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Foley's meticulously researched and well-written study of draft resistance in Boston during the late 1960s describes sympathetically but quite objectively the always interesting and sometimes rather colorful activists who challenged the Selective Service System during the Vietnam War. (Melvin Small, author of Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Battle for America's Hearts and Minds)
The love of Americans for their country is not an indulgent, it is an exacting and chastising love; they cannot tolerate its defects. -Jacques Maritain, Reflections on America, 1958
On October 18, 1997, about three dozen men and women gathered in the same church in which they had, thirty years earlier, confronted their nation's government during wartime. Seated in a large circle, they went around, one after another, summarizing their lives since their activist days in Boston's draft resistance movement. At first they agreed to keep the reports to five minutes each, but gradually they stretched to fifteen and twenty minutes. As they looked across the circle at one another, and through the mist of three decades of memory, they spoke of careers and family, but few dwelled very long on the years since 1970 or so; instead, most focused on the draft resistance years themselves and the few years after. It became increasingly clear that while most had a general sense of how they had all come to draft resistance, they knew very little about how they each had experienced those years, or how their respective antiwar stories had concluded.
The former draft resistance activists who came to the Arlington Street Church that day no doubt got more out of this group discussion-which lasted several hours and continued over a Vietnamese dinner-than they did from the next day's more formal Sunday service that acknowledged the work they had done in attempting to end the American war in Vietnam. Though the church service produced several moving moments, the few activists who participated in it spoke primarily to the current congregation, as if to pass on a chapter of family history. On the previous day, however, those in the larger group spoke only to each other, and the range of stories varied in ways that surprised even themselves.
For example, Larry Etscovitz, who had been enrolled as a junior at Boston University in 1967, described his persistent regret that he had not followed through with his resistance all the way to prison. After agonizing over the war for more than two years, and finally turning in his draft card as part of an organized movement against the draft and the war, his draft board reclassified him 1-A, draft eligible. When he went to the Boston Army Base for his pre-induction physical and did not cooperate, however, the officers let him leave. They did not have him arrested, and the government did not attempt to prosecute. He never knew why. Later, his draft board reclassified him with a draft deferment. In retrospect, he saw that the system had made it easy for him, at a time when he had never been so scared, to take a way out. Sheepishly, now, he told the others he wished he had gone to prison.
Similarly, David Clennon, who disrupted his studies at the Yale Drama School when he resisted the draft, recounted his ambivalence on the day of the big draft card turn-in at the Arlington Street Church and on the damage his resistance did to his relationship with his father. When his draft board finally tried to call him for induction more than a year after he turned in his draft card, Clennon applied for conscientious objector status; the board rejected the idea outright. Recognizing by then that the movement had lost confidence in its strategy of flooding the courts and filling the jails, and at the same time more acutely doubting his ability to withstand more than two years of prison, he succeeded in getting a psychological deferment. Thirty years later, Clennon characterized this act to his peers as "a copout."
The way such confessions were made, conveying a genuine sense of shame, elicited an immediate response from the others present, who, like a big brother offering reassurance to a younger sibling, made it clear that the community did not judge them harshly. Going to prison, someone mentioned, did not stop the war. That these men even harbored such feelings so many years later, however, came as news to most of the group.
In fact, no one in attendance had gone to prison, though most had welcomed the idea. Some, like Alex Jack, one of Boston's main draft resistance organizers, had been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and fully expected to be prosecuted, but heard nothing. As a student at the Boston University School of Theology, Jack had been one of the original founders of the New England Resistance (NER)-the primary sponsor of Boston's draft card turn-ins-and a key movement strategist. Although Boston University later expelled him for Resistance work on campus, his draft board never reclassified him and the Justice Department never indicted him. He later speculated that the government must have decided that it would be more trouble than it was worth to go after a movement "leader."
As Nan Stone, another key organizer, noted, women could not be prosecuted for draft resistance, per se, because they were not subject to the draft. Nevertheless, Stone, who also had been a student at the BU School of Theology, did everything possible to assume the same level of risk as the men, and constantly had to push the men in the movement for the opportunity to do so. And at a time when women in social movements were so often restricted to support roles, Stone also had to fight for more responsibility throughout her tenure with the New England Resistance. As she told the group, she came to the women's movement directly from this experience in draft resistance. When she spoke to the parishioners at the Arlington Street Church the next day, she noted that it marked the first time that she had been invited to speak on the same platform with the men of the movement. Certainly, the men who were involved in the day-to-day operations of the draft resistance organizations knew something of the way women felt as a result of such treatment, but for others around the room, Stone's account came as another revelation.
So, too, did Harvard professor Hilary Putnam's report of his experience in the draft resistance movement. One of the century's most influential philosophers, Putnam had organized faculty and students against the war as early as 1965. Later, in 1967 and 1968, he accepted draft cards from resisters at all of Boston's major draft card turn-ins. By the spring of 1968, however, he joined many opponents of the war in the Progressive Labor Party (PL), a doctrinaire Maoist organization that many activists later blamed for destroying the New Left and some strains of the antiwar movement. Thirty years later, Putnam told the reunion that he had made a mistake in joining PL. He had been impressed with the organization's commitment to building alliances and the members' willingness to try to organize from within the army, but he later grew alienated from the undemocratic, browbeating tactics they used to command unity among their ranks.
Not all of the stories told at the reunion were new to those in attendance. Michael Ferber, another of the original founders of the Boston movement, for example, required little time to tell his story because, unlike the other resisters', his had been so public. The government did indict Ferber, in part for delivering a sermon at the Arlington Street Church draft card turn-in on October 16, 1967, but they put him on trial with the noted pediatrician Benjamin Spock, the Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr., and two other older advisers. The trial, set in Boston, became a cause célèbre in 1968 and resulted in convictions for four of the men, including Ferber. A year later, an appeals court overturned the convictions, and Ferber eventually drifted back to his graduate studies at Harvard.
Today, library shelves groan under the weight of books about the Vietnam War, including scores of memoirs written by politicians and veterans, so if most of these reunion stories were unfamiliar to the people who participated in this movement, the day's discussion of such varied experiences and emotions certainly would have surprised most Americans who know anything about the Vietnam War era. And if more draft resistance alumni had been able to attend, the stories of defiance and accommodation, of alienation and support from friends and family, of FBI visits, of induction calls, of demonstrations, and of prison would have been even more varied. The reality is that American collective memory about both the war and opposition to it has long been too simplistic, and draft resistance may be one of the least understood phenomena of the period. To paraphrase historian Robert Buzzanco, thirty years have passed since the United States withdrew its forces from Southeast Asia, and still Americans believe lies about the Vietnam War. Thanks to the examples of several high-profile draft "dodgers"-turned-politicians, the public's distinction between draft evaders and draft resisters is imperceptible; anyone who violated a draft law, it seems, was and is a draft dodger. And draft dodgers, it follows, were disloyal and un-American. That draft resistance may have been an important strain of the antiwar movement, or that it even influenced government policy, does not come up for consideration. That draft resisters may have broken the law as an act of patriotism seems inconceivable.
To date, historians have not done enough to investigate and understand the experience of draft resisters and their movement. In fact, draft resistance has been virtually forgotten or, at best, understated by historians of the antiwar movement, the 1960s, and the New Left. Todd Gitlin's influential history/memoir called The Sixties, for example, describes draft resistance as just one of the "varieties of antiwar experience." Likewise, Terry Anderson's popular book, The Movement and the Sixties, devotes approximately 2 of its 423 pages to draft resistance. Even the many books on the events of 1968 contain few references to draft resistance, which is most puzzling given the amount of space the subject occupied in big-city newspapers across the country that year, especially from January to July. Furthermore, critics of the sixties generation or of the antiwar movement emphasize the most militant factions of the New Left and the civil rights movement and, consequently, pay no attention to draft resistance. By the time descriptions of the antiwar movement filter down to surveys about the 1960s and to college textbooks, then, the history of draft resistance is often absent or inaccurate. To the extent that some textbooks or syntheses on the 1960s discuss the draft and the protest against it, the emphasis inevitably centers on draft card burning or draft evasion, neither of which, as this book shows, was at all synonymous with draft resistance.
Finally, the situation is made worse by several books that examine the experience of men who evaded the draft, either by emigrating to Canada or by pulling off some ploy that got them rejected by the Selective Service, but use the term "resister" to describe men who, by draft resistance standards, dodged the draft. The blurring of this distinction annoys former draft resisters who today find themselves stressing the difference whenever they talk about it. Part of the reason they chose to resist the draft derived from the unfairness of the Selective Service System, the machinery of which provided "safety valves" that channeled potential troublemakers or recalcitrants out of the system while it required others to take their places on the battlefield. To accept one of the deferments that marked a man ineligible for service or even to leave the country was viewed by resisters as tantamount to letting the system win. The confusion of "draft resister" and "draft dodger" labels has become so frustrating that one draft resistance leader has said on several occasions (only partially in jest) that when he dies, his epitaph should read, "I Didn't Dodge, I Resisted."
The extent of the general public's misunderstanding of draft resistance during the Vietnam War became obvious almost immediately when I began six years of research for this book. I soon grew used to being reminded of the controversial and misunderstood nature of the historical events described here. When people asked about the project, almost inevitably they interpreted it as a study of draft "dodgers," they made comments about Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle, or George W. Bush, and they sometimes wondered aloud why I would be interested in such people. Others understood quite well the difference between draft resistance and draft dodging but still could barely contain their contempt. For example, in the course of explaining the process for requesting certain papers in a collection at the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library, one archivist smiled and used the name "Idiots against the Draft" as an example of an organization that might have some letters in President Johnson's correspondence files.
The most hostile reactions, however, came from people I never met. In the course of trying to locate hundreds of former draft resistance movement participants, I often used Internet sites with the nation's phone listings. Frequently, however, I could not determine if a person who had the same name as a former activist was the person I sought. Often I could not narrow my search down to fewer than seven or eight people, all of whom had the same name. Consequently, on a case-by-case basis, I sometimes decided to send an introductory letter to, say, seven people named John Doe to inquire if any of them were the John Doe who had participated in the draft resistance movement in Boston. If I sent seven letters, of course, it meant that at least six-and maybe all seven-were going to the wrong people and so I tried to make it clear in the opening paragraph of each letter that I was not sure if I had sent the letter to the right person.
In most cases, I received very courteous (what I would call "neutral") responses to my inquiries either by phone call, by e-mail, or by letter. Most of these communications were made simply to inform me that I had not found the correct person. One of those was from a man who called me directly because he feared he might not receive an expected government security clearance if his name could be found somewhere out there, even erroneously, on a document identifying him as a draft resister.
At the same time, however, another ten individuals called or wrote to express their disapproval of draft resistance and, sometimes, their disapproval of the project. In spite of my attempts to make it clear that I did not know if I was writing to the correct person, some recipients interpreted my letter as some kind of accusation that they were draft resisters or that they were somehow on an official list of American draft resisters. "Please insure that my name and address is not on your list. I would hate to be in any way associated with this group," wrote one man. Another scribbled, "I have never participated in any draft card turn-in ceremony. I [sic] never been to Boston. How my name got in your file, I don't know. Please remove it! I have serviced [sic] my country. And proud of it and I was not drafted. I enlisted." Several, it turned out, were veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and they made sure to express their pride in having served their country and their "disdain" for those who did not. In a letter to the president of my university, one former marine demanded that his name be removed from the records I cited and urged the president to caution her faculty "to be more thorough in their efforts to communicate with 'possible participants' especially with such a controversial subject as 'draft resistance.'"
Some phone calls and letters were particularly vituperative. One man called to tell me that his middle initial was different from the man I sought but concluded the conversation by saying his namesake "ought to be shot, that's what I say." Another wrote, "I was shocked to receive your letter wondering if I was one of the contemptible scum you are trying to locate. I served twenty-two years in the Army, and you are free to do your research due to the efforts of people like me. I find it hard to imagine that someone would attempt to develop a history of a group of self-centered 'useful fools,' to quote Lenin." Another veteran wrote that he believed civil disobedience to be a "synonym for anarchy" and that he regarded draft resisters, including, he said, "our draft-doging [sic] president," as cowards. He went on to criticize the "army of second-guessers who simply can't comprehend the magnitude of the Soviet Menace to our way of life," and especially to the United States. "It is so easy for the cloistered PhD," he wrote, "to ruminate over the way it should have been with present knowledge. It is quite another thing to have been there, and been fully informed on what the Reds would have done to all of us, had they been able to do the job."
Excerpted from Confronting the War Machine by Michael S. Foley Copyright © 2003 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
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|Introduction: Draft Resistance in American Memory||3|
|Pt. I||Toward a Movement|
|1||A Little Band of Bold Pioneers||19|
|2||The Draft as a Political Issue and a Movement Target||48|
|3||October 16: A Resolute Show of Moral Force||76|
|Pt. II||Confrontations and Misconceptions|
|4||Filtered Resistance: Draft Resisters' Image and Reality||113|
|5||Uneasy Waiting: Draft Resisters and the Johnson Administration||131|
|6||Getting by with a Little Help from Their Friends||160|
|Pt. III||Peaks, Valleys, and the Changing Horizon|
|7||A New Beginning: Confrontation, Renewal, and Triumph||225|
|8||Spring 1968: A Hothouse Atmosphere||264|
|9||Beyond Draft Resistance: New Strategies and Dangling Men||296|
|App. A: Tables||349|
|App. B||Statement of Methodology||363|
|App. C||Letter to Survey Recipients and Questionnaire||367|
Posted July 21, 2003
I took a graduate level course with Professor Foley this summer on war and its affect on American society. I found the professor to be very welcoming of different opinions and he fostered great discussion among those in the class. The book was excellent reading and shed much needed light on the differences between those who were draft dodgers and those who were dissenters. Professor Foley also gives a very interesting history of the peace movement and its evolution over time in the New England area and how this movement helped to shape the events of the 1960's.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.