was chilly on the bus. In case I was unsuccessful, I had worn only a pair of cutoffs that were not even denimn, and an old white shirt that had the sleeves cut short. If I were forcibly deprived of civilian clothes, they would not be a great loss.
Few words were exchanged among the riders on the bus. I suspect that even the more warmly dressed felt the chill of the draft. Most probably were resigned to their unknown fate. No one seemed enthusiastic about it.
The assembly line medical ispection went predictably. My ingrown toenail, the result of a dropped railroad tie followed by a dropped bowling ball, was dismissed as not debilitating. There were questionaires, and some answers resulted in an interview. In one of them, I remember telling the interviewer that I would not shoot any of the Vietnamese, and that I'd be more likely to shoot those who ordered me to do it. 'No problem', he said.
The next interview got more serious attention. I'd indicated I was a 'latent homosexual'. I was questioned by one man, a naval doctor I believe. He seemed sceptical, but he sent me to the psychologist, who seemed to be a civilian. My story, which I made up as I went along, was that I had repressed homosexual tendencies which I was trying to overcome. My being married, I said, was part of my overcoming process, On the other hand, if I were trapped into an all-male environment like the army, I might go out of control.
After evaluating my story and considering my logic, he conducted what I assume was a test. He had me drop my pants and ran a key up and down my thigh. It had no effect. Evidentally he did not think his test was conclusive. After all, it might be that I just didn't find him attractive. His decision resulted in my being rewarded with a 1-Y classification, which was the next best thing to a 4-F. It meant 'only in case of a national emergency'.
As I walked out of the chilly air-conditioned building, I remember feeling the pleasant warm air, and the freedom. I don't remember buying the bus ticket back to Hannibal, or the ride there. Instead of going to war, I had fought a different kind of battle, and won.
There are those who accepted time in prison for refusing the draft, a noble sacrifice. Many went to Canada, and probably many went on the road, inconspiculously avoiding capture. I've never regretted doing it my way.
Each individual can only do a small part, but I take pride in my generation. We spoke out, and marched in the streets, and the numbers grew until finally we stopped a war. That hadn't been done before.
It is too bad we couldn't have done it sooner, before 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese died. But now we know it can be done.