[sixties-l] My Draft-Dodging Days (fwd)

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Date: Tue Jul 09 2002 - 18:03:35 EDT

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    Date: Tue, 09 Jul 2002 14:41:53 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: My Draft-Dodging Days

    My Draft-Dodging Days


    by John deLaubenfels
    July 5, 2002

    Ah, the Vietnam war! I landed at the University of California, Berkeley,
    in the fall of 1965, one
    year after Mario Savio had ignited the "Free Speech Movement," but just in
    time to witness some of the earliest, and, as time went on, some of the
    later, anti-war protests.
    I had been an avid photographer since the age of six. By the time I
    arrived in Berkeley, a skinny 16-year-old kid, I had a fair collection of
    photographic equipment. In the fall of 1965, a hot new B&W film had just
    come onto the market with an astonishing ASA of 500. And so, one fall
    evening, I loaded up my camera and went out to photograph one of the first
    anti-war marches, on Telegraph Avenue, just two blocks from Barrington
    Hall, the dorm where I lived. I will never forget that night.
    Actually, it only became particularly memorable in light of the terrible
    antipathy that developed between students and police just a few years
    later. But in 1965, the cops were much more baffled than angry.
    I had my camera, complete with strobe (quite high-tech then, extremely
    heavy and slow by today's standards) in hand, and was capturing pix of the
    marchers. Standing in the middle of the street, with my back turned to an
    advancing line of police, the first thing I knew, I was completely
    surrounded by cops, at night, during an anti-war march organized by radical
    college students. Dare I admit that I was scared? I was.
    What happened? One of the cops, holding his stick between his hands,
    hustled me off the street and onto the sidewalk. There was no violence,
    toward me or anybody else, in the fall of 1965.
    By 1968, all that had changed, and I saw cops, sticks raised, chasing
    people as fast as they could across Sproul Plaza. Also, by 1968, I walked
    to class beneath groves of trees that still held yesterday's tear gas, and
    wept whether I grieved or not.
    But I digress. Besides staying clear of cops with raised sticks, I stayed
    the heck out of Vietnam, thank God! And though, as it unfolded, I did not
    have to take any extreme measures to do so, I make no apology today for
    having resolved that I would pursue, first a medical exemption, then, if
    necessary, a move to Canada, in order to give the finger to the U.S. war
    My claim to a medical deferment was based upon a near-fatal encounter with
    a bee at age 10. I'd always had bad swelling after stings, lasting for
    weeks, but this time I also started going into shock within a few minutes
    of being stung. By the time the doctor in the emergency room saw me, he
    elected to inject adrenaline directly into a vein, a risky procedure (one's
    blood pressure peaks dangerously when the drug reaches the heart). As it
    happened, I got a nasty headache but didn't suffer a stroke, and the
    symptoms of shock receded within minutes. The swelling ran its usual course.
    However, my regular doctor, whom I contacted years later for verification
    of the allergy, did not agree that I had a life-threatening condition. He
    was contemptuous of my frank admission of wanting to avoid the draft, and
    said that he could offer no support. He had, you see, administered a
    series of shots which might possibly have dealt with the allergy. The
    shots consisted of a gradually increasing dose of bee venom, and I had
    indeed worked up to the equivalent of almost an entire real sting before
    the series was through. However, it was well known that the effectiveness
    of the shots varies widely among subjects, many of whom continue to have
    life-threatening reactions to insect stings months or years later.
    (I did have to visit an emergency room in 1991, after I accidentally
    pinched a wasp in the door and got stung on the neck. Again, a shot of
    adrenaline saved my bacon. I carry the stuff whenever I'm far from
    home. I've also had several stings since my treatment that did not require
    medical intervention.)
    I was "bummed." I took a bus to San Francisco and met with a doctor who
    was sympathetic to avoiding the draft. He told me that my allergy was
    almost certainly bad enough to stay out, and gave me the names of several
    East Bay doctors I might visit.
    Did I mention that I had dropped out of college? I went back, and
    finished, a year later, but during that hiatus, was classified 1A. For
    those unfamiliar with the draft, that means "prime meat, ready to be
    cooked, served, and eaten." I was required to take an official Physical
    Examination in Oakland, where, like Arlo Guthrie, I was instructed to
    prance about in my underwear for several hours. I was pronounced fit to
    play the role of Uncle Sam's Sacrificial Lamb.
    This was the first year of the draft lottery. Does anybody remember that
    lottery today? Each member of the year's crop of potential harvestees got
    a random number, from one to 365 (or 366 in a leap year), assigned to his
    birthday. The number for my birth date, October 29, was 229, luckier than
    average. But, in the first half of that year, numbers through 195 were
    called for Vietnam "duty."
    Then, for reasons that are still not clear to me, the second half of the
    year's draftees were taken from the same pool, one through 195. My 229 was
    never called, and once that year had gone by, was unlikely ever to be
    called. A couple of years later, my younger brother got a 365, the best
    possible number, for his birthday, Christmas 1951, and he also was not
    So we both escaped without firing a shot. Many others were called, served,
    and died, all for . . . all for . . . uhhh . . . was there ANYTHING that
    the United States accomplished in Vietnam? Other than spraying so many
    tons of Agent Orange that birth defects still abound after 35 years? Other
    than destroying one village after another "in order to save it"? Other
    than coining cute phrases like "Napalm sticks to kids"?
    No. We accomplished less than nothing, at huge cost. And we treated the
    boys who DID go, and who DID survive, as pariahs. It was a shameful
    government cluster-f*** in every way. JFK, LBJ, and RMN, wherever you are,
    you may all hang your heads in shame NOW.
    I worked with a guy in the late '70's who had been a gunner on a helicopter
    in 'Nam. He spoke
    very briefly of the nightmares that still haunted him, of people's bodies
    turning into red pulp, exactly as he had witnessed (and it was his machine
    gun, you understand, that had turned those men and women from human beings
    into red pulp). Beyond the nightmares, he carried dozens of pieces of
    shrapnel in his legs, and went to the doctor every few months to have the
    bits that had migrated to near the surface removed. His limp was barely
    noticeable by 1980.
    How quickly any of us can acquire wounds! It takes but a fraction of a
    second for shrapnel to penetrate the skin and embed itself into our
    bones. Quick in, slow out: To be healed takes much longer, even if our
    friends can no longer see any limp in our step. The nightmare of red pulp
    lingers, possibly forever.
    I am very sorry for my brothers and sisters who chose to go, and who either
    died or were badly scarred by the war. But I make no apology for having
    decided to stay the hell out. None. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The United
    States were not being invaded, and any other reason for war is strictly
    illegitimate (see a small document called the Constitution).
    Let those individuals, like the bloodthirsty Rich Lowry of the NRO,
    volunteer for whatever wars they'd like to fight around the globe. I'll
    stay home, thank you. If this nation is ever truly in danger, I'll be glad
    to participate in its defense, with whatever weapons and strength I have.

    Those were my draft-dodging days, long gone in years but vivid in
    memory. Experiences like that have accumulated to make me the "radical"
    that I am today, contemptuous of any attempt on the part of government to
    enslave young men (or young women, or . . . .).
    To those who advocate reinstating the draft, I would urge every one to
    volunteer yourselves, rather than asking someone else to go out and get
    shot for whatever cause you have in mind. There is a word for anybody who
    would compel another to die on his behalf: murderer. The penalties for
    murder are, I believe, quite severe, and rightly so.
    John deLaubenfels is a 53-year old native born citizen of the United
    States, a programmer by profession and music lover by avocation, who is
    passionate about preserving (and restoring) the basic freedoms of this
    country, and, if possible, the world.

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