Saturday, 25 April 2009

Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War

by Michael S. Foley

Unlike the AFSC or the individual resisters from the Committee for Non-Violent Action, BDRG counselors advised men to take advantage of the system any way they could. If a counselee felt that he could not in good conscience comply with the Selective Service System at all, outright resistance became an option; but few such discussions took place. Counselors more often sought to find something in the young man's life that made him eligible for a deferment. Popular artists like Phil Ochs had described nearly every available escape from conscription in songs like "Draft Dodger Rag," but many men remained unaware of their options. Counselors, then, would lay them out as Ochs had. They looked for men who were still too young ("Sarge, I'm only 18"); who had physical ailments ("I got a ruptured spleen . . I got eyes like a bat, my feet are flat, and my asthma's getting worse"); who were homosexual ("I always carry a purse"); who could get a hardship deferment ("think of my . . . sweetheart dear, my poor old invalid aunt"); who were enrolled in college or graduate school full time ("I'm going to school"); or who were qualified for work in the national interest ("and I'm working in a defense plant"). Therefore, rather than counseling men to refuse to cooperate with the draft, the BDRG told them to over-cooperate by applying for a deferment allowed by the system. In addition, local board decisions could be appealed, sometimes repeatedly, with the goal that eventually a bureaucratic error would occur; if that happened, the process could be dragged out for years and chances of such individuals being inducted became very small.

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