1980.02.17: Is America Ready for a Draft? Many Say They Won’t Go (Boston Globe)

Boston Globe
February 17, 1980
Section: FOCUS

IS AMERICA READY FOR A DRAFT? MANY SAY THEY WON’T GO

THE ECHOES OF THE LAST “HELL NO, WE WON’T GO” HAD BARELY DIED AWAY WHEN THE NEW CHANT BEGAN: “WE WON’T GO TO WAR FOR EXXON.”

Nina McCain Globe Staff

The anti-draft movement, which created such turmoil on college campuses and in young peoples’ lives at the height of the Vietnam war, has sprung to life again in response to President Carter’s call for registration of 19- and 20-year-olds of both sexes.

The rallies have begun — at Harvard, at UMass-Amherst, at Boston University, Brandeis and Brown, at Berkeley and UCLA, at the Government Center in Boston. Harvard Prof. George Wald, the elder statesman of the anti-Vietnam protests, is in full voice, and “Stop the Draft” buttons are popping out on blue denim jackets like crocuses in springtime.

As in the Vietnam days, it is the white, middle and upper middle class students at the elite private colleges who are in the vanguard of the protest. But the leaders of the movement are determined that this time the opposition will not splinter over class and race, with the poor and black going to war while the rest take sanctuary in college. “This can’t be a middle-class, save- our-ass movement,” one of the leaders said.

Supporters of the movement range from pacifists who oppose all war to those who reject the notion of a war with Russia over the Mideast, the “I’m not going to kill for oil” group.

To those who ask what has happened to the new spirit of patriotism that was supposed to be sweeping the country after the hostages were taken in Iran, committed members of the movement respond that they are the real patriots, that they care about the country too much to allow it to become embroiled in another costly and useless war like Vietnam. “There is a difference in feeling good about the country and being blind about the country,” one young man said.

The vast majority of young people who may be affected by the registration or the draft have not made up their minds yet. They simply have not decided how they feel or what they would do if the “Greetings” letter comes.

But some out of several dozen interviewed by The Globe have decided. They explain here how they feel, why they oppose the registration and the draft and what they hope to do to stop both.

Tufts University senior Nancy Brink, 2l, is a volunteer worker for the American Friends Service Committee and one of the organizers of a discussion group called Tufts Draft Forum. She spent last year in Germany on a Rotary scholarship for international understanding.

“I would not register. I feel I can’t. I would not serve the war effort. If that meant going to jail, as much as it scares me, I would still do it.

“I don’t feel there is any such thing as a just war. I’ve gotten interested in looking at other ways of dealing with international conflicts, like Gandhi in India and the non-violent resistance to the Nazis in Norway. Non-violence needs a lot of discipline and patience. Military violence is the easy way, the quickest way, but I don’t think any war ever resulted in real peace or substantial and long-lasting economic or social gains.

“In my work with the Friends, I’ve seen a commitment to change, to fighting without using violence. I’m willing to stand up for what I believe in, but I’m not willing to kill for it.”

Dennis Danheiser, 2l, a Boston University junior and a second-string quarterback on the football team, does not see himself as an activist, although he went to one anti-draft rally. But he says he is “totally against war.”

“I don’t agree with it (war) at all. I don’t agree with what the Russians are doing or with what Iran did, but I don’t think there is any reason for war. If the Russians came over here and started doing things in our country, we’d have to take some kind of action, but I don’t think what’s going on overseas is any reason for war.

“I’m a pretty full-fledged Catholic, and I believe God put us on earth to communicate, not to fight. I think it could be avoided, killing all those people.

“If worse came to worse, I would go (to war). I’d be really against it, but I wouldn’t draft-dodge, I wouldn’t go to Canada.

“I’ve talked to a lot of my friends on the football team, and we feel we’d have to go. All our lives it’s been:  Get out there and get ’em.’ But most of us feel war is definitely unnecessary. We hope to God it won’t happen.”

Eugene J. Green, 20-year-old president of the Harvard- Radcliffe Black Students Assn., thinks blacks have special reasons to be opposed to peacetime draft registration.

“Anytime a warlike atmosphere is created, people begin to ignore other problems. That is going to mean that black people will suffer first in things like housing and job training.

“The problem I have with registration is that it assumes a great amount of incompetence in the all-volunteer army and the all-volunteer army is about 30 percent black. Black students recognize the underlying racism and anti-black sentiment when people say the all-volunteer is weak and deficient.

“I’m personally opposed to war but I recognize the necessity of some wars, such as World War II. I oppose the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the military intervention in the internal affairs of another country, and I think war would be justified if the Soviets attempted to cut off oil resources from the Persian Gulf . . . If the Soviets continue their advance on the Gulf, I could see myself going to war.

“If there is another war, black people have got to insist that everybody shares the burdens equally.”

Michael Letwin, 23, is a UMass-Boston junior who got involved in anti- Vietnam war protests when he was l3. He has been politically active ever since.

“I’m not a pacifist. I believe there are things worth fighting for. A good example recently is the Iranian revolution. I certainly would have been part of that. In the United States, the labor movement, civil rights — causes that improve people’s lives and transform the system — are worth fighting for. I wouldn’t fight to protect American business interests and oil company profits.

“I won’t go if I’m drafted, and I’ll advise everybody else not to go. If enough people refuse, they can’t put us all in jail. The government will be powerless to enforce the draft.

“I don’t think the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was better or worse than the American invasion of Vietnam. The Russian empire acts much the same as the American empire. I don’t think either is worth dying for.

“If I’m going to fight anything, it’s going to be the source of people’s problems – racism, sexism, the control of the economy by a handful of corporate powers.”

MIT freshman Melissa Miller, 18, says her opposition to war is based on her appreciation for life.

“When I was in the sixth grade, my father got a rare kind of incurable cancer. We lived with that for three years and watched him fight every day for life . . . I was instilled with such a sense of survival.

So we’re forced to live under a Communist regime. Is that so bad? Is that worse than dying? I would rather live. I can’t place any price on a life. Is it worth a million barrels of oil? If more people felt that way, there wouldn’t be any wars.

“If we were openly attacked, I’d be the first to enlist. I mean really attacked. Self-protection, that’s the only cause I can see fighting for.

“If I were drafted, I’d go to jail. A month ago, I felt I’d have to go to support my friends if they went, but they have the same choice I do. They don’t have to go. Why do we have to have this draft registration? It ruins every-body’s life.”

One of the leaders of the anti-draft movement at Harvard is Michael Anderson, a l7-year-old freshman who met the co-organizer of the movement at a White House reception where both were being honored as Presidential Scholars.

“You need not be a pacifist to be against this particular draft in this particular situation . . . I’m generally against war as a form of policy but there are such things as just wars. I would have been willing to fight in World War II.

“But even for a just cause, war is the last resort. Increasingly, the enemy is war itself . . . The cause for which you fight has to outweigh the misery caused on both sides.

“If the draft comes, I would remain and refuse. I would not go to Canada. Going to Canada is a tacit acceptance of American policy. To remain is to confront the issue.

“There is a difference between patriotism and jingoism. My philosophy is that there is either one world or none. I consider myself a patriot. I want America to thrive and prosper, to be strong, but not in a military sense. A patriot is one who believes enough in America to make its policy enlightened and just.”

Jeff Renton is a Brookline High School senior who will be l8 years old next week. His future plans include college and majoring in psychology. They do not include the draft.

“I’m a pacifist. I’m opposed to the peacetime draft. I don’t want to be trained to kill.

“On an intellectual level, I can conceive of a justifiable war. I think World War II was one. They had to stop Hitler, and I think Russia has a bad government, like Hitler’s. But I could not see myself fighting. I’ve seen the movies — “Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now” — and I can’t imagine myself involved in that.

“Maybe I’m being a hypocrite, but I won’t go . . . I might register, if we had to, because I don’t want to throw away my future. I have a college acceptance and everything. But if I got drafted, I wouldn’t go.

“I’m opposed to Russia in lots of ways, but to kill other pawns like myself, no way. Governments may have better policies but people are all alike. The people you’re killing are just like you.

“I don’t consider myself unpatriotic. Trying to improve the world in some way, that’s patriotism.”

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