Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories: Chap. 26: Uncle Sam Don't Want Me, 1970

Chapter 26: Uncle Sam Don’t Want Me, 1970

In late February 1970, I had finally received the order to report for my pre-induction physical. I mentioned this fact to Howie and he furnished me the telephone number of a doctor who was the mother of one of the other former High School Student Union activists. After I telephoned the anti-war doctor, she referred me to another anti-war doctor, who arranged an appointment with me in her office.

I asked a few Newsreel people whether they thought it made political sense for me to enter the U.S. Army and try to do anti-war organizing from within. The consensus was that little could still be accomplished by Movement activists going into the U.S. Army and that Newsreel people, themselves, would not be able to provide me with much outside support if I was so foolhardy as to go into the U.S. Army.

So on the day of my pre-induction physical, I took an early morning BMT subway train down to Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; and in my pocket was a letter. The letter stated that I was psychologically unfit for military service and that I would likely endanger the lives of my fellow combatants in a combat situation, because of my psychotic fear of authority.

At the military base, I noticed that among the predominantly African-American and Puerto Rican group of 200 young men, about 5 or 6 white young men had large manila envelopes with X-rays in them. I waited in line as the 200 of us got processed and examined; and I held my anger in at this first personal contact with the discipline of a U.S. military that was committing genocide in Viet Nam. I felt like shouting out to the other pre-inductees: “How can you let them take your life for use as cannon fodder? Why don’t we all start shouting `Hell, No! We won’t go!?” But I realized that if I made a political scene at the pre-induction physical my chances for a psychological deferment would vanish and it would mean jail, induction or exile for me.

I did get into an argument, however, with one of the African-American soldiers who controlled your position on line, after I complained aloud about the slow pace of the pre-induction physical examination process. In response, he ordered me to the end of the line.

After hours and hours of waiting, most of the other potential conscripts were certified as fit to be drafted and told that their pre-induction physical was over. About 10 of us, however, were ordered to wait outside the Army shrink’s office. Five of us had letters in our pockets from doctors and five of us had no letters. After about another hour of waiting, it was my turn to be interviewed by the Army shrink. I walked into his office with a downcast expression.

He asked for my letter, opened the envelope and read it, as I sat on the other side of his desk. He then looked at me with some disdain, as I maintained my downcast expression, and asked me a few questions related to my use of alcohol and my “sketchy” job history since getting a college diploma 7 months before. Then he stamped some papers and sent me to another office in the pre-induction physical center. At the next office, a young soldier looked at me with some pity, stamped my papers again and informed me that I was “4F.”

I continued to maintain my downcast expression, as I walked out of the pre-induction physical center at a slow pace. When I got closer to the gate of the base, I started to walk a little faster. Once I was off the base, I began to smile and laugh and broke into a run to the subway. I felt happier than I had ever been since the bombing of North Viet Nam had begun on a daily basis in early 1965.

Uncle Sam would never want me again. I had successfully resisted being drafted for military service in an immoral war. I could continue to devote my life to serving the cause of human liberation, not the needs of the U.S. military machine.

Once the draft threat was no longer over my head, I personally felt less desperate than I had been since high school. I still intended to do some kind of Movement-oriented work, but now I was doing it by choice and not also because I felt imprisoned by the draft threat. After I left Newsreel, however, I did not know where I would now fit into the Movement, exactly.