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Hell No! I won’t go!

At 9:00 pm on December 1, 1969, CBS interrupted its regularly scheduled broadcast of “Mayberry RFD” for a new form of entertainment, America’s first military draft since World War II.  At that moment, I was standing shoulder to shoulder in a narrow hallway of my college dorm with 20 other guys, staring silently at a tiny TV in the corner, learning which of us would be sacrificed to the Vietnam War machine.

The process was simple. 366 blue plastic balls representing every possible birth date were placed in a large glass jar. One by one, the capsules were withdrawn at random indicating the order in which you would be drafted, that is, if you were of a male person and 19-26 years old. The first date selected, September 14, was the worst. If your mother was unkind enough to pop you out on that day, you were first in line to “save democracy” in a country we didn’t understand, in a war we never should have never started, against people who didn’t deserve it.

If your birthday was June 8, you were a lucky boy. It was the last number picked and your golden ticket to stay alive. My number was 355. Thanks Mom!  I didn’t worry.  In fact, none of us did. College kids were given a free pass regardless of their draft order. We knew they were sending the poor guys instead, the ones who couldn’t afford a college education or a fancy doctor to certify that his minor physical ailment was bigger than it actually was.

In the end, 2.2 million young men were drafted for the Vietnam War of which approximately 25% were deployed in war zones. 

By best estimates, half million “draft dodgers” evaded the draft by various illegal means including refusing to register with the local draft board, pretending to be homosexual, acting mentally unstable in an interview, emigrating to another country, or going to prison. Would I have done the same? I think so, but that’s easy for me to say now, 52 years later, never having faced the actual consequences of such a decision.

Many Americans felt, then and now, that anyone who refused to fight in the Vietnam War was a coward and should be stripped of their citizenship. Those of us with a hippie perspective agreed with Albert Einstein who said: “Men and women who refuse to serve in the military are the pioneers of a warless world.”

The Vietnam War officially ended on January 27, 1973, after killing 58,200 Americans and 3 ½ million Vietnamese, injuring an untold number more, and inflicting lasting anguish on the people of both countries. To this day, no one can justify the cost.

Since that time, volunteers have fought America’s wars with largely the same results. Our “intervention” in Afghanistan, for example, began for valid reasons.  We were attacked on 9/11, Within 60 days after the twin towers fell, our military had chased Al Qaeda out of the country.  Good job folks!  But for reasons that make about as much sense as our justification for the Vietnam War, we kept fighting there for another 20 years; until finally, after more death, more mutilation, more PTSD, more terror on all sides, we did what we should have done 19 years earlier - leave.

As with Vietnam, the issue regarding the Afghan War is not whether we won or lost. We lost. The issue is not whether our soldiers were brave.  They were. The issue is why patriotic men and women were asked to endure the horror of war for two decades, long after the threat of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was gone.

I’ve heard that some people booed soldiers returning from Vietnam and called them “baby killers.” I never saw that, nor did I agree with it. All of the hip folks I knew saw soldiers as victims of our own government, persuaded by lies and patriotic hoopla to fight in a country we didn’t understand, in a war we never should have started, against a people who didn’t deserve it.

Global events come and go.  Governments come and go.  I’d like to believe that, one day, our leaders will stop sacrificing trusting souls to endless conflicts. But I doubt it. In my opinion, the only way to “give peace a chance” is for current and future soldiers to refuse to fight when America’s safety is not in danger. As Carl Sandburg famously quipped: “Someday they’ll have a war, and nobody will come.”  

Stewart Rogers is the Co-Author/Editor of What Happened to the Hippies? published by McFarland Press. He lives in Wilmington, NC, and can be reached at Stewart@WhatHappenedtotheHippies.com.

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