“We Won’t Go”


Throughout his career as a student, the pressure—the threat of loss of deferment—continues. It continues with equal intensity after graduation. His local board requires periodic reports to find what he is up to. He is impelled to pursue his skill rather than embark upon some less important enterprise. The loss of deferred status is the consequence for the individual who does not use his skill or uses it in a non-essential activity.

The psychology of granting wide choice under pressure to take action is the American or indirect way of achieving what is done by direction in foreign countries where choice is not permitted.

I repeat this quotation from the official Selective Service Orientation Kit, which has already appeared at greater length in The New York Review, in order to shock intellectual readers and to make clear why a self-respecting young man cannot hold up his head if he accepts such manipulation. Even if the goals of the social engineering were good it would be intolerable; but in fact they are Vietnam and corporations needing manpower.

So, in a number of colleges, groups have formed who say, “We Won’t Go.” Sometimes they boldly sign their names to statements in the student or local press. (Naturally, since the young people are often subject to imprisonment, expulsion, or other reprisals, I shall not mention names, even colleges.) The purpose of We Won’t Go is political, to start a mass movement of draft resistance to stop the Vietnam War, “the way the French got out of Algeria.” It regards personal conscientious objection as rather immoral, and protest as futile since formal democracy is evidently not working. (Johnson is pursuing Goldwater’s program; the war is undeclared; the war budgets are passed by votes of 400 to 5, which is clearly not the state of opinion, either in the Congress or out of it.) Finally, trying to stop the Vietnam war by a show of power, We Won’t Go hopes to go on to a fundamental “reconstruction” of American society: it is not enough to get out of Algeria or Vietnam and end up with De Gaulle—or Bobby Kennedy.

But can such a frankly revolutionary purpose be accomplished by this kind of Open Conspiracy, relying on spontaneous groups? Does it not require more clandestine action and strictly disciplined organization? This is the question that is now agitating the radical students, although only a year ago they were still hotly discussing whether to enter into “coalition” with left liberal forces or to push for “participatory democracy” and “student power.” Things have moved fast.

At the beginning of March there was a crisis in the Open Conspiracy debate when a We Won’t Go group at an Ivy League college, which had been organizing draft resistance in the town, suddenly decided to call for a mass draftcard burning at the Spring Mobilization in New York City on April 15. They sent out a pledge form to other groups and to SDS chapters, the pledge…

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