Until I was indicted for it, I had thought a conspiracy was something sneaky, like dope-smugglers or price-fixers. Most people still think so, but that is because they have not been indicted for “conspiring” to do something in broad daylight. Newly educated, I searched my etymological dictionary for proof, and found that a “conspiracy” was originally a “breathing together.” Two people who breathe the same air, it seems, or who are inspired by the same spirit, are “conspirators” (or, in legal parlance, “co-conspirators,” a word I could not find in any dictionary). Of that sort of conspiracy I joyfully confess I am a member (not card-carrying, however): something was blowing in the wind last summer and we breathed it in.
Last summer’s slogan, “from dissent to resistance,” was more meaningful than most slogans in the peace movement, because thousands of people made up their minds to commit themselves in a basically new way to anti-war politics. Resistance has already taken many forms (some of them symbolic, like the “liberated zones” around the Pentagon), but draft resistance has emerged as the focus, and among the many anti-draft groups the Resistance has emerged, in many parts of the country, as the vanguard. Since October 16 about 2500 draftable men have turned in or burned their draft cards and face prosecution or imminent induction for doing so. Thousands who are not liable to the draft have done their best to implicate themselves with those who are. Men are refusing induction at a rapidly growing rate, sometimes by groups of six or ten at a time. The senior class of America’s universities will graduate into the army, prison, or Canada and at this writing it is not clear which will get the most (a Yale poll showed 38 percent will refuse to serve if called). A growing number of high-school students are refusing to register at age eighteen. And some who have gone to Canada are coming back.
HOW DID THIS RESISTANCE so suddenly get started? Who was behind it? No one. No pediatrician or chaplain could possibly have brought it about; if anything they have come along behind, feeling they had to help those who had already chosen to resist the draft. To indict them for conspiracy to “counsel, aid, and abet” these thousands is on the face of it absurd. No mere words or offers of legal help could have led the young men to choose prison: that choice comes from a place too awful and too deep for the reach of thought alone. What has reached inside and taken hold of the spirit is the war and the draft and the crumbling all around us of many good and hopeful things. If anyone “aided and abetted” the Resistance, it was Lyndon Johnson, or Lewis Hershey.
A few mimeographed sheets, magazine statements, and press conferences were all—once the idea was articulated the response came of itself. The idea was a strategy for having an impact on the draft and …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.