In response to:
"We Won't Go" from the May 18, 1967 issue
To the Editors:
In an article on the “We Won’t Go” movement in the May 18 issue of The New York Review, Paul Goodman mentioned “a Special Forces Reservist from a Midwestern College wearing his uniform and his green beret” who burned his draft card in New York on April 15. I would like to take this opportunity to identify myself and tell my story, since I have met many people in the peace movement who have been considerably heartened by the fact that a former student at a conservative university, Northwestern, and a current member of the Army’s CIA, the Green Berets, went out and took this stand.
In the summer of ’65 I was classified I-A and faced the prospect of military service for the first time. At the time, I was typically apathetic toward the war. The sum total of my knowledge was what I read in the papers: our presence appeared to be a response to Communist “aggression”; Ho Chi Minh appeared to be in cahoots with the Chinese; and the domino theory made some sense. On the other hand, I had somehow managed to throw off the myths of the “international communist conspiracy” and the “monolithic communist bloc.” If anything, I was a hawk by default.
I was at the time, however, strongly opposed to the draft, feeling simply that it was basically a coercive, totalitarian institution. I also feared the regimentation and authoritarian socialization of the Army, being a sensitive person and somewhat of a non-conformist. I thought very seriously of Canada, and even pondered prison. I didn’t have the guts for either; in addition, I decided not to write off military service on an a priori basis, but rather to give the Army a chance. For most of the duration of my Army career, I vacillated wildly between “gung-hoism,” trying to do things the Army way, and quiet non-cooperation, during moods of disgust and revulsion toward militarism and the authoritarian methods of the Army. I joined a Special Forces reserve unit because I knew that the Green Berets were the elite of the Army; I wanted to see what the best was like.
The first thing that shook my beliefs about the war was Donald Duncan’s article in Ramparts, which I read in the spring of ’66. I recall that the article caused a large stir at Northwestern; it absolutely floored me. I still feel it is the single most effective introduction to the anti-war position that we have.
His revelations about the support by the peasant of the NLF, about the oppressive nature of the South Vietnamese regime, about the real nature of Viet Cong terrorism, and about the corruption of the political and military leaders, made a deep impact on me at the time. I also assigned considerable credibility to his revelations; I knew what it took to be a Master Sergeant in the Green Berets—you have to be smart, and you have to have solid powers of judgment and observation.
Unfortunately, my attitudes were not sufficiently shaken; I was hung up on my own personal problems, and I soon lapsed into a state of illiteracy about the war, somehow explaining away much of what Duncan said. I was still a hawk, although much less convinced of the position’s validity.
Then, in the fall of 1966, I went on active duty. I was sent to Ft. Bragg, N.C., for the first ten weeks. Ft. Bragg happens to be the home of the regular army Special Forces. While I was there I spoke to a great number of Green Berets who were Vietnam returnees. Many of them quite candidly reinforced what Duncan had said. When I pressed them as to why they still supported the war, I usually got one of two responses.
The first was that the correctness of the war was not their business, that they were simply soldiers obeying orders from civilians who are supposed to decide such things. What a horrible idea, especially when held by those who do the killing. But I fear it may be widespread. The other response was the “well, the peasants and the common men have been deluded by communism, don’t really know what’s good for them, aren’t ready for democracy and must be trained” argument. I felt that this piece of thinking was an unbelievable act of arrogance on their part: first to assume that the American governmental system was right for the Vietnamese, irrelevant of cultural and political differences; second to presume to tell the Vietnamese peasant that we know better what is good for him than he does.
However, some of the Green Berets not only reinforced what Duncan had said, but openly said that they felt the war was wrong. A few said that they would refuse to be shipped back to Vietnam. I was even informed of a rebellion by several men in a combat platoon, who all one day refused to fight any longer against the VC. Strangely, no news of this was ever released to the American public.
Anyway—all of these things began eating upon me, along with ideas and facts I gleaned from a few bits of impartial and “dove” literature. Yet it took many months before I was ready to throw out my hawk attitudes. Having possessed and even defended these views, I had become ego-involved. It became a matter of pride, and I was unwilling to admit the incorrectness of my beliefs. (Certain possible similarities with the Johnson Administration here come to mind.) Thus for the next few months I was increasingly assailed with anti-war material, and somehow managed to rationalize, write off, discredit, or otherwise deal with such material. Shall we say, however, that I was mentally squirming; my beliefs were slowly being ripped apart.
At the time I burned my draft card in New York, I was still making one last-ditch attempt to convince myself that I was a hawk. It was not until I had the experience of reading my pro-war attitudes in cold, hard print in the next two days that I was able to say: “Reader, you just don’t believe this stuff any more.” A few days after April 15, I gave up; the entire pro-war fairytale structure that I had built up came crashing down on my head. I was finally willing to admit this war was illegal, unjust, immoral, stupid, you name it, everything the doves have been saying is right.
Why, then, did I burn my draft card, wearing my green beret uniform, on April 15 in New York? I returned from active duty in mid-January of this year, thoroughly disgusted with the Army, but intending to get myself assigned to a control group and be free to do as I pleased. Why was I disgusted with the Army? I found it to be an unbelievably callous, unfeeling institution. In order to make one into an efficient killer, you must be “molded.” They must force you to suspend your intelligence, since one must obey orders without questions. If you are a person of independence, accustomed to critically evaluating his environment and making his own decisions, they must beat down your independence and critical stance, since one must obey orders without question. One cannot be compassionate or sympathetic toward his fellow man in order to be a hardened killer, so they slowly, inexorably grind this compassion out of you.
In order to make one moldable, they in essence strip you of your human dignity and self-respect. You are placed in a terrifying environment, in which all acts of independence, non-conformity, or the slightest deviations from the norm are swiftly punished, either physically or mentally. The Army has an unquenchable thirst for absolute uniformity. An unbuttoned button is ten pushups. Anything but a crew-cut means constant harassment plus punitive duty.
Let me give you an example of this abasement and loss of all dignity. In my reserve unit, during sessions of long, punishing, physical training for the recruits, if a person’s body finally gives out, he is sometimes forced to go up in front of his fellow recruits, lie on his back, wave his arms and legs in the air while yelling, “I am a dying cockroach, I am a dying cockroach.” His fellow recruits meanwhile laugh and berate him. Does this sound like part of a harmless fraternity hell week? It’s not. It’s part of a systematic campaign to destroy one’s self-respect and self-confidence, to make you into a mindless, vicious automation. What kind of institution can produce these things?
You are unceasingly harassed, humiliated, intimidated. Meanwhile, you are trained in aggressive behavior, in killing, in the virtues of maiming other human beings. You are slowly and subtly indoctrinated on the horrible qualities of the enemy and the need for stopping him.
Perhaps I am overly sensitive. Perhaps I am overstating the facts. I don’t think so. I felt continually as if I was being made into some kind of zombie. I do know that when I came out of the Army, I, who had never been in a fight in my life, who had walked away from fights time after time as a child, was enormously aggressive, pugnacious, belligerent, and ready to fight at any time. I had learned how to maim or kill a person with my hands and feet in a few seconds, and I was damned proud of it. Suddenly, one day I realized what had happened to me, and was disgusted. I am not as of this moment a pacifist; but the Army, having given me a full appreciation of violence, has turned me toward non-violence better than any other experience in my life.
So here sits Gary Rader, in his reserve unit in February and March, watching the new recruits undergoing this treatment, feeling so deeply for them he sometimes is drawn to tears, feeling so disgusted at the Army that sometimes a psychosomatic reaction is produced and he gets sick to his stomach. He is unable to correct or lessen any of these horrors. Increasingly, he can no longer stand the thought of this happening to himself, or to any of his fellow human beings. He especially cannot stand the idea of anyone being drafted and forced to undergo such a process.
He realizes he can no longer remain in the military and live with his conscience. He can get in a control group, but this would truly be a sell-out. He can go back on active duty and easily get a general or undesirable discharge, but allowing the Army to have any say over his life is no longer conceivable. He must once and for all completely disassociate himself with the military. He realizes he is finally psychologically prepared for prison; he ponders burning his draft card.
On Thursday evening, April 13, there was a teach-in on Vietnam at North-western. I could not go to it, as I had a reserve meeting that night. At the meeting appeared the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. The new recruits were informed that henceforth, if they did not have their hair cut sufficiently short, they would have a diaper attached to them and be subject to verbal and physical abuse for the duration of the meeting. One of my roommates went to the teach-in; he told me there would be a huge peace demonstration on April 15, with hundreds of men burning their draft cards.
I realized now is the time. On the morning of April 15, wearing my uniform covered with a black ski jacket to avoid getting busted. I got in contact with a leader of the Cornell contingent. Around 11:30 I appeared out of the crowd, removed my jacket, placed my beret on my head at the correct angle, and burned my draft card.
Two days later I wrote a letter of resignation to my company commander, informing him that I was quitting the Army and that I would no longer attend any meetings of the reserve unit.
As previously stated, a few days later I gave up my hawk position as untenable. I was then left with the decision of what to do with my life until the time I went to jail. If one feels the war is wrong, if one is truly disturbed about the Vietnamese and Americans being killed daily, there is only one answer: quit what you’re doing and go full-time into the peace movement. I have been working unceasingly sixty or more hours a week since April 15. I don’t sleep much, and I have lost ten pounds. I am also happier than I have been in a very long time. I am finally at peace with myself, finally able to make my actions meet my beliefs. I recommend the same to you.
Having made this commitment, I faced the question of what specifically to work in. I am primarily interested in denying the government manpower with which to fight its war. This can take two forms: draft resistance, and organization and subversion within the Army. I can assign no priority to the two; I feel both are important. However, having had such an ugly experience with the Army, I find it difficult to advise people to go into the Army and subvert. Draft resistance also offered more immediate opportunities for building a strong movement.
So I am primarily working on draft resistance; I am putting in some hours contacting the GI with our message; and working with the Veterans for Peace. I will do this at least up until the time I go to jail or the war is over.
As for what will happen to me, I was arrested on charges of mutilating my draft card and unauthorized wearing of my uniform. I also might be prosecuted for non-possession of a draft card. We now have contradictory rulings out of the Federal Appeals Courts on the constitutionality of the draftcard burning law. If the Supreme Court ever does grant a writ of certiorari to a burner, we are optimistic that they will declare the law to be a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. As far as I know, the maximum sentence for the unauthorized uniform wearing is only six months.
The real hang-up comes from quitting the Army. A number of options are available to the Army here. They can court-martial; they can notify my draft board to induct me (which I would refuse); or they might assign me to the inactive reserves and hope out of gratitude I will silence my dissent. We expect the latter two to be more probable. The Army does not like to court-martial in the glare of publicity; Howard Petricks, Fort Hood Threes, and Capt. Levys do not help them one bit. Moreover, when one starts talking civilian counsel and civilian review, the Army gets very uptight; the last thing it wants is to get the Universal Code of Military Justice before the Supreme Court.
As to my fellow war resisters, the situation looks good. With our numbers in the low hundreds, we appear to have already broken down the system. We have unofficial admissions by federal DA’s that they do not intend to prosecute most of the draft-card burners; they have neither the manpower nor the courts. Of the 150 or so men who burned their cards in New York, only I have been arrested; I don’t expect the situation to change much. The government must now pick out the Gary Raders and Muhammad Alis, in order to make an example of them. This is known as selective justice, an old American tradition.
The situation may change: they may stop bothering to prosecute and begin locking us up in mass. It is clear that those of us not in jail are purely political prisoners. I do not feel that this regime is fascist, although we daily appear to be more and more of a police state; but a lot of my cohorts do not think it ridiculous to talk of concentration camps. There are dozens of tapped phones in Chicago; and busts of peace offices, peace parties, and leading individuals on the basis of plants or frames are increasing.
We should have two responses to such a state of affairs: (1) anger, and a redoubling of our resistance efforts; (2) it is time to begin thinking very seriously about setting up an underground.
Significant things are now being done about an underground. As far as resistance effort is concerned, I have been involved in setting up the first real, live, draft-resistance union in Chicago. We are building a broad-based movement, involving large numbers of people, to implement an extensive and ambitious program. We hope that our example will serve as a desperately needed guide to the many draft-resistance unions across the country just beginning to organize. We are starting to send travelers all over the Midwest to help other unions get off their feet. However, it costs a lot to support our fifteen full-time organizers and one office, much less the thirty other organizers we would like to hire and the half-dozen other offices we wish to open. It also takes a lot to provide for bail and legal defense for the growing numbers of draft-resisters.
So I must request help. We are dependent on our more established friends to keep our individual resisters and our organized resistance from being buried under debts and legal problems.
Chicago Area Draft Resisters (CADRE) (Checks should be made payable to CADRE, and sent to CADRE, P.O. Box 9089, Chicago, Illinois 60690.)