Sunday, 21 September 2008

Behind the Songs: Draft Dodger Rag

"So I wish you well
Sarge, give 'em hell
Yeh, kill me 'thousand or so
And if you ever get a war
Without blood and gore
Well, I'll be the first to go"
--Phil Ochs, "Draft Dodger Rag" (1964)

Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War

Shedding light on a misunderstood form of opposition to the Vietnam War, Michael Foley tells the story of draft resistance, the cutting edge of the antiwar movement at the height of the war's escalation. Unlike so-called draft dodgers, who left the country or manipulated deferments, draft resisters openly defied draft laws by burning or turning in their draft cards. Like civil rights activists before them, draft resisters invited prosecution and imprisonment.

Through a close study of draft resistance in Boston, one of the movement's most prominent centers, Foley documents the crucial role of draft resisters in shifting antiwar sentiment from the margins of society to the center of American politics. Their bold decision to return or destroy their draft cards inspired other draft-age men opposed to the war--especially college students--to reconsider their place of privilege in a draft system that offered them protections and sent disproportionate numbers of working-class and minority men to Vietnam. This recognition sparked the change of tactics from legal protest to mass civil disobedience, drawing the Johnson administration into a confrontation with activists who were largely suburban, liberal, young, and middle class--the core of Johnson's Democratic constituency.

Draft resisters frequently faced hostility from their fellow citizens, family, friends, teachers, and employers. But they also succeeded in building a community to sustain them. Most important, they forced a government that had previously ignored the antiwar movement into taking their actions seriously. Examining the day-to-day struggle of antiwar organizing carried out by ordinary Americans at the local level, Confronting the War Machine argues for a more complex view of citizenship and patriotism during a time of war.

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