---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 09 Jul 2002 14:41:53 -0700
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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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