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The Draft and Its Opposition

BESIDES the new books and research, several traditional legal institutions are now available to support lawyers helping young men avoid or oppose the draft. A Selective Service Law Reporter has just been begun in Washington. In the Bay Area, a panel of more than a hundred lawyers, willing to work on draft cases, will be paid as public defenders. The American Civil Liberties Union has reversed its initial decision and agreed to defend draft resisters. Similarly, a year ago the only imaginable “manual” for avoiding the draft was the scatalogical (and occasionally practical) 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft by Tuli Kupferberg and Robert Bashlow. Now Conrad Lynn has published a handbook “so that those who wish to resist may be aided in having all their rights that might help them to refuse induction into the armed forces.” Lynn is an enterprising, energetic, and courageous lawyer, but his book is, unfortunately, a primitive parallel to the various tax guides available at news-stands. He omits important information concerning particular classifications, and he provides no guidance in making out the difficult, confusing, and often perverse Selective Service forms. His information is, at times, sketchy and misleading, as in the “Canadian Haven” chapter. Too much of the book consists of irrelevant political tracts. Some of his courtroom strategies are useful, and the fact that he has gotten this material onto the newsstands and off the shelves of lawyers and counselors is all to the good. But a young man determined to stay out of the army would be ill-advised to depend only on How to Stay Out of the Army. The book by Ann Ginger is useful, though is legalistic language is a barrier, as Lynn’s is not. The National Lawyers Guild is preparing a large book explaining in detail how to contend with every part of the draft law and its regulations at every stage. Until this becomes available the Guild, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, Resist, local draft resistance unions, and the American Friends Service Committee all provide a variety of memoranda likely to be more detailed and practical than Lynn’s book.

THE BOOKS by Conrad Lynn and Ann Ginger were written as practical guides for draftees. The Draft: A Handbook of Facts and Alternatives contains the papers and discussions of a conference held last year at the University of Chicago, which grew out of student agitation about ranking. Yet it is distinguished, for the most part, by its irrelevance to those students and even to the question of ranking. In this respect it is merely characteristic of last year’s response of the academic community to the draft. A few faculty members were willing to help counsel students; more wished to help military manpower specialists solve their problems with statistics and expertise. The universities themselves seemed anxious to avoid being dragged into controversy. A few supported the students’ hostility to ranking, but most were uncritical of Selective Service itself. The President of an influential university council in a letter to a professor at Temple University expressed the extent to which the “leadership” of American higher education had identified itself with the sss:

I cannot refrain from making a slightly bitter comment on the role that the universities themselves played in getting us into this mess. We had a good, workable system of student deferments based upon rank in class, grades, and an examination. But students complained and many universities flatly refused to give rank in class or to publish grades. This made it very easy for the Congress to sweep the whole thing down the drain and to leave us with no criteria for deferments. A few articulate witnesses in favor of these criteria might have made a world of difference in the Congressional hearings.

When it began to seem likely that graduate students would be drafted, college deans seemed primarily concerned about the loss of cheap labor and tuitions. Several college presidents and members of the House Education Committee suggested that some younger men should be drafted first. In addition, it was feared that the “new centers of excellence,” into which federal funds, often from the Defense Department, had supposedly transformed some of the seedier graduate schools, might fold for lack of students.

Some universities, however, began laying plans to help their students avoid the draft. New York University Law School, for example, recommended that students appeal 1-A classifications, which would give them sufficient time to take a cram course designed to make them eligible to teach in the city’s schools. In the fall they could, as teachers, apply for an occupational deferment, and continue their legal studies in the evening. MIT, acting more directly, has asked for 2-A deferments for its 800 graduate teaching assistants. The University of Chicago, although unwilling to follow MIT’s example, has, nevertheless, announced that it “is getting out of the business of communicating with draft boards.”

MEANWHILE, the attention of many American intellectuals and academics has shifted from how to restore student deferments to how to end the war itself. The most apparent sign of anti-war sentiment on campus has been the McCarthy campaign, with its student volunteers, and the organizational competence of its academic political amateurs. During the past half year, some of the country’s most prominent intellectuals and academics have signed the “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” printed in these pages as an advertisement last October. Probably three-fifths of the 4,000 people who have signed that Call are attached to universities. “Resist,” the organization which grew from the Call, has been supporting the formation of draft resistance unions and counseling centers, and has helped to organize support groups on over 200 campuses.

These groups have been formed from the nucleus of old teach-in committees and from radical younger faculty recently recruited from among the ranks of activist graduate students. The groups have performed relatively innocent activities: circulating the Call to Resist and support petitions for Dr. Spock; setting up campus draft counselling centers; running ads in campus papers; raising money for resisters; organizing teach-ins during the “Academic Days of Conscience” last month. Columbia University provided a model by devoting a whole day in March, during which classes were effectively boycotted, to discussion of the war and resistance, and 239 faculty members signed a statement to “support those Columbia students who decide to refuse cooperation with Selective Service because they consider our war in Vietnam unjust and immoral.”

Similar public statements by faculty on such campuses as Johns Hopkins and the University of Washington have drawn students and faculty into new alliances. At Berkeley, for example, the “Vietnam Commencement”—a ceremony designed to honor draft resisters—was organized by a committee composed of both students and faculty. At the same time, campus groups hostile to the draft have also begun to enlist university resources for indirect support of resisters. Deans at Princeton, Chicago, Yale, MIT, and elsewhere have pledged that university places will be held for resisters who go to jail, just as they are for drafted men.

It is not simply that university facilities are being used for unconventional teach-ins and for draft counseling, or even that some administrators have given their tacit blessings to events like the “Days of Conscience.” Nor even that though the Berkeley Vietnam Commencement had been banned by the Reagan-led California Regents, it received a good deal of quiet support from campus administrators. The war increasingly threatens the life of the university. The war and the shadow of the draft have exacerbated tensions between students and young faculty members, many of whom directly face the choice of army, jail or exile, and older faculty and administrators, many of whom have personal ties or ties of money and prestige to those conducting the war. Those Columbia students, for example, challenging the traditional authority of the university to make decisions for them, have, in one sense, nothing to lose. A year of probation is no great deterrent for someone about to be drafted. The hostility of young, radical students to the university is perhaps a consequence of the imminence of the draft as much as any other single cause.

Because of the draft, moreover, the Scientific Manpower Commission has predicted that graduate school enrollment may be cut by as much as 70 percent, with the remaining 30 percent restricted mainly, as one sub-dean put it, to the blind, the halt, and women. Such a policy has entailed the serious political risk of antagonizing not only the university establishment but the large and powerful middle-class community with ties to America’s colleges. The Administration’s willingness to take that risk seemed an ominous sign to many academics forced now to choose between supporting their students against the war and supporting the war against their students. Many, if not most, have chosen to support their students.

WHAT WILL most men, faced with an ambiguous but seemingly hopeful future, decide to do about the draft? Those who have until now provided the bulk of the army’s manpower—Negroes, working-class boys, poor whites, Puerto Ricans—will, no doubt, continue to go. Draft refusal for almost all of them has little support in their communities. But fewer and fewer of these men have been reenlisting. During the opening days of the Poor People’s Campaign, several spokesmen of the poor denounced the draft, which perhaps suggests that for some poor people—as distinct from working-class or lower-middle-class people—the war and the draft may be as unpopular as the welfare system, even though the army has been one of the few routes out of poverty.

But many students have discovered that, in the words of Selective Service’s infamous memo on “channeling,” they are “standing in a room which has been made uncomfortably warm. Several doors are open, but they all lead to various forms of recognized, patriotic service to the Nation.”6 For many men all these “open” doors have assumed the form of prison gates, and the exit to Canada a trap door. A number of campus polls, taken before the negotiations in Paris, indicated that in some institutions more than half the graduating seniors were prepared to refuse induction or choose exile.

More recently, on May 16, Louis Harris published the results of a nation-wide poll of 1005 college seniors on their attitudes to war resistance. “It is apparent,” he wrote, “that between 20 and 30 percent of the college group called up for service in the next few months will be seriously contemplating whether or not to refuse to serve.” As one would expect, Harris’s poll showed that opposition to the draft is highest among those who have been politically active on campuses 72 percent of whom see

real merit in refusal to serve in the military…these activists do not represent anything approaching a majority of students in college today. But in the aggregate they come to well over 100,000, or a potential over 70,000 draft resisters. It is likely that many of them when faced with an actual call-up to service will not be pleased but will serve. But if even as many as 25,000 choose to go to prison or one of the other courses of refusing to serve, the size of the crisis will exceed any this nation has ever faced before in terms of resistance to the draft.

If 25,000 men refuse to go, the numbers of draft resisters will have increased ten-fold. But between three and five years in jail and a felony conviction are not to be regarded lightly, certainly not by young men of twenty-two. They have therefore been seizing (and will probably continue to seize) upon any means that hold out hope for delay or political change. As opinion toward the war has shifted, what had often been a furtive effort by a few prospective draftees and counselors is becoming a far more open enterprise conducted on a national scale.

It is obviously presumptuous to predict individual decisions that are still largely uncertain, but certain possibilities are apparent. Some students have already signed themselves into officer candidate programs, unaware that by so doing they have simply stepped from the “warm room” through one of the most dangerous doors Selective Service has opened for them. As college graduates fill the badly depleted junior officer corps, avoiding the “waste of their talents” as draftees, they will find themselves among those for whom the danger is greatest in Vietnam. On the other hand, there have been rumors that appeals may get students through the summer and that some draft boards may permit them to finish the academic year if they are able to register for school in the fall. Though we have not been able to verify such a possibility some students are acting on it. And given the unpredictability of draft boards, who can advise them not to try?

THE METHODS of avoiding the draft within the framework of current sss law are few in number. Apart from deferments for physical and psychological disabilities, or because of dependents, it seems to us that most college men anxious to avoid induction will face three choices. First, some students, with their usual ingenuity, have already lined up teaching jobs to keep them free of the draft while they continue graduate school study in the evening. Experienced draft counselors are, indeed, recommending that men apply quickly for occupational deferments, especially as teachers. When graduate student deferments were ended, the Administration also suspended indefinitely the list of critical occupations and essential activities on the basis of which draft boards had given at least half of their occupational deferments. The effect was not to abolish these, but to leave the matter almost wholly up to local boards. They must now determine whether a potential draftee is, in their view, performing service in the national interest. One result may be that the first to request such deferments will get them, especially if boards are flooded with applications this spring and summer. Second, the number of men filing co applications is also increasing. Even those who do not have any real hope of gaining the status are filing, nevertheless, in order to gain time. Third, legal stratagems, as we have indicated earlier, are also possible to achieve further delay before a man must finally choose among prison, the army, or exile.

Exile to Canada, nevertheless, already has been chosen by about 15,000 men, according to Canadian sources, and this number will probably increase. (The Manual for Draft Age Immigrants and other similar guides contain useful information that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.) Canadian graduate schools report that they have been deluged by American applicants. Recent decisions by the Swedish government to grant asylum to Americans opposing the war, and by the French government to provide work and residence permits to deserters and resisters have also simplified some of the problems of exile. But the problems of staying, permanently, are enormous. Thus far, only a few have returned to face jail or the military stockades. Some deserters and resisters abroad have organized themselves into groups. But the torment of exile—for many of the young men and for their families at home—is hardly less painful than that of prison. And yet, what is a man to do who cannot kill Vietnamese? Or even if he simply doesn’t want to be killed? What can he do if all other attempts to avoid the draft fail?

It is partly in this light that the outpouring of student support for Senator McCarthy must be viewed. Work in his campaign is to them a legitimate commitment against the war: it goes beyond the self-interest of 2-S, 4-D, or occupational deferment, or even of exile; nor is it an extreme refusal to cooperate, like turning in one’s draft card. At the same time, the McCarthy campaign may very well be laying the groundwork for a resistance movement more widespread than any before. As a Northwestern student told a New York Times reporter, “For many of us this is the last chance. It is quite literally a case of life or death. I have ten weeks to go on my student deferment, and if we don’t pull this off we’ll have to cop-out.” No doubt if the dancing through the streets and dormitories that followed President Johnson’s March 31 withdrawal proves premature, most of those called will be inducted. But there will be more resisters too.

THE NUMBERS of resisters will depend, in part, on the future of peace negotiations. Because the resistance movement has, until now, relied heavily for its effect upon public gestures rather than political organizing, it had seemed susceptible to more powerful public gestures—like the President’s March 31 speech. At the same time, it is also true that draft resistance has its own momentum. The moves toward negotiations, which may have slowed the peace movement generally, did little to discourage resisters. On April 3,630 more young men turned in their cards. Moreover, resistance has grown in the face of efforts to suppress it. After the Spock indictment, for example, 23,000 people signed a strong support statement, which many of the signers believed might be used to indict them, too. It can be argued that emphasizing the act of non-cooperation—turning in one’s draft card—has limited resistance to small numbers of strongly motivated men. Nevertheless, the courage and public drama of such acts have compensated to some extent for small numbers and loose organization. Gathered in scattered local groups, the resisters have managed to function for more than a year now, coordinated only by sporadic newsletters, a few travelers, and by efforts to organize “days,” such as the recent April 3 resistance. Certainly the resisters have had an effect on other young people that seems out of all proportion to their numbers or their ability to proselytize. Harris’s poll showed that “29 percent of the college seniors feel they respect young men who refuse induction…more than they respect those who agree to serve.” But even this figure is deceptively low for, as Harris points out:

Respect for the principle of resistance to military service runs highest among college seniors in the West, where 51 percent expressed respect for those who refuse to serve, among students in private nondenominational colleges where the number rises to 42 percent and among those studying in the humanities and social sciences, where 41 percent sympathize with resisters to the draft.

In the past six months, resisters have begun to do more than promote sensational public events. In Palo Alto, for example, several dozen local resisters live together, sharing their earnings in communal arrangements, drawing new men into discussions, and trying, as some have said, “to take control of their own lives.” Many student resisters plan to go to white middle-class suburbs and resorts this summer to urge the “moral imperative” of non-cooperation. Most resistance groups also organize demonstrations at induction stations on mornings (6 AM or earlier) when a man plans to refuse induction. Those working off campus, like the Boston Draft Resistance (BDRG), ride the buses taking prospective draftees to examination or induction centers and talk with the men about war and the draft. Others locate registrants recently classified 1-A—draft boards must reveal the names of those declared 1-A at each board meeting—offer them counseling services and an opportunity to talk with other 1-A’s about their feelings toward the war and being drafted, and about how they might even oppose the war, in the army. Efforts to approach men already in the military are under way: resisters have set up coffeehouses outside several army training bases.

AS RESISTERS take tentative steps beyond non-cooperation, as they talk about the war with men joining the army, or with army men, they are not simply opposing the draft; they are questioning the foreign policy it serves. Though Americans have always been deeply suspicious of conscription, they have not, since the United States became a world power, been suspicious of the purposes for which that power has been exercised. That seems now to be changing. The New Hampshire primary suggested that the power of anti-Communist rhetoric to influence votes has already been eroded. The connection between the enormous costs of Vietnam and the failure to eliminate slums and poverty at home has raised further questions about American priorities. At the same time, despite the promises of presidential candidates to change the draft, it is hard to imagine conscription being eliminated so long as the United States continues to fight against “wars of national liberation” everywhere on the globe. In the changing climate of opinion, the continuation of the draft in the face of increased evasion and resistance may intensify doubts about the cause for which armies are being conscripted. Thus the long-term question about the draft is not what system of conscription will be followed but what it will be used for. And the prospect is that today’s opposition to the draft will become part of a continuing struggle to alter America’s relationships to the rest of the world, and to change American society at home.


Available August 1, 1968

  1. 6

    The memorandum has now been officially withdrawn by the Selective Service System, but during the last year it was widely distributed by anti-war groups. It seems to infuriate college men particularly, possible because it makes it clear that they are not “beating the draft” by remaining in college, but are really playing a game whose rules were already established for them by Selective Service. See “On The Draft,” by Richard Flacks. Florence Howe, and Paul Lauter, The New York Review, April 6, 1967.

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