Resistance IS NOT Futile

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Forty years ago as the Vietnam War was
raging opposition and organized resistance
to the US military was growing rapidly. The
military draft provided the focus for protest
and resistance. Young men and their families
were forced to examine the morality of
that war with intense clarity. Each boy had
to decide whether to allow his government
to conscript him into the military and place
him in kill or be kill situations.
In the past few years I have heard some
prominent political figures that avoided the
military draft during the Vietnam War either
apologize for it or deny doing so. But tens of
thousands of draft-aged boys resisted the
draft during that war and millions of others
in the country aided and supported them,
helping to bring conscription to an end in
1973 and the war to a close in 1975. In the
current political climate it is essential to
remember, claim, and celebrate this victory.
A variety of methods were used to avoid
compulsory war ‘service’ during Vietnam.
Many boys secured a military position,
often through connections, that assured
them an assignment far from the war. Others
petitioned for an exemption on the
grounds that they were conscientious
objectors, although few were granted CO
status. Some simply refused induction.
Many of these were prosecuted and about
five thousand were sentenced to prison.
With the help of anti-war counselors some
young men contacted anti-draft physicians
who fabricated medical records to gain
their clients permanent 4-F (unfit to serve)
draft status. Boys also inflicted real injuries
on themselves, or kept themselves in a
constant state of poor health (for example
remaining drastically under weight), in
order to fail draft board physicals.
A tragic number of young Americans
evaded the military by leaving the country.
Between 1965 and 1973 about 100,000
American boys fled to the safety of Canada
and other countries. Even more hid from
their local draft boards somewhere in the
United States. The most common means of
escape was simply to go to college. In
1969, when the U.S. was drafting boys into
the military at a rate of 28,000 per month,
I entered Knox College, receiving 2-S status
and a four-year deferment. Many of my
generation chose the 2-S option, and as a
result there was an unprecedented spike in
the admission of young males to college
between 1965 and 1969. The inherent
unfairness of 2-S was soon addressed, and
the first draft lottery, which prioritized
boys for the draft based on date of birth,
was held in December of 1969. By 1973,
the draft was politically and militarily
untenable and Congress allowed the draft
authorization to expire. The Pentagon had
learned that colonial wars are difficult to
fight with an army of draftees.
Americans need to remember, or learn,
the history of the Vietnam era. Young people
in particular need to understand that
conscription mechanisms are still in place
and that a new draft could be activated
quickly. Registration with Selective Service
is still mandatory and federal law provides
stiff penalties for non-compliance. Most
Americans understand that failure to register
bars a young man (only males register)
from federal programs such as student
loans. However, most may not know that
under the law a fine of up to $250,000 and
a prison sentence of up to 5 years can be
imposed for failure to register. Thus far, our
wary federal government has prosecuted
violators rarely and very selectively. However,
forty-one States have laws that add
penalties for non-compliance with the
Selective Service Act. In Illinois, a young
man must be registered with Selective Service
in order to obtain state student financial
aid and must prove that he is registered
in order to obtain an Illinois drivers license.
I carry a burden of sorrow for the Americans
of my generation who were swept
away and sacrificed to that terrible national
mistake, the war in Vietnam. I am sorry as
well that many Americans are currently
caught up in the violence of our latest military
adventure in Iraq. Thus far, our government
has been able to maintain its war
effort by liberal use of the National Guard
and aggressive military ad campaigns. This
may soon prove inadequate. Iraq is more
than this generation of soldiers bargained
for. Recruiting and retention rates are
falling and the military is resorting to
unfair deployment policies to maintain its
numbers in the field. In his State of the
Union speech Mr. Bush called for the creation
of an army of “civilian volunteers”,
i.e., mercenaries, to shore up the war effort.
This is ultimately an appeal for a more
focused and urgent opposition and resistance
the current US effort to control other
peoples through military force. Heroism
from all of our citizens is called for and, in
my view, heroes seldom carry weapons.
Thirty-seven years ago the actions of protest
and resistance of the American public forced
our government to stop its prosecution of
an unjust war. In the present crisis we lack
the focusing power of imminent conscription
that loomed over our young men during
the Vietnam era. We must instead find
our focus solely in reason and justice. And
we must find a way to bring that passion
and resolve to our fellow citizens.

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